Solar water heating delights Milwaukee firefighters

Solar water heating delights Milwaukee firefighters

MILWAUKEE — Several Milwaukee firehouses are enjoying more domestic hot water thanks to a solar water-heating program sponsored by a collaboration of Caleffi North America, contractor Milwaukee Solar LLC, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and Milwaukee Shines, which is a program run by the City’s Office of Environmental Sustainability.

Money from the program came from President George W. Bush’s Solar America Initiative, which provided up to $2.4 million to 12 cities selected as Solar America Cities. The cities were chosen for their commitment and comprehensive approach to the deployment of solar technologies and the development of sustainable solar infrastructures. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy distributed $5.4 million to 13 other Solar America Cities. The 2007 selection of Madison, Wis., distinguished Wisconsin as the only state to have two Solar America Cities. The 25 cities selected range from as far north as Minneapolis/St. Paul down to New Orleans and from Philadelphia west to Seattle.

The City of Milwaukee’s Milwaukee Shines program has teamed up with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association to become Milwaukee's Solar Coach and provide training opportunities to Milwaukee based solar installers and solar site assessors.

The installation of solar water heaters at Milwaukee firehouses is part of this program. A natural fit, fire stations are unique public buildings in that they simulate a household. Staffed day and night by four or five firefighters, each station’s hot water needs are much like those of a typical family.

Giving a lift to Milwaukee Shines is Caleffi North America, which is providing $200,000 in water heating systems to the initiative, including the systems used at the fire stations. Caleffi is one of a number of local business partners that have pledged financial and technological support to the organization’s mission.

“We felt this was an opportunity to give something back to our community and make consumers aware of the advantages of solar water heating,” said Rex Gillespie, director of marketing at Caleffi. With its North American headquarters in the center of the city, Caleffi has been a visible and generous sponsor of increasing solar water heating’s presence in the area.

In October 2010, two south side fire stations had solar water heating systems installed to handle the hot water supply needed for the kitchens, living quarters and laundry areas, providing an ever-ready source of hot water for the firefighters who live and work there and serving as a public example of the technology’s benefits.

“The City of Milwaukee knew it needed to lead by example,” said Amy Heart, program manager of Milwaukee Shines, which helps educate consumers and encourage them to consider solar. “An important part of increasing public awareness is to bring the technology right into the local neighborhoods. We hope that having the solar collectors on the roofs of the fire stations will prompt some curiosity among residents, as well as invite discussion and increase interest.”

Solar training was a big part of the installation at Engine Company Number 23. Milwaukee Solar’s Dean Wolff trained Alfred King, who needed the hands-on experience with a solar installation in order to sit for the certification exam for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. Laborer Doug Melbrg assisted Wolff and King.

“We recognize we need to have more installers in the field locally,” Heart said, a goal which increases employment and gives consumers more options in selecting a local installer to work with. According to Heart, the number of installers in the Milwaukee area is on the rise, more than tripling between January 2009 and July 2010.

Wolff is one of only a few solar hot water installers in the Milwaukee area certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. A solar professional for more than 30 years, Wolff can attest to solar water heating’s practicality, value and ease of use and is eager to see it gain popularity.

“The Caleffi system we installed at the fire stations is designed to handle about 75% of the load annually,” said Wolff, explaining that the solar water heating system does the heavy lifting of the hot water production process by preheating water so the traditional water heater doesn’t need to work as hard. From a consumer standpoint, he also likes that the system doesn’t require a lot of thought or maintenance.

“Being an automatic system, it’s incredibly easy to use and basically runs itself,” he added.

Wolff is also pleased with the caliber of students he worked with on the fire department solar installations and sees a bright future for solar technology in Milwaukee.

“The students came with an ability level that was great for the tasks,” he said. “They’re very competent and will be skilled solar installers. With more consumers taking notice of the technology, it’s encouraging to see growing numbers of talented people learning how to install the systems.”

The firefighters at Engine Company Number 23, which does laundry for other firehouses since it has commercial laundry machines, told CONTRACTOR that they no longer run out of hot water if they want to wash dishes, shower and do laundry at the same time.

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