Clay Solar Company Succeeds While St. Aug One Closes | Business

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Clay Solar Company Succeeds While St. Aug One Closes

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- "I'm a glazer," said Robert Cole, explaining his job at Alternate Energy Technologies. "It's like an assembly line, and I'm at the final stage of it."

Cole works, manufacturing solar thermal panels at AET in Green Cove Springs. He just heard about a different solar company closing in St. Augustine, STR Holdings, leaving 45 people without jobs this week. 

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"My heart goes out to them," Cole shook his head.

His workplace - AET - appears to be doing well. It just moved its operations into a newer, bigger facility in Clay County. Instead of working with photovoltaic solar technology which creates electricity - like STR Holdings - AET manufactures solar thermal panels. Those panels are used to heat water.

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"The most efficient way to use the sun's energy is with solar thermal," said John Alger, a commercial sales engineer with AET. 

Alger said thermal panels also cost less to install, but he said many people do not know that. "Most of the general public, when they think of solar, they think of the electric panels ... the photovoltaic panels. They're not aware there is a more viable, cost effective technology, and that's solar thermal."

Alger explained there are three parameters which determine how fast you can break even with a solar energy system.

  • The initial cost of installation.
  • Your energy cost per kilowatt hour.
  • The amount of energy you use.

Alger explained that if a family of four in the Jacksonville area installed a solar thermal system, the initial cost would be $5,800.

Once the family factors in local and federal rebates and tax credits, the cost drops to about $2,800. 

With the solar thermal system, that family could save an estimated $75 a month, and the family could pay back the cost in about three years. 

Alger said he's not against photovoltaic technology; he has it it as well as solar thermal technology at his own house. "They work well together," he said.

Alger and his colleagues are trying to figure out a way to tell more people about solar thermal, though. 

It's not just because it would mean good business for his company, he said, "but there will be more demand and then we'll create more local jobs for installers, local sales people, and distributors, for everyone along the supply chain."

As for Cole, who knows what it's like to be without a job, the solar business has been good for him the past four years he's been at AET.

"It's a good field to get into. I'm proud I got an opportunity to get involved in the process," Cole added, and then he quickly went back to work in AET's new manufacturing plant.


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