ASK THE EXPERT: A Conversation with Gravity Sun Power’s Martin Young
Text: Cass Collins
Although sun lover Martin Young of Gravity Sun Power and Gravity Ice Cream in Honesdale PA spends part of his winters in Jamaica, West Indies, Our Country Home was able to catch up with him to get his views and hear his advice on solar power installation. Young has since returned to his home in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Here is our conversation.
OCH: I’m curious about the name of your company, Gravity Sun Power. What’s the origin?
MY: We named our company Gravity Management after the old Gravity Railroad system in Honesdale [see Editor’s Note]. We began with Gravity Bowling, which is a public bowling alley, and the ice cream shop, Gravity Ice Cream. The solar energy company was a natural extension of that.
OCH: How did you become interested in solar energy?
MY: I’ve always been interested in it. When the SEEDS group [Sustainable Energy Education and Development Support] offered courses in wind and solar power, I signed up. In order to qualify for the Pennsylvania State Sunshine Program, you have to have a certified installer. The only way for Pennsylvania residents to get rebates under the program is to have an approved installer submit an application to the state. [Editor’s Note: the maximum incentive for a residential Photovoltaic system is the lesser of $7,500 or 35% of installed costs.] I had enough free time, unlike many contractors in the area at the time, to take these courses and I got the first certification under the state program. Only a few local contractors have it.
OCH: What do you like about solar power?
MY: Besides its environmental benefits, it’s just a good investment. The only drawback is the big first step, the initial cost.
OCH: How good an investment is it?
MY: In this economy it’s better than a CD or the stock market, even. The recoup of investment is five to six years in Pennsylvania, with a 15 to 18% return over the life of the system.
OCH: How long do the systems last?
MY: There is only one moving part and that’s the inverter, which has a 15-year warranty. The panels are guaranteed for 25 years. It’s a solid system economically, with new technological advances in manufacturing capability, meaning larger production volumes. The prices dropped dramatically over the last two years. For one thing, contractors are able to buy larger quantities to keep costs down.
OCH: Where are the panels made?
MY: All over the world, in Asia, the U.S., Germany. German products are the most mature. We use a lot of German-made panels because of the quality and track record.
OCH: How do I know if solar power is a good choice for me?
MY: We come out to your house and do a site analysis. You need a south-facing area that gets clear sun from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It also depends on what your goals are—full offset of energy costs or credit as income. That determines the design. We can do roof-mounted or ground-mounted panels. We give you a cash-flow proposal with alternatives.
OCH: Who are your customers?
MY: Generally, they are more mature homeowners looking for a green investment that makes good financial sense.
OCH: Do you do installations in New York?
MY: The New York incentive program is not as good as Pennsylvania’s.
OCH: How does solar energy work?
MY: Solar panels gather DC power from the sun. An inverter changes the DC power to AC and it is fed into the main electrical system during the daytime. If the panels make more power than is used, the meter turns backward, generating a credit to the homeowner.
OCH: What about batteries?
MY: You don’t need batteries. In fact, back-up batteries decrease output by 10%. A back-up generator is a better bet for power outages.
OCH: What kind of commitment would I have to make to get an estimate for a solar power system?
MY: You have to commit to be there when I get there [laughing].
OCH: Anything else you’d like to say to people who are thinking about solar energy?
MY: Educate yourself. There is lots of good information out there. The SEEDS group in Tyler Hill, PA is a community-based information organization (seedsgroup.blogspot.com, 570/224-0052.) Solar energy a great thing, but each project has to make financial sense.
Martin Young and Gravity Sun Power, 106 6th Street, Honesdale, PA 18431, can be reached at 570/243-1786 or www.gravitysunpower.com. This address is also houses Gravity Alley and Gravity Ice Cream.
All the businesses at 106 6th Street are powered by solar energy panels placed on the rooftop.
[Editor’s Note: According to the Minisink Valley Historical Society’s website, the D&H Gravity Railroad carried cars from Carbondale, PA, through Waymart, to Honesdale where it delivered them to D&H canal boats. The D&H Canal Company planned to transport coal from the mines in Carbondale to the Hudson River entirely by canal. However, the availability of water at the summit and the number of locks needed to scale the Moosic Mountains between Carbondale and Honesdale precluded this plan. A “gravity railroad” was the solution, and construction began in 1827. Designed by D&H Chief Engineer John B. Jervis, it utilized a series of inclined planes and steam engines to pull carloads of coal up and over the Moosic Mountains, a rise of almost 1,000 feet.]