Solar installations a growing part of Grafton company’s workload
Solar energy has a bright future according to the staff at Energy Consultants of Wisconsin, a Grafton company that has been selling and installing energy-efficient lighting products since 1989.
The company was founded by Jeff Gruetzmacher, but his son Kurt has become the go-to guy when a property owner is considering installation of solar panels.
The younger Gruetzmacher took courses with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association outside of Stevens Point and gained practical experience by doing solar panel installations on projects with Habitat for Humanity. He is in the process of completing a degree in environmental sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Gruetzmacher said interest is growing in solar installations as an alternative energy source, especially with the heightened desire to live greener lifestyles.
“As you drive around, you see a lot more rooftops with solar panels and in time you are going to see even more. Solar power is a great way to help achieve energy independence and also helps the environment,” he said.
“The ideal time to consider solar installation is when you are building a new home, because there is no retrofitting required. The cost of the system can be included in the mortgage, so you don’t have to go through the bother of additional financing.”
Gruetzmacher said solar technology has made significant advances in recent years.
“Since solar comes from the sun and there are no moving parts used to collect electricity, customers can expect installations to last as long as 30 or 40 years,” he said.
The only component that shows much wear and tear is the inverter, which is inspected as part of ongoing maintenance agreements.
Gruetzmacher said the cost of solar energy has tumbled.
“When I first started in this field, you were talking about costs in the range of $7 to $8 a watt. Now it is down to $5 or even $4 a watt,” he said.
To determine how feasible a solar installation is at given property, Gruetzmacher said, the company prepares free site assessments.
The assessments show a property owner the projected cost of an installation, the likely energy savings and the anticipated payback period.
The company can also offer advice on rebates, tax credits and other incentives that are available through programs such as Focus on Energy.
A competitive grant program is currently available for commercial operations and nonprofit agencies tha want to install solar arrays. The company will help complete the nine-page applications.
“The main consideration for a solar installation is that the location is clear of obstructions and has clear southern exposure from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which are the prime times for solar generation,” he said.
An unexpected quirk of solar power — photovoltaic cells are more effective in collecting solar energy on clear winter days than they are on blazing summer days.
“The collection process is slowed somewhat by heat,” Gruetzmacher said.
Most solar panels installed in the area are tied directly to the power grid rather than generating just the power used in the building, he said.
“There are solar installations in more remote areas where the owners are looking to be completely off the grid, but they need to be willing to cut way back on consumption — no air conditioners, dishwashers or other appliances,” Gruetzmacher said.
Last year, he worked on two high-profile solar installations in Port Washington — the flat roof of the Java Dock building on Grand Avenue and the newly built home of developer Mike Speas in The Terraces at Mineral Springs, a green development on the city’s south side.
“The Java Dock installation was easy, but Mike’s house has an inclined, metal roof and it was like laying on a frying pan,” Gruetzmacher said.
Energy Consultants of Wisconsin has developed a growing client base from Milwaukee to Green Bay and as far west as the Madison area.
The firm has specialized in a variety of energy-related services. For more than a decade it has conducted group relamping of workplaces, and offers advice on the use of LED and induction lighting to reduce energy costs.
Image Information: KURT GRUETZMACHER and Energy Consultants of Wisconsin installed the solar array atop the home of developer Mike Speas in Port Washington’s The Terraces at Mineral Springs subdivision. Photo by Mark Jaeger