With the solar energy industry enjoying a renaissance, Dale Schneider recently decided to pick up where he left off in 1984 – manufacturing and selling solar heating devices in Genesee County.
His company, North American Solar, 11705 E. Lennon, started up again to manufacture a product called the Solar Furnace. Another Schneider company, VTS Continental Window System Inc., makes energy efficiency windows in the same factory in Lennon.
The factory the same building Schneider used back in the 80’s, currently has 12 employees, but Schneider hopes to expand once things get rolling. At the company’s peak it employed almost 200 workers, a number he hopes to reach within the next two years.
“I’m open and we are ready to go,” he said. “We are putting a sales team together. We are just getting started, but if you want to buy (solar panels) today, I will sell them to you today.”
Schneider’s interest in reopening the factory began two years ago, when the Flint native came back to Michigan to deal with a few issues at this old building. There he found 10 0f the Solar Furnaces he had made in the 1980’s.
“I did not even know I had any left,” he said. “Nobody has ever built a better systm than mine today.”
Keith Paasch, director of building operations for Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget, said Schneider’s product uses proven technology and is better than some others out there.
Schneider’s system uses passive solar heating, which captures the sun’s energy to heat air or liquid medium and is very effective, Paasch said. The solar trend recently has been solar voltaic technology, which takes the sun and makes electricity from it.
“(Solar voltaic) is a good thing, but when you are talking about reducing carbon footprints and going green and quick pay back, passive solar is the way to go,” Paasch said. “We sometimes forget about the older proven products that are just as effective. We tend to get trendy.”
And with energy efficiency being a bigger concern now than when the panels were first manufactured, this seemed like the right time to start the company back up, said LeRoy Gillmer, plant manger. The windows and Solar Furnace System will compliment each other, he said.
“Everybody is going green. Everybody wants to save money,” said Gillmer, who also worked with Schneider in the 1980’s.
Schneider, 70, said product sticks out from other solar heating devices out there. He designed them using the least amount of material possible, he said. The exotic materials and specific glass he uses heat air to 400 degrees.
One Solar Furnace panel is needed for every 1, 000 square feet of building, costing $3,500 per panel. Schneider said 90% of all the energy taken in from the sun will be used for heat.
Customers should see a full return on their investment within three years, Schneider said.
For now, Gillmer said the main focus is making the windows manufactured by VTS, but he is confident the solar panels will eventually sell better than the windows.