Friday, November 7–Ocean City Hotel Installs 36 Solar Thermal Panels

OCEAN CITY – Park Place Hotel might look yellow on the outside, but it’s getting a whole lot “greener” on the inside.

Park Place became the first hotel in Ocean City to make a major investment in alternate energy, installing 36 solar thermal panels on its 2nd Street roof, which will harness the sun’s rays and turn it into solar energy, thus heating up to 50 percent of the building’s water supply.

In doing so, Park Place will save “a little over a quarter of a million dollars in energy bills over the course of the system’s 20-30-year lifetime”, according to Ray Emmons, owner of Eastern Shore Solar, whose company is installing the panels.

Emmons hopes that Park Place will be the first of many Ocean City businesses to invest in solar energy, as he cites businesses are, “finally start to realize that they can’t afford not to. Some people don’t believe the numbers, and they can’t put their head around the idea of free energy, or the amount of money that you are saving yourself by investing in solar thermal energy.”

Park Place Hotel Manager Todd Berger brought the idea before ownership in hopes of not only saving the company money in the long run, but also in hopes of latching on to a growing trend in “green” amenities being offered in hotels all over the world.

“We were thinking about doing solar, and we realized we had all this open roof space, and from there I found out about solar thermal,” he said.

Some hotels have implemented the usage of organic linens, towels and cleaning products in their hotels, but few have actually taken big steps toward “greening” their buildings.

“We had done all the things that we were supposed to do like turning out lights and shutting down air conditioner units when people left without having to make drastic changes”, said Berger, “but we looked at those as only having diminished returns. I’ve seen studies where you see an immediate 10-percent benefit in occupancy or rentals by doing things like this. On top of that, we’ve got a planet to save, and it’s not just about how much money are you going to save, it’s about doing your part.”

The federal government is giving businesses a 30-percent tax credit on alternate energy investments, the State of Maryland offers up to a $2,000 grant, and there is even a federal depreciation of up to 85-percent, which makes the initial investment, about the equivalent of paying for five years of energy up front, payback quicker than some naysayers might expect.

“You will see the payback from the investment in about 5-7 years, but the price wouldn’t scare people away if they did the math and saw how much they will save,” Emmons said. “For a business not to do this, they are just hurting themselves in today’s economy.”

The solar thermal panels, which take up about a third of the roof, are 4-feet by 8-feet each, facing south, in six rows of six panels each. The panels will accumulate about 36 kilowatts a day and will be heating a thousand gallons of water for the hotel, which will eliminate the boiler from kicking on, thus saving money to the hotel. Even on overcast days, the panels will still generate up to two-thirds of full power, and the system stores unused energy so no energy is lost. “This system that Park Place now has could heat up to 18 homes,” Emmons said.

Berger and Emmons both realize that Park Place’s venture may be looked at with interest, but from a distance by other businesses, as Ocean City is known for its conservative outlook on new ideas.

“Business owners are very comfortable around here. They kind of hope things are going to get better, rather than make steps to ensure that it does,” Emmons said. “The numbers pretty much speak for themselves.”

Some of those numbers that Emmons refers to is the up to 50-percent in water costs that a home or business can save on with solar thermal energy, which the federal government has called the “fastest payback”. Solar Thermal energy has been around since the 1970s, with President Jimmy Carter, a huge proponent of alternative energy, famously installed solar thermal panels on the White House.

Emmons said that technology has evolved from “pioneer” to “adopter” to “mainstream” status with the Park Place project, citing all the factors make this a “strike while the iron is hot” time for alternative energy.

Emmons said that installing home solar thermal panels would cost about $1,000 per panel plus about another $7,500 to $8,000 for other equipment needed. Only two to three panels would be needed to cut your home’s water heating bill by “66-75-percent”, paying the initial investment back in five years and saving about “$20,000” for the homeowner in the system’s lifetime.

Emmons’ system that he installed in the Park Place Hotel has received a 12.5 Solar Efficiency Factor rating by the federal government, which is the highest rating ever given to a comparable system. This rating equates to 93-percent efficiency in capturing and transporting solar heat from the panels to the tanks.

That might not mean much to some, but for the Park Place Hotel, it appears that all those numbers will equate to a lot of extra dollars in their proverbial pockets.

“The city was very supportive in us doing this project, and we realize that it’s a learning process for the city, but we really hope this catches on”, said Berger.