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A bright, sunshiny future

October 11, 2010
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Dave Dugoff, owner of College Park Car Wash in College Park, MD, admitted the money he saves monthly with his new solar paneling is probably trivial to most operators. Still, with the opportunity to install the eco-friendly technology for free, how could he say no?

A “free” installation
Earlier this year, Dugoff took advantage of an opportunity to partner with a new finance company, Skyline Innovations, that specializes in helping small businesses benefit from solar thermal technology. Skyline helped Dugoff apply for a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration (worth about $4,500) in order to install solar panels that help heat his water and floors.

Skyline covered the rest of the investment for the project in exchange for a payment plan that recovers the costs of the installation over the next few years. Under this agreement, Dugoff pays 85 percent to Skyline for the solar generated hot water that he would have paid for gas or electric.

For example, if his hot water usage rings in at about $400, and the solar system makes 25 percent, he would save $100 on the utility bill, but still pay Skyline $85. His net savings (until the cost of the solar paneling is repaid to Skyline) is about $15. In a few years, the solar system will be his own, and then Dugoff will realize the entire $100 savings.

College Park Car Wash is a fairly typical self-serve/in-bay automatic carwash and uses 1,500 to 2,200 gallons of hot water every day. Dugoff estimated that about 25-30 percent of the electricity he needs now comes from the solar energy.

Learning along the way
College Park Car Wash was Skyline’s first development, according to Dugoff and Skyline project manager Kate Heidinger. The company approached Dugoff after learning he was considering solar paneling with the hopes that he could become their beta project. They installed meters to measure gas and electricity usage to make hot water, as well as the temperature of panels on the roof, water in the top of the tanks, bottom of the tanks, etc.

“The project was undersized,” Dugoff explained. “It could maybe do 25 percent of the demand. As a demo project we all learned a lot.”

According to an article on the company that appeared in a newsletter from the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), Skyline Innovations, despite their early arrival to the solar stage, has an in-depth knowledge of the many incentives available both at the Federal and State level. Heidinger confirmed that their understanding of MEA’s Mid-Sized Solar Grant Program played a central role in the company’s ability to create monthly savings for Dugoff.

Dugoff’s carwash become one of 12 approved projects for solar photovoltaic systems by MEA’s Mid-Sized Solar Grant program, and has contributed towards an estimated 244 kW of clean renewable electricity to Maryland’s grid, and save nearly 70 MWh annually.

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