In hot water
Auguste Lemaire is a fifth generation Nevadan with an extensive background in engineering, contracting and solar power. For him, opening his own business in Reno has been a lifelong goal.
“I always wanted my own shop,” he says. “And it’s thrilling to make a product that goes out and makes a difference.”
Lemaire is the founder of Sunvelope Solar, a company creating solar water heater systems for residential use. Sunvelope has been in business for five years, and Lemaire hopes to soon have his systems—all designed and manufactured by him—on the market. Currently, the patent is pending, and the system is undergoing a series of studies to ensure that it meets standards.
“It’s a simple concept, really,” says Sunvelope spokesman Peter Moker. “This kind of technology has been used for thousands of years. It’s how people used to heat their water.”
Lemaire keeps his design under wraps, but it’s a pretty straightforward piece of engineering. Made out of stainless steel and aluminum, the product literally resembles an envelope that absorbs the heat reflected by the sun, heating the water within metal pockets, which expand to let water pass through. Besides the system, Lemaire also designed the machines used to manufacture it.
A sample system has been on display at local events and can be seen on the Sunvelope website. Lemaire also constructed a giant sunflower made from the systems to demonstrate the possibilities for customizing the solar systems. The Desert Research Institute is testing Sunvelope’s product, as well as a German model, on their Renewable Energy Experimental Facility (REEF), a 600-square-foot model house used to test innovations in renewable energy.
In order to keep the carbon footprint of the operation minimal, Lemaire plans for Sunvelope distribution centers to manufacture the system on location, reducing the need to transport items from state to state. He hopes his business will help generate jobs and contribute to Reno’s renewable energy market.
Countries such as China, India, Germany, Brazil and Israel are in the process of large-scale solar thermal technology. The European Solar Thermal Industry Federation set a goal to have 500 million square meters outfitted with solar water heating by 2020. China’s goal is 300 million square meters. According to a 2010 article by environmental website Grist.com, if China and ESTIF can achieve their goals, “This would give the world a solar thermal capacity by 2020 of 1,100 thermal gigawatts, the equivalent of 690 coal-fired power plants. … [It would be] part of a massive effort to stabilize our rapidly changing climate by slashing global net carbon emissions 80 percent within the next decade.” The numbers come from Earth Policy Institute president Lester R. Brown’s book Plan B 4.0.
The U.S. solar thermal market has been mostly focused toward heating swimming pools, but some states, like California and Hawaii, will soon require new homes to have the systems built in.
Lemaire is optimistic about the potential for his business to impact the community—and hopefully, beyond Nevada.
“It really could change the world, and the way most of the world lives,” he says.