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Warming homes - naturally

  • CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil president Steven Ohl, second from left, explains how an inverter works to bring solar energy from modules on the roof into the showroom's electrical system.  Left to right: Carbon County Commissioner Wayne…
    CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil president Steven Ohl, second from left, explains how an inverter works to bring solar energy from modules on the roof into the showroom's electrical system. Left to right: Carbon County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein; Ohl; state Rep. Doyle Heffley; Carbon County Commissioner Charles Getz and Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek.
Published March 04. 2011 05:00PM

A local home heating business is hoping to warm homes - naturally.

R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil, which also sells propane pellets and kerosene, recently launched a line of solar energy panels to its line-up of heating products.

But first, owners wanted to make sure their customers would be getting the best equipment available. To do that, they installed 30 of the panels on the store's roof, then provided an Internet link that allows people to see how much energy is being generated, and how that solar energy offsets in terms of trees, tons of carbon dioxide, gas and 60-watt fluorescent light bulbs saved.

The link is

"We thought it would be a good start to do our business first," said company president Steve Ohl. "It's good for the environment and it's going to reduce our electricity costs." Ohl's also installed a solar hot water system.

He said the system would pay for itself within 5-8 years.

One recent gloomy day, the panels were generating 54 watts - enough to power three compact fluorescent light bulbs, or half a 100-watt incandescent light bulb, said Andrew Young, Director of Technical Services for Earthsponse, the company whose Kyocera solar products Ohl's is now selling. The modules, which weigh about 30 pounds each, have a life span of about 40 years and take about a day and a half to install.

The 24 modules installed on the showroom roof are capable of generating 5,000 watts, Young said. "On a beautiful, sunny day, it will instantaneously put out 5,000 watts."

"It's an impressive system. Everything is sent as a kit, so we customize each kit to the home," Ohl said. "The homeowner tells us they want it, we do the permitting, we go through the whole process. We file for their state and federal rebates for them. We do the engineering that needs to be done to make sure it works on your roof. We do all the work - all the homeowner has to do is enjoy it."

The cost of the systems varies, depending on one's home. The cost generally ranges from $6 to $8 per watt, Ohl said. "It depends on the home," he said.

Installing the system can get customers a 30 percent federal tax credit and a state tax credit of 75 cents per watt, Young said.

Ohl said his company offers zero percent financing.

Ohl's is planning a March 12 seminar for people who want to learn more about solar power. Recently, Ohl showed Carbon County commissioners Charles Getz, Wayne Nothstein and chairman William O'Gurek, and state Rep. Doyle Heffley, how the system operates.

Solar power works like this: Sunlight is absorbed by semiconductors in the solar cells within the rectangular black modules fastened to the roof. The direct current electricity generated is routed through the inverter, which converts it to alternating current - the kind used to power household appliances. Excess energy is routed into the electrical grid, and the homeowner receives credits from the grid provider (locally, that's PPL).

"The energy that comes from the sun we're using the two forms: The heat we're making hot water, and the photons, the light, turns it into electricity," Young said. "We've got our own nuclear power plant. It's 93,000 million miles away: the sun."

The water is heated by copper tubing inside an insulated black box.

Solar power is becoming increasingly popular. The Kovatch Corp. in Nesquehoning, has installed solar modules on its building, and a $78 million solar facility is planned for a large swath of land nearby. On Wednesday, TIMES NEWS readers learned that a $4 million solar facility is being proposed in Polk Township.

As far as Steve Ohl knows, his company is the only one in Carbon County to sell solar power systems.

The growth of solar power has prompted the Carbon Career and Technical Institute to consider offering classes in installation of the energy systems.

CCTI electrical construction/maintenance teacher George Cope wants to offer the classes to his senior students, those who have mastered the foundations of residential, commercial and basic industrial wiring in their three years of courses.

Cope said the school plans to "purchase a renewable energy trainer. The trainer would teach students how to install and maintain both wind and solar devices. Other vocational school are using the trainers, and Cope and his CCTI's Occupational Advisory Committee plan to visit them in late spring to see which of the trainers fit the school's needs.

Cope and his colleagues will be looking at trainers offered by Amatrol, Marcraft, and Labvolt.

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