A Clean Green Office
I outfitted my consulting firm with the latest tools to conserve energy and generate clean power.
(FORTUNE Small Business) – RUNNING AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT OFFICE ISN'T just great for the environment. It's helping my sales grow 30% a year. As president of the Stella Group (thestellagroupltd.com), a five-person clean-energy consulting firm, I guide big companies and government clients such as the Department of Defense and the state of Mississippi through the maze of available green energy technologies and arrange financing when they make purchases. I designed my 880-square-foot, two-story office building in Arlington, Va., to illustrate how the latest green products work. If you want clients to use new technologies, it's smart to use them yourself.
I'm proud of how much energy we conserve. The building's double-paned Marvin windows (custom order at marvin.com) face southwest for maximum sun exposure, and the space between the panes is filled with argon, an inert gas that acts as insulation. In summer the temperature-sensitive glass screens light rays that give off heat. To keep the thermostat steady, the walls and ceilings contain four to six inches of insulation, including a rigid plastic foam called polyisocyanurate (for sources, go to pima.org). That is more than the thickness of the average home's insulation. I also use a ductless heat pump from Sanyo. This system runs on recycled refrigerant fluid that can be heated or cooled. All the light fixtures in the office take compact fluorescent bulbs, which use only a fraction of the wattage of incandescents, and high-efficiency LED bulbs.
We use green technologies to generate most of the 1.5 kilowatts of electricity we burn each day. Much of it comes from solar roofing shingles from UNI-SOLAR. To generate additional energy, we added a small wind turbine from Southwest Windpower, which towers above the roof. The electricity is stored in a battery bank from GridPoint that powers everything in the building. Our backup is a Plug Power (plugpower.com) hydrogen fuel cell. I lease it for $375 a month through Government Leasing (government-leasing.com). Our energy bill is only about $70 a month because of our efforts. In all, I've invested about $5,000 to make the office more energy efficient and about $15,000 on renewable energy. I hope to earn back my investment in seven years.
Clients often have a lot of apprehension about spending money on new clean-energy technologies. They ask me, Will the roof turbine blow off in high winds? Can the solar panels withstand hail? Will the solar water-heating panels get too hot to work properly? We have had winds of more than 80 miles an hour, bad hail storms, and many days with temperatures of more than 100 degrees. All our systems were unharmed and worked fine. There's nothing like being able to tell customers that I have already solved the energy problems they are facing. They think, "If he can do it, I can do it too."
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As Told to Eilene Zimmerman contributed to this article.
From the April 1, 2007 issue