Personal NEO Excellence Roundtable: Bill MacDermott, Proprietor, Cleveland Solar and Wind

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 07/28/2006 - 23:26.

I'm very appreciative of REALNEO members who responded to my posting "Recommendations for taking this old house solar, and better...", for responding to my challenge: "Can anyone recommend a short path on how to get solar potential assessment of a property and suggestions for other alternative energy and conservation approaches."

Based on this experience, the region's truest champion of social computing and alternative energy visioning in action is Bill MacDermott, of Cleveland Solar and Wind, who John MacGovern referred to my challenge (thanks again for stepping up, John). At John's suggestion, Bill contacted me by email about the challenge with specific suggestions, and made a point to drive by the properties I may influence to go green, and today met with me and my parents to investigate the potentials at their old Shaker home, show some solar products in action, and educate my family about how solar works in this marketplace and context - I call this a personal NEO Excellence Roundtable and it offers lessons to learn for this community (Bill also added valuable content to REALNEO, directly providing knowledge to the community at large). I'll definitely plan a full NEO Excellence Roundtable for Bill to share his broad expertise more directly with a concerned audience, but here are my observations from our discussion today.

The context of this old house is a massive 90 year-old Van Sweringen Shaker Heights historic mansion on an acre surrounded by 100 year-old trees taller than the three story structure (the house was actually built for the family that founded Davey Tree Company, and my dad added significantly to the forest, so the coverage is greater than one might typically expect). Being historic, in a community likely to object to cosmetic alterations of any sort, Bill immediately pointed out there are limited possible applications of renewable energy technologies... the context is far from ideal. In particular, the property being dense with tall, thick trees, there are limited areas of wind and sun.

My parents, in their 70s and not educated on applications of residential alternative energy technologies, were first interested if solar is viable in NEO, at all... so Bill brought out of his Prius (the man lives by his principles) samples of the solar technology he recommends - the United Solar Ovonics Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Alloy Solar Technology - which is so cool as to have fully impressed each of us there... you want this technology in your home, even if you need to invent a purpose... and honest Bill is ready to point out the cost-benefit of solar is not currently positive for such uses (see info on the technology at the end of this posting).

This UNI-Solar product, made in Michigan (we need a plant or company to compete with this here), is a thin layer of ingenuity that can be used for roofing tiles and applied in other innovative ways - each shingle-size square of product generates about 1.4 watts of power... the sample Bill demonstrated had a small electric fan attached and spinning on the solar power generated. So yes solar works here. Again, it is not the low cost way to power your home... it is the socially conscious alternative that will become more economically attractive as electricity costs in Ohio skyrocket, as people eventually demand reductions in pollution from our dirty power sources - for now, it is a source of pride and badge of public responsibility (which are as good of reason as any for using the technology).

Bill was quick to point our that while he would love to sell product to my parents, he couldn't say the use on this old historic house, for roofing, would be appropriate, as their slate roof may have 100-years of life left, and is probably the ultimate roof technology in this context (I said he is honest). Further, he doubted Shaker would allow the use in that context.

Where such a solar product makes the most sense in NEO is on all the McMansions around town that are in the middle of old exurban farms, with massive 10,000s+ square-footage of asphalt shingle roof, and no developed trees to block sun exposure (being 10,000s of currently socially repugnant sprawl properties east, south and west of Cleveland). Thus, where the greatest opportunity for transformation has been was lost in ignorant, short-sighted burbilly development of McMansion-lands, which instead of making NEO an eco-stalwart made NEO eco-dispicable (my wording, not Bills). As sprawl is thankfully past it's peak, the opportunity for first generation eco-friendly regional growth is past, which is unfortunate... more unfortunate is that our community leaders didn't get on the green-energy/green-wash bandwagon a decade ago, with other progressive communities, and make alternative energy a priority when it was actually an opportunity... sorry folks, but we are way behind the curve on alternative energy consciousness and action... and please don't crocker park a windmill in Westlake to greenwash that for the future, as we know better. Failure.

The alternative energy advantages my parents have with their property, which Bill pointed out (again, to the detriment of his hopes of selling product), is their property is smart, and enables ENERGY CONSERVATION (the core concept of environmentalism lacking in all discussions of the topic in NEO today!!!!!!!). My parents live in a sustainable, well constructed (and insulated) brick home, which is designed to breathe well yet insulates very well for heat and cold, meaning they do not need air conditioning in summer, and need less heat in winter. Most important, and management controllable, they have great environmental sensitivity (respect for nature) and so shade, which has great energy savings advantages. So, they are naturally eco-friendly.  And, they are naturally eco-socially conscious - depression-era conservationists - being a mindset sadly lacking in today's uber-consumption culture, driven by today's green-fraud, anti-eco-media, and sub-sustainable leadership (proof... wait for the media/government blitz for mega-trashy, MW-wasting, like Jesus-f'ing lived for shiny light-bulbs Christmas celebrations starting this godless pre-holiday-shopping Halloween... probably the sadest statement of eco-stupidity in American culture today (leading to huge nationwide energy and ecological destruction and environmental catastrophe).

