Solar thermal offers alternative to natural gas






You might call it “the other solar power” — the kind that won’t be affected no matter what happens with Xcel Energy’s debated rebates for photovoltaic panels.


It’s solar thermal, which converts the sun’s rays into heat rather than into electric power.

The Colorado Solar Thermal Alliance claims that it’s more efficient than PV (photovoltaic) systems, capturing and using 70 percent of energy as compared to 17 percent efficiency for PV and 30 percent for coal.

“PV systems today are where solar thermal was in 1983,” says Steve Ruby, who may be biased as the owner of AquaCare Solar of Boulder, but who insists that the research backs him up.

“Anywhere you need a bunch of heat, for hot water, to warm your house, run your washer and dryer, that’s where solar thermal rules.”

But, Ruby also adds, PV solar has its essential use where solar thermal may not work as well.

“Electric power,” he says. “Think of PV taking the place of your con ventional electric utility and solar thermal taking over for your natural gas. Every household needs a mix of energy systems.”

Solar thermal collection panels look a lot like PV panels, and are also mounted on roofs. (Unlike PVs, they can also operate in partial shade.) Solar heating systems are generally tied into the existing heat-distribution and water heater set-up.

Solar thermal technology has improved over the years, but Ruby says that even older systems dating from the mid-1980s hold up well — he services many of them.

There are rebates for solar thermal systems and energy-efficient water heaters — separate from the Xcel incentives for PVs — that reduce the price of installing them considerably. Ruby reckons that most systems will “pay for themselves in about 10 years.”

More information is available at or by calling AquaCare at 303-589-4428. For more information, check out the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association website at


Door-to-Door Organics’ purpose is to take the shlep out of shopping for fresh organic produce and other natural groceries. In Boulder County, distribution comes from a warehouse in Lafayette.

What it also does is donate a lot of product and energy toward making sure that local folks on limited incomes are able to get free, fresh organic produce.

“We buy a lot of produce and there’s always some amount that is fine to eat, but doesn’t have the visual quality we like to put in our customers’ boxes,” says Chad Arnold, local president and CEO. “We donate anything like that weekly to the food bank at the Sister Carmen Community Center [in Lafayette].”

The business also organizes an annual food drive around the holidays on behalf of Community Food Share, which serves Boulder and Broomfield counties. Through its Fundraising Co-op Program, $10,000 was raised for local schools and nonprofits in 2010.

By the way, be sure to call ahead before donating any perishable goods to a food bank — there are regulations about what most places can accept.

Has your business found a way to creatively use or donate what might otherwise go to waste? Let us know about it at

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