Frederick County startups target the sun
Companies provide range of alternative energy services
Among the growing wave of Frederick County businesses tapping a more environmentally conscious market is a handful of startups specializing in alternative energy.
That includes TimberRock Energy Solutions of Frederick, which designs and manufactures small solar systems to generate residential, commercial and government facilities, according to founder Brent Hollenbeck.
"We focus on systems that are small and easy to deploy and have a low cost of entry," Hollenbeck said.
Solar energy is "hitting [people's] homes every day" and privately held TimberRock helps people harvest that energy so they use less electricity generated from more conventional sources, which in Maryland is usually coal, Hollenbeck said.
Hollenbeck formed TimberRock about a year ago, after running the former longtime local manufacturing company Airpax. TimberRock's headquarters are in Frederick, with technology and manufacturing operations in Orlando, Fla., and Chambersburg, Pa., respectively.
Among TimberRock's five employees is CFO Fred Ugast, who also runs his own company, U.S. Photovoltaics, in the Frederick Innovative Technology Center Inc. incubator. Ugast said his company helps TimberRock and others deal with the "challenge" of the high up-front costs of installing solar systems.
"The various incentives that are out there are not as simple as they should be," Ugast said. "But there's an opportunity to make it easier for people to finance these programs."
Ugast's company focuses on renewable solar energy credits, which are state programs, he said. Such a credit represents the nonpolluting value of 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity produced by a solar electric system, according to U.S. Photovoltaics.
Utilities are required to purchase a certain amount of either such credits or solar electricity from customers that have solar installations, Ugast said.
"We help people monetize that portion of the economic value of solar," he said, with the credits' value varying from state to state.
Maryland, along with 28 other states and Washington, D.C., have legislation requiring utilities, electricity suppliers and electricity distributors to include certain amounts of power from renewable sources, said Ugast, whose company helps manage credit programs for about 300 clients in the Washington region.
There are "great opportunities in the alternative energy fields," said Michael J. Dailey, executive director of the FITCI incubator.
U.S. Photovoltaics and UR Solar Power are the latest incubator tenants that focus on alternative energy technologies. OxiCool, which graduated from the incubator in 2009, specializes in technology to remove pollutants from air conditioning systems.
Other companies in the county that provide alternative energy services include Potomac Wind Energy, Chesapeake Green Fuels and Nelson Commercial Plumbing.
Another startup, Sustainable Energy Systems of Frederick, designs and installs solar energy, water heating and radiant floor heating systems for residential and commercial properties, said general manager Zayn Bradley.
Bradley started the company two years ago at a cost of $9,000. The company does most of its commercial work at its Winston-Salem, N.C., location, he said. Revenues have "steadily increased" since its creation, but Bradley declined to disclose specific figures.
Sustainable Energy has provided services in Thurmont and Woodsboro, and Bradley said he hopes the solar industry grows more intelligently than it did in the 1980s.
"There was a huge surge with solar energy in the '80s, but the systems were of a lesser quality because of a lack of training," Bradley said. "People thought solar wasn't very efficient."
Solar energy makes property owners change their thinking about energy use entirely, Ugast said.
"They become much more cognizant of what they're doing and how they're doing it and what its effect is," he said.