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Vox Energy Solutions was founded in 2007, and has a long history in western Pennsylvania. Vox Energy Solutions has over 35 years in construction, and they understand western Pennsylvania's climate, environment and architecture. Vox has assembled one of western Pennsylvania's most experienced teams in the alternative energy field. Their experienced staff includes a RESNET energy auditor, HERS Rater, a green building auditor, entry-level NABCEP certified solar professionals, system designers, installers and a master electrician to assist with the customers energy needs. There is not too much history on Vox Energy Solutions because they are a fairly new company. The company was started by Rich and Mary Foltz who beforehand ran a company that did cell phone tower instillation. They have started as the only full-service provider in Pennsylvania to install solar panels, solar thermal for hot water, and wind turbines in the state. They are a growing company who has doubled their customer instillations every year since 2007. Rich got into the renewable energy business by correlating the process of installing cell towers as not very different from the installation of wind turbines. However, having talked with representatives of the company they found wind turbines are not their strength; they focus on mostly selling and installing solar panels. The company designs and installs renewable energy systems, so they market the products and services to residential and commercial customers and try to get them to buy the services.
Vox Energy Solutions' mission is to help our customers save money on their electric utility bills while helping to protect the environment. With the promised increases in electric costs from utility companies throughout the state starting in January 2011, we are here to help our community understand and implement alternative energy solutions. We will also need to focus on providing general information to the public because there are many misconceptions about solar energy.
Sustainability of Vox Energy Solutions
When interviewed, the manager of Human Resources Michelle McCully told me that when defining sustainability it is important to simplify the definition since many people are not clear about its meaning. Her definition is a product or something that can be used and it will not harm the earth's resources. It is something that doesn't deplete resources that you can use for a long time, and it will never go away and is not finite resource like coal or oilâ€¦Sun will always be there.
Vox Energy Solutions is not just practicing sustainability or following a sustainable program, they on the other hand work to sell sustainable and renewable energy to the citizens of Pennsylvania. Vox Energy Solutions realizes that renewable energy does work in the Pittsburgh area and they are attempting to help Pittsburgh grow to becoming a leader in energy savings.
Vox energy solutions specialize in the selling and instillation of three products for renewable energy: solar panels (photovoltaic), Wind Turbines, and solar thermal panels. It is known that western Pennsylvania on average only has 59 clear sunny days a year so a major misconception has formed that solar panels are not advantageous for the area. However, solar power works in western Pennsylvania. We receive 82% (NASA) of the same solar radiation that Miami, FL receives. Solar power works using light not sunshine, so western Pennsylvania generates more than enough light to produce renewable energy that will significantly lower energy costs. Solar panels are made of silicon that is placed and laminated under non-reflective glass. As the light hits the silicon inside the solar panel the electrons begin to generate a DC electrical current that gets sent to an inverter. The inverter then converts that DC current to an AC current. The home receives the energy in an electric panel that powers the house. If the solar panels generate more electricity than what is used in the home, the electricity is sent to the electric company and "banked" for future use. Also if the household is in need of more electricity those "banked" watts are used at no additional cost to the homeowner. It is important to understand this concept because it is a sustainable concept where a lot of energy can be potentially saved.
Rich Foltz became interested in the renewable energy field from his initial idea to install wind turbines in the Pennsylvania area. Wind energy uses the kinetic energy of motion generated to produce electricity. The reason Vox Energy Solution focuses on solar over wind is because wind generation is site-specific and the western Pennsylvania area has many hills and mountains. There are also a number of other limits that must be considered to properly install a wind turbine. A main concern right now is the township and municipality because many areas consider wind turbines an eye sore and usually do not have that much space to install them. Wind turbines must have a fall space of 1 to 1.25 the times the height of the turbine. The size of the property is important to consider along with the speed the wind generates in that location. Many elements may affect the speed of the wind including trees and buildings, or any sort of barrier. The most common areas for wind turbines in Pennsylvania are off the interstate or turnpike where there is a lot of space and wind. Wind energy is very effective when its put into operation, the wind causes the blades of the turbine to collect its kinetic energy. When the wind blows through the blades it creates a lift that makes the blades turn. As the blades turn the connected shaft inside also turns an electric generator that produces electricity.
