June 25, 2010
Sun charts business path
21-year-old starts local firm to sell thermal energy systems
Cortland native Jonathan Wood is hoping to enter a largely untapped market in Cortland County through his new solar energy company.
As a 21-year-old business owner, he has sidestepped the traditional approach to education and entering the workforce. Rather than graduating from college with student loan debt and trying to find a job to pay it off, he is taking college courses he thinks will help him develop his new business.
Wood formed Green Sun Solar NRGS in March. He plans to install solar thermal energy systems for local residents, businesses and organizations to provide them with a clean source of energy to heat their water and homes. He recently sold his first system to a couple in Cincinnatus.
“Just because I’m 21 doesn’t mean I can’t run my own business,” Wood said. “This is something I like to do. I like a challenge. I like to solve problems.”
Wood works out of a house he leases from his father on Park Street. His product is an evacuated tube solar collector, a system that converts the sun’s radiation into thermal energy to produce heat. The collectors consist of 20 to 30 glass tubes attached to one another.
The collectors can be connected to hot water tanks to heat water using the energy captured by the tubes, Wood said. They can also heat homes, or collect heat that can be converted into energy and used to power air conditioners, Wood said.
The collectors can be placed on roofs, on the side of a house or mounted into the ground.
Wood said people often tell him that solar energy will not work in Central New York because there is not enough sunlight, but he says solar thermal systems do not require sunny days to operate.
Unlike photovoltaic solar panels, Wood said, solar thermal systems can produce a sufficient amount of energy on cloudy days. Both types of systems use the sun as an energy source, but solar panels directly convert sunlight into energy, while solar thermal systems use radiation, Wood said. He said the sun’s radiation is present even on cloudy days, adding that people can get sunburned on cloudy days.
He said he plans to sell each system for between $6,000 and $8,500. At that price range it will take five to eight years for residents to get a return on their investments, he said. Residents who install this type of system are eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit and a 25 percent state tax credit on the total cost they pay for the materials and installation, he added.
Wood previously worked for an Ithaca-based company that installs solar energy systems.
He came up with the idea to start a solar energy company in January around the same time that he enrolled at Tompkins Cortland Community College. After attending King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, for two years to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant, Wood decided to return to Cortland and attend TC3.
He left King’s College partly because the national recession made him question whether he should pay to attend a private college with a high tuition cost. He had also lost interest in the medical field and missed Central New York, he said.
After taking a semester off, Wood decided to work toward an engineering science degree at TC3 and start a solar energy company. Being a part-time student would give him time to run a business and allow him to spread out his education over a longer period.
Wood said his realization that not every student graduating from college can find a job right now encouraged him to start a business and create a job for himself.
“That’s kind of why I started my company. I’m not guaranteed to get a job anyway,” Wood said.
He is taking classes in science, math and computer programing — areas that will not only help him earn a degree but give him the knowledge he needs for his business.
“I take classes based on what I think’s going to better my business at this point,” Wood said.
Wood said he is driven to help reduce carbon emissions by providing people with renewable energy sources and to create jobs for local residents.
Wood learned on Friday night that he had received a $19,000 microenterprise grant as part of a $200,000 grant the city received in March from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal.
He said he will use the money to buy office materials and create jobs. He hopes to hire two employees in the near future and is planning to start accepting applications in a couple of weeks. Wood said he will look to hire solar technicians and installers.
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