Minneapolis solar panel expert touts benefits of green home

Minneapolis solar panel expert touts benefits of green home

After watching a television show on renewable energy, Tom Carhart decided to apply at Innovative Power Systems. "Ralph Jacobsen [the owner] has done over 300 systems," Carhart says. "He's been in the business since 1991 and is the go-to guy in our area."

Carhart also plans on bringing his passion for his profession home. "I'm building a house that will have in-floor radiant heat, a solar heating system and a small system for electricity."

What's the benefit of having solar panels and how much do they cost?

"You become your own power producer instead of a renter. You're also producing energy that doesn't create carbon monoxide or dioxide and lessening your carbon footprint. They also increase your property value. When a potential buyer knocks on the door, the Realtor can tell them the house has a system that takes care of 75 percent of the utilities. You can get a two-paneled hot water system starting around $10,000 and electric systems start around $15,000."

What's the best orientation for solar panels and do they require maintenance?

"You want a roof that faces south or southwest with minimal shading. It's especially important to have no shading between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They're very rugged and durable. If they get hit with golf-ball-sized hail, your homeowner's insurance should cover it. The electric panels have a 30-year warranty and the heating panels have a 10-year warranty."

Do people have a misconception about how useful solar panels are in Minnesota?

"Most definitely. It's a myth that because we have long, cold winters that there's somehow less sun. Electricity actually conducts better when it's cold than when it's warm. NASA publishes maps of the world that illustrate the amount of sun saturation and it shows that Minnesota actually has the same solar resource as many places in California, Texas and Florida."

Have you seen a rise in their popularity?

"After Hurricane Katrina, the public conscious shifted radically — as far as the importance of a green economy and energy. It woke people up to the importance of a sustainable-energy economy. If the price of natural gas doubles — will your gas bill be the same as your mortgage payment? That could actually happen. We've been really lucky because the price of natural gas has been stable but it's not guaranteed to stay that way."

Are there any new products worth mentioning?

"We're starting to carry the brand-new Velux solar heating panels. They've been the premier manufacturers in Europe for years. The form factor of these panels is beautiful. If you have a steep enough roof, we can mount them on the roof to look like skylights."

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