Solar thermal is also not yet as well known or popular in the Pennsylvania area. Solar thermal is often referred to as solar hot water, and it converts the sun's energy directly to heat. The heat that is generated is then used to a home or building, and primarily heats the hot water, but can also be used for space heating and pools. The solar thermal looks very similar to the solar (photovoltaic) panels, and they are also installed on the roof of them home or business. The sun will hit the glycol solution in the solar thermal collector which heats it up. The heated glycol is pumped to a hot water tank and heats the heating element located at the bottom of the water tank, this indirectly heats the potable water above the heating element up to 140 degrees. This heat that is created is what is then used for heating inside the homes and business of solar thermal owners.
The sustainable services or business practice that Vox Energy Solutions follows is what they feel set them apart from any competition in the western Pennsylvania area. After meeting with the Sales Executive Jesse Loomis, it was clear that Vox has very experienced high quality experts in the reusable energy field. Jesse explained how they give their customers home energy audit analysis to determine where and how their energy is being lost. Also in these audits they determine any appliance or systems in the home that are operating inefficiently. The goal is to practice sustainability in these homes and help make cost-effective improvements to be implemented to enhance the energy efficiency of the homes. This way, not only are customers getting renewable energy installed on their homes, but they also are saving a tremendous amount of energy that would otherwise be wasted. The home auditor makes a report of the home that includes diagnostic testing, recommendations for energy saving repairs, a cost/benefit analysis for the possible improvements, and also gives expected return on investments. Jesse showed many high technology instruments used for hard to detect areas of the home. One piece of equipment that stood out was his infrared camera that he uses for measuring the extent of leaks in the building.
One of the major concerns for installing solar panels is the initial cost, and it is expensive to purchase them. All information tells the curious customer that the expense depends on the specific customer and their budget, goals, and how much they use energy. To purchase a single average panel it costs within the range of 500 to 700 dollars. It is very important when considering the purchase to view the panels as an investment. The rate of return on average says that the customer will make their money back in 8 years, and today's panels are said to have a 25 to 30 year life. After the 8 year period all the money that the customer makes is in gains, so they receive a very high interest on their initial payment. That is important to know when the customer is looking at the big initial expense, but there are also government incentives like federal incentives, state incentives, Renewable Energy Credits, financing, and utility company incentives.
Federal incentives are available for all three types of renewable energy systems offered by Vox Energy Solutions. When the customer files their tax they are eligible for a 30 percent credit. This particular tax break only lasts until the year 2016.
Pennsylvania also has state incentives with the Pennsylvania Sunshine Grant Program which is available for solar (Photovoltaic) systems. This offers more help giving customers a rebate for each watt of solar energy they install on their homes. Unfortunately this program has very limited amounts available and is likely to run out very soon. This program does however offer a 30 percent rebate for solar thermal systems installed.
A very important factor that makes installing solar panels an investment is the Renewable Energy Credits (REC's) where the customer can earn money for producing excess solar electricity. For every 1000 kilowatt hours a system produces, one REC is gained. These can really add quickly if the home or building produces a lot as REC's are valued around 300 dollars.
There are also options for people to gain incentives through financing and utility companies. There are low interest loans available through Pennsylvania Keystone Help Program. These loans cover a variety of home improvement investments, including solar and solar thermal systems. Also in different areas some utility companies have renewable energy system incentives and some also give home energy audits.
Vox Energy Solutions has many competitors in the area, but only a few are Western PA companies. It is their belief that companies outside the Pennsylvania area are not major competitors with them because they believe local renewable energy companies offer a far more valuable service to the region and many Pittsburghers are very interested in patronizing local companies. Vox Energy Solutions is trying hard to set their own standards and values, and the local competitors are the only competition that they pay attention to. Vox Energy Solutions believe they stand apart from their competitors because they are full service. Full service means they do everything from home energy audits, to wind, solar and solar thermal as well as aggregate the renewable energy credits.
