Greater Good Energy Solutions Seeks to Cut Heating Bills and Fight Fuel Poverty

BELCHERTOWN — If an exterior wall on your building gets six or more hours of sun a day, Shavon Prophet would like to talk with you about SunMate “solar hot air panels,” which, she said, could cut the heating bill in half for many homes. 

Her start-up business, called Greater Good Energy Solutions, is not only seeking a retail clientele, but Prophet also is talking with social service agencies about distributing the panels to counter what she calls “fuel poverty.”

The glazed panels, which each cost $2,000, are 4 inches thick, about 3 feet wide and 6½ feet long. They trap the sun’s heat and then funnel it into the house through a small duct in the wall. A fan turns itself on when the temperature inside the panel exceeds 110 degrees Fahrenheit and turns itself off again when the additional heat has been brought inside. 

Prophet said the system works best if the room behind the exterior wall on which the panel is installed is one of the larger ones in the house.

For another $200, the system comes with a small photovoltaic panel to power the fan. Installation, which Prophet said reasonably handy people could do themselves, costs $400. If you buy two panels, the overall cost is about $5,000. Taking current state and federal tax credits into account brings that price down to about $2,750, she added.

Prophet, 28, envisions her budding business as a “social enterprise,” in which she sets a portion of her earnings aside to educate the wider community about new ways of conserving energy. She identifies herself as “Founder and Eco Warrior In-Chief.”

Her partner in this undertaking is her husband, Steve Sapowsky, who grew up on a farm in Granby and owns a construction business. A licensed contractor, he holds the position of “Director of Do-It-Right and President Planeteer.”

Prophet’s previous job was as a residential energy consultant with Co-op Power, a “consumer-owned sustainable energy cooperative” with offices in Boston and Hatfield.

While in that job she became familiar with the SunMate hot-air solar panels she now wants to sell and install. They are produced by Environmental Solar Systems of Methuen, a small company started by Paul Soucy, who Prophet describes as a “genius engineer.”

She became a believer in the technology and also noticed that they had not been widely marketed. “The more I found out about them, the more I thought, ‘Gosh these are amazing, how come more people aren’t installing these?’ ” she said.

Prophet said she is currently in discussions with Habitat for Humanity and Community Action to see about incorporating the SunMate panels into some of their projects.

So far she has installed one system in Northampton and will install another at the Bower Studio in Pelham at the end of January. She has also made sales out-of-state in Vermont and North Carolina.

‘Fuel poverty’

 She believes that people currently receiving federal money to help pay for heat should be eligible for help in getting these kinds of systems installed.

 “Fuel poverty is pretty much a silent topic in this country even though millions of people use the fuel assistance program which, upon deeper analysis, is one of the most disguised fossil fuel subsidies,” said Prophet. “It’s a Band-Aid, with the money going directly to utilities and fuel companies.”

 Outreach is an important part of her plan to get the business off the ground. “I am building a network of professional contacts in the renewable industry and with other energy efficiency professionals,” said Prophet. “These folks are already in several homes per day crawling around attics and basements and are able to refer folks our way as we get started.”

 A recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College with a degree in environmental studies, Prophet said she and Sapowsky came upon the idea of launching this enterprise during a business seminar last October.

 “I was getting ideas and scribbling them down in a notebook. I knew that the kind of concept I wanted to bring needed to be a business that helps people and brings awareness to an issue that’s dear to my heart,” said Prophet. “It had to be something that you can’t wait to get out of bed each morning to do.”

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The author of “this story is Eric Goldscheider, staff reporter for the Hampshire Gazette.

Author: Shavon Prophet

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