Shining a light on energy solutions

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Rod Schmuland of Kootenay Energy Solutions.

In the two years since he started Kootenay Energy Solutions, Rod Schmuland said there are two noticeable differences. The technology continues to improve at an astonishing rate and prices keep dropping as the market grows.

Specializing in light, heat and water technologies, Schmuland is clearly excited to be part of an industry that can improve local lives and contribute to global environmental issues, too.

“All of our products offer a return on investment,” he said. “They have a period in which energy savings pay back their purchase price, then the additional savings go into the homeowner, renter or business owner’s pocket.”

With his background as a power company lineman, Schmuland understands the complexities of delivering energy to an ever more demanding market. And he recognizes the benefits of products now available to consumers.

“We go to a customer’s home and give them ideas about how to save money and to help the environment at the same time,” he said. “And if I’m not happy with a product I won’t sell it.”

While Creston doesn’t boast the hours of annual sunshine that a prairie town might, solar energy is becoming increasingly popular, he said. Lower costs for solar panels that are much more efficient than they were a few years ago mean that the average home can benefit greatly from an inexpensive retrofit.

“The average home will save about 30 per cent in energy costs by using solar panels to heat water,” he said. “And, because warm water doesn’t shock a water heater’s elements, it can double the life of the tank, as well.”

With their increased efficiency, it takes only two roof or pole-mounted solar panels to help produce hot water in a home with four people. The panels are changing, too. Some are made into awnings and mounted above office and apartment building windows to provide shade while producing energy. Others are being made in different shapes so that solar panel installations mimic the lines of a roof, blending into the design of the structure rather than looking like something added an afterthought.

Some residents are now installing sufficient solar collectors or micro hydro generators on creeks to generate more electricity than they need. Small wind turbines can produce electricity in a two mile per hour wind. The excess is returned into the power grid.

“Fortis pays the same amount for the energy as it charges,” Schmuland said.

The practice has become so popular in Ontario that people are earning their living by feeding electricity back into the power grid. Fortis also has rebate programs to encourage its customers to switch to more energy efficient products.

“LED lighting has really come a long way in a short time,” he said.

And the timing couldn’t be better, with governments beginning to outlaw incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lights being scrutinized more closely for their possible contributions to health problems and their disposal.

“New LED lights are producing more lumens of light per watt than ever,” he said.

A 10-watt LED bulb can produce the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb. LED lights can now be used with dimmers, a new innovation, and they can produce full spectrum light, mimicking the light produced by the sun.

How much have costs dropped in the LED industry? Schmuland said that lighting can now have a two-year payback period, depending on the amount of use they get. LED lights are now being used in everything from strip lighting beneath kitchen wall cabinets to street and security lighting systems. The bulbs are more cold resistant than fluorescents, making them ideal in unheated situations.

With LED technology becoming increasingly popular with plant growers, Schmuland is now making small indoor portable “greenhouses” that can provide year-round herbs and vegetables in a three-square-foot space. He’ll have one available for viewing at the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Home, Garden and Leisure Show in April.

Schmuland said that new ductless heat pumps will be of interest to local residents. They are 30 per cent more efficient than traditional heat pumps and operate in temperatures as low as -16 degrees Celsius, an 11-degree improvement over standard systems. Residential homes can now use the technology to control the heat in zones, offering additional energy savings.

Schmuland is dedicated to finding the best sources available for quality products, and he is constantly searching for savings that can be passed on to his customers. For more information or a consultation, contact Kootenay Energy Solutions at 250-428-4706.