With regards to my depression-era-educated parents, I can say, they keep energy consumption to an absolute minimum - keep appliances up to date for energy efficiency, use no central A/C and only one window unit at night - ceiling fans in high use areas - and they take advantage of good architecture of the 1910s with large windows and good old-fashion smart design allowing great cross circulation - they respect the need for limited use of lights... mostly single bulb lamps... no lights on where people don't need light.... no celebrate my wealth light displays of their home at night. They have replaced their furnace with a high efficiency unit, which is natural gas and steam radiator heat, being very efficient, and in the winter they close off rooms not in use, keep heat way down (large sweater collections), even lower at night (down comforters)... smart people, living smart, in a smart home designed by smart people 90 years ago.

So, the lesson from looking at this old house is that developers, architects, builders and consumers were generally a lot smarter 90 years ago than in recent history, that the socially repugnant, short-term-mentality developers of our era blew the chance to be smart with energy conservation and innovative technologies when they developed sprawl in NEO (which ignorant community leaders and consumers here enabled in the market places), that most of the short-term opportunities for benefit from alternative energy strategies are in fact gone, as sprawl is over (the opportunity ahead is massive retrenching and conservation), that cost-benefit of alternative energy is now negative and the incentives are primarily ego-driven, and that the short term solutions are respect for nature and conservation - be smart citizens.

I'm glad to see my parents are as smart of eco-friendly citizens as I know in NEO, and they didn't even know they were eco-friendly... just smart. And, I'm glad to have connected, through REALNEO, with Bill MacDermoll, and I will post insight from him looking at the next property I may influence for eco-sensitivity, being the Hough Bakery/Star Complex - you'll read about that here on REALNEO Tuesday night.

Now, to learn more about very cool solar technology providing lots of jobs and opportunity in our neighboring state of Michigan, but not here, see the insight below and visit UNI-Solar here... if you happen to be a supporter of President Bush, take comfort he announced his eco-strategy at their factory, so it is okay to like this technology.

Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) Alloy Solar Technology

4.2 PV Deposition Machine 05xPhotovoltaic (PV) cells convert sunlight to electricity. Crystalline or polycrystalline silicon has been the most widely used materials technology for the PV industry. First utilized in space satellites, conventional silicon solar modules are fabricated in a step-and-repeat, batch process from small wafers of single crystal or polycrystalline silicon semiconductor materials. Although, substantial advances have been made in the development of this technology, the cost of these PV modules is still high because of the high cost of the thick wafers and numerous processing steps that are needed to manufacture the modules. In addition, the solar modules are bulky and break easily.

4.2cSolarCellAmorphous silicon (a-Si) alloy thin film technology offers an interesting opportunity to reduce materials cost of the solar cells.  Because a-Si alloy absorbs light more efficiently than its crystalline counterpart, the a-Si solar cell thickness can be 100 times less than that of conventional cells, thereby significantly reducing materials cost.  By utilizing a flexible, stainless steel substrate and polymer-based encapsulates, PV products utilizing our technology can be very lightweight, flexible and durable. The cell is deposited using a vapor-deposition process at low temperatures; the energy payback time is therefore much smaller than that for the conventional technology.

Amorphous materials with different light absorption properties can be deposited continuously, one on top of another, to capture the broad solar spectrum more effectively. This increases the energy conversion efficiency of the multi-cell device and improves performance stability. Our unique multi-junction approach has resulted in world record efficiencies for our a-Si technology. We hold the current world records for conversion efficiency for both a-Si solar cells and modules, as measured by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL.)

4.2b PV Material 05To further reduce the manufacturing cost of PV modules, we have pioneered the development of and have the fundamental patents on a unique approach utilizing proprietary continuous roll-to-roll solar cell deposition process. In our high-volume manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills, Michigan, solar cells are deposited on rolls of stainless steel that are a mile-and-a half long using automated manufacturing machines.  The a-Si alloy processor deposits the nine thin-film layers of the triple-junction cell on six rolls of stainless steel at a time.

The rolls of solar cell material are processed further for use in a variety of photovoltaic products for different applications ranging from battery charging to large-scale grid-connected systems.

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