Vox Energy solutions does consider SOLAR-TEC a competitor. The difference between these two companies is that Vox Energy Solutions is based out of western Pennsylvania in Allison Park, and SOLAR-TEC is a branch company of its headquarter company W.R. Casteel. The parent company W.R. Casteel is a specialty construction industry that was started in 1969 and they are primarily involved in the construction of wind turbine facilities but they have other renewable energy sources they work with in the Eastern United States. They also have many renewable focuses outside our area in geo-thermal, hydro, and bio mass. The reason they are focused outside our area is because some of these work better in the western and mid U.S. areas. SOLAR-TEC came in and expressed many of the same excitement and issues that go along with solar energy. SOLAR-TEC is new to the area and has not been in operation in western Pennsylvania as long as Vox Energy Solutions. Although SOLAR-TEC is newer to the area Vox Energy Solutions said they were very familiar with the company. Michelle told me that they have met Tim Quigley several times and he is a good person and dedicated to the field. Vox Energy Solutions told me they meet their competitors, especially the local ones, very often, as there are organizations such as Penn Future, the Green Building Alliance, and CCI that are environmental organizations helping to advance the field of renewable energy. Similar to Vox Energy Solutions, most of their competitors are actively involved in these organizations. The renewable energy field is so new to this area, and they mentioned that there is a lot of political work to do to help stabilize and then grow the industry here.
Buildings and Programs
Vox Energy Solutions does make sure to set the example for their employees and customers, as they have solar panels installed on the roof of their company building. Even though they do use the panels they are not a LEED certified or ENERGY STAR building. Vox Energy Solutions moved into a existing older building and said that it is very hard and expensive to convert a older building into LEED certified. When asked however, they told me that would be a goal to move towards down the road as business improves. Vox Energy Solutions also told me they do practice sustainability in the building with an energy savings mindset. They have eliminated paper towels in the restrooms and kitchen, using washable towels. They recycle everything that is recyclable and reuse scrap paper. They avoid paper products for company functions, and collect and properly dispose of all of their personal batteries and CFL's as a team. They don't use overhead lights unless necessary and employees are very aware that they are asked to not print documents or emails unless absolutely necessary. Vox has installed programmable thermostats on both floors, and only use energy efficient light bulbs. Also, they try to use environmentally friendly cleaning products, and for installations they try to make sure that all miscellaneous products used are environmentally friendly.
Vox Energy Solutions said the main way they try to spread the word of their company is by doing projects with students and schools to build awareness for their program. One particular program Vox Energy Solutions was involved in was the 2010 Tech 50 Green Technology Award held in Pittsburgh, PA October 15, 2010. Vox Energy Solutions was selected as the winner of the Green Technology category for the Pittsburgh Technology Council's prestigious annual Tech 50 awards. Every year the Tech 50 honors Pennsylvania's most successful and innovative technology companies. The awards represent transformative technology centers of excellence with companies at all stages of growth, as well as the industry's top executives. The Green Technology category included companies that use technology to create products that improve operations, increase efficiency and promote sustainability while reducing energy consumption, waste, pollution and operations costs. The Pittsburgh Technology Council is the first and largest regional technology trade association in the United States with more than 1,400 member companies in western Pennsylvania. The Council's mission is to contribute to the success of the region's technology businesses by focusing on developing the economic strength of several sustainable industries. This was very important to the growth and development of Vox Energy solutions to be acknowledge for their contributions and goals toward sustainability.
Vox Energy Solutions prides themselves for only dealing with local manufacturers of the products they sell. They are a very honest company that wants to set the example in everything they do, so they realize that long distance shipments of products just build up truck emissions and this is important to reduce. Also they find that if it is important to their Pittsburgh customers to only seek local businesses that they would be hypocritical if they did not do the same. Vox Energy Solutions said that there are many distributers in the western Pennsylvania area and that they deal with various manufacturers. They also said that the various manufacturers are very competitive currently in driving down the cost of panels and producing the lowest coasting materials that make up the product.
Jesse Loomis. Sales Executive at Vox Energy Solutions.
Michelle McCully. Manager, Human Resources at Vox Energy Solutions.
Tim Quigley. Director of SOLAR-TEC.