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Product Application SunVolt Energy simplifies solar water heating


s Bud Sechrist, president and co-owner of SunVolt Energy Inc., of Winston-Salem, N.C., watches oil prices go up and interest in solar rise with them, he

remembers when he started out in the solar energy busi- ness back in the late 1970s and early ’80s. There was a push for renewable energy with tax credits similar to those that exist today, but changes in administrations and government policy took those incentives away. In the ’90s, Sechrist ventured into HVAC testing for hospitals and large corporations to make their systems more energy efficient with traditional energy sources. Then, about six years ago, his interest in solar was renewed when a contractor friend hooked up a system of solar water heating panels for him that had been sitting around in a box in his basement. What Sechrist came up with was a contained 12 5 24-

inch system that fit in a box, with pipes large enough to prevent overheating. It set the stage for his new solar water heating business, which he initially launched online. The system’s smaller footprint, with all of the

tem. Sechrist again did his homework and found that Blue Angel Pumps, a leading manufacturer of sump pumps, sewage, effluent and well pumps for the professional plumbing market, had the perfect solution for both filling and flushing the system with their EC50K transfer pump. Sechrist noted that most systems are adequately pres-

surized at about 15 – 20 psi. Also, the solar water heating system was filled fast enough to get the air out of the sys- tem, which is very important to its consistent operation. Prior to filling, the Blue Angel EC50K transfer pump was also able to flush out any residue left over from the manu- facturing process from things like soldering and coatings. Sechrist explained that SunVolt had tried using hand

pumps and smaller transfer pumps for the fill and flush process, but none worked as well as the Blue Angel. According to Sechrist, using pump technology and inte- grating solutions like the Blue Angel pump will help accelerate the solar water heating industry. SunVolt now provides a complete package to plumbing wholesalers and their contractor customers; the solar panels are made by another company. As SunVolt’s business grows and expands, it seems that

solar water heating is a lucrative way to get residential and commercial customers to dip their big toes into solar without getting overwhelmed by costs and expectations. The payback on solar water heating is four to seven years for residential, depending on square footage and family size and 3½ years for commercial. Because of the lower cost and ease of a pool pump system, the payback is only one year when compared to conventional heat. With the tax credits available in some states it becomes an even sweeter deal for the end user. Looking ahead in the solar water heating industry,

Blue Angel Pumps had the perfect solution for both filling and flushing the system with their EC50K transfer pump.

required components, made it a no brainer to install, so he could market it to dealers, contractors and even skilled DIYers online as a solar water heating kit. It offered an attractive value proposition, with potential annual savings for customers averaging 50 – 80% on the water heating portion of an energy bill with a 30% federal tax credit and additional incentives from most states. Even better, in addition to a 30% federal tax credit that may be requested in the form of a grant, commercial customers get acceler- ated depreciation and a variety of state incentives. Sechrist and SunVolt were on the road to the success as

they dangled the carrot of energy savings on water heating costs and made the system easier to install. But there was still one kink in the line, so to speak, that had them reach- ing out to tried and true pump technology. SunVolt needed a way to flush and fill the water heating system that was- n’t so time consuming and inefficient. Air in the line was another problem that could interrupt operation of the sys-

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Sechrist sees great opportunity for plumbing manufactur- ers and professionals. “Beyond hot water pumps and pool pumps, I envision solar as an option for submersible sump pump backup systems,” he said. “Very often, in a flood, there are power outages, so having a backup system with collected solar energy makes perfect sense.” Sechrist explained that, even though solar operates on

DC voltage and sump pumps on AC, an inverter could be installed for backup. SunVolt is also providing solar ener- gy as a way for farms to power irrigation pumps and out- buildings such as sheds and cottages, all of which can be converted to AC voltage. There is even a solution for mobile homes, with vacuum tube solar collectors mount- ed on a pole in the yard. SunVolt Energy is moving in the direction of marketing

this type of photovoltaic technology for plumbers and offers HVAC training, which is not a huge learning curve. Sechrist observes that, as the combined efficiencies of solar and pump technology continue to solidify and as acceptance of solar hot water gains ground nationally, it is likely the beginning of a very fruitful partnership. n For more information, visit or

April 2011

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