Interview with Al Rich Part 1
SacTV.com "Video of the Day" review by
Alex Cosper on October 11, 2013
Al Rich is the founder of ACR Solar International, which can be found online at SolarRoofs.com.
I worked for the company in 2008, writing for the website, as I started to have a growing interest in solar energy.
We met again at the company's manufacturing facility on October 9 to talk about how solar has rapidly evolved
over the years. Al's connection with the entertainment industry is that he's sold a solar water heating system
to Tom Smothers of the Smothers Brothers comedy TV show from the 1960s and 1970s.
The Rich family were originally based in Virginia, but were invited to the Sacramento area by SMUD in 1990
to partner with their solar rebate program. A SMUD employee had read an article by national energy columnist James Dully
about Al's unique solar water heating system, which is what brought ACR Solar International to Carmichael.
"SMUD's awesome," Al marvels. "They've been dedicated to solar for so long."
Known throughout the solar energy for his Skyline water heaters, Al's OG-300 series was
the first solar thermal system to gain certification from the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) in 1989.
The early Skyline water heaters were unique to the industry because the collectors, which are the panels that are installed
on roofs, were made of plastic and rubber instead of copper and glass. ACR's collectors were much lighter weight and easier
to install at a lower cost than the traditonal collectors. "The neat thing," says Al, "is that we are now coming out with a rubber absorber
called the Megamatt that actually is as efficient or more efficient than copper and we're expecting it to actually outperform
when we use a special glazing - a glass glazing - on matt."
The solar industry has been surging in popularity in recent years due to lower cost and much higher efficiency. Al is a
designer of solar water heating systems while partnering with other companies that provide solar electric, also known
as photovoltaic (PV) systems. "They've got the panels down to a pretty standardized size," Al says about PV systems, which are
39 inches wide by 65 inches high. "It's a real standard size now and have 250 watts or more per panel. That's pretty good and the price of those
is down enough so that we can offer a really good return on investment to people."
Homeowner can enjoy cost savings, especially with SMUD, which has lower utility rates than PG&E. "We don't try to just sell a big system, that's not the point,"
Al explains. "We try to do a cost effective system. We're working primarily at peak shaving. There's a certain level that's at like 9 cents (per kilowatt
hour) at SMUD and that cost is like a base rate ... then over that it jumps to double, 18 cents. We try to shave that off and that is what
makes the system cost effective." People can see returns in the 9 to 13 year range. As far as efficiency, Al says "we're around 15 to 17 percent.
Now, you can have a have higher efficiency but then you're going to pay a lot higher price, then the cost effectiveness goes down. So we're at that
really good balance point right now."
Compared with twenty years ago, solar is much more efficient. Even in the past ten years solar has rapidly improved.
I asked him if he has to deal with people who had solar ten years ago and weren't happy with it and he relied,
"Well, hardly anybody did have solar electric ten years ago. Now with the solar water heating, yeah, it's been
around for 30 years and that can happen ... but for the most part, we have people who are buying new systems that did buy 30 years ago that loved it."
ACR Solar systems stand out from other systems due to their attractive design, which makes them more appealing to
home owner associations. "One of the things we went after was aesthetics," Al confirms. "A solar water heating system can and should look good.
So we came up with 26 different architectural colors, we came up with a long narrow design, which has less connections in it too."
As a result, the tubing has less places to leak and it's a simpler system.
The Complete SacTV video series on Al Rich:
Solar Inventor Al Rich
Alex Cosper Interviews Al Rich Part 1
Alex Cosper Interviews Al Rich Part 2
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