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What do you do at Aztech Energy?
We've founded with the idea of developing low-cost solar thermal products made of mostly plastics. Most solar thermal is glass and metal. We've got some technology to make it low-cost and very efficient. We have plans for several products down the road, including roof-top solar thermal, but our first product to market is a solar hot tub cover. It is the first hot tub cover to have the solar completely built in and self-contained. Because it's plastic and it uses air, it's a much lighter weight.
How did you come up with the idea for the solar hot tub cover?
I came up with the idea about a year and a half ago. I was looking at my hot tub and seeing the sun hitting the cover and I thought well, the sunlight is coming 93 million miles and it's stopping one foot from where the water is — where it actually needs to heat it. So, I thought if we allowed the cover to let heat through at the right times, that would be a much smarter way of heating a hot tub than the electric heaters —which around here, use coal and natural gas and aren't very environmentally friendly. I had the first one about a year-and-a-half ago that I tested on my spa at my house and the very first one worked extremely well. It heated the water. It does it in an extremely different way than any other heating — the sunlight heats the top of the cover and then when heat is needed, there's fans that bring it down. The heat radiates right down to the water. We tested through last winter. In Colorado it will provide more than half the heating energy needed for the hot tub and save around $800 over five years, which more than pays for the cost of the cover. It's very cost effective. In sunnier area, like California, it will provide around 80 percent of the heating needed. We're on the market now in Colorado and we just started to sell here. But this has application nationally and world wide. It's a really good option for people who want to buy a hot tub but are concerned about the energy cost or energy usage.
What's the client base like and how do you market this product?
Mostly it's replacement spa covers. Nationwide, there's five million hot tubs in back yards and the vinyl covers need to be replaced every five years. So, there's about a million hot tub covers sold every year in the United States and there's about 200,000 new spas sold. We're going to sell mostly through dealers. Another real important thing is selling with manufacturers. I think they might sell a lot more hot tubs if they can capture the part of the market that doesn't want to buy a hot tub because of the heating cost.
How did you get into the renewable energy business?
I started doing renewable energy — back then it was called alternative energy — when I was in the Peace Corps. My first job out of college was in the Peace Corps. in the South Pacific. We did a solar installation and wind generators in the early 1980s. So, I've been doing renewable energy for most of my career. I worked in aerospace for a little while, but with climate change as a big concern of mine, we moved to Colorado nine years ago to start a solar energy company here. We were working mostly with industrial skylights, but what really became the most promising was when we started looking at these plastic solar collectors. We have five patents pending now. So, I'm really happy to be helping make a difference. Every one of these covers will save on average 1,000 pounds of CO2 a year — each cover.
Why is renewable energy and helping the environment important to you personally?
I first saw an article in a scientific magazine in 1987 about CO2 and the build up of it in the atmosphere potentially causing some climate, global warming problems. I'm just concerned over the long-term affects of CO2 on the environment. But I was doing renewable energy before that article. In the `70s, there was the oil crisis with gas lines. I did my undergraduate thesis on solar energy then. I've just always been attracted to it. But much more recently, it seems a little more urgent. That's why it's more satisfaction to have a business like this that's hopefully doing big things.
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