SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Mike Tierney had two themes for attendees of the RPA Conference to ponder. Tierney, the owner of Aspen Solar Systems, Aspen, Colo., praised solar energy, but he is concerned that it isn’t marketable.

“It is a very fast-growing field,” he stated. “[But] it is a hard sell. Payback in energy savings is longer.”

However, he believes that the current global energy situation will prompt more interest in solar power. “The world uses 77 million barrels of oil a day, while we are only finding 15 million barrels a day. We have already used 65 percent of the available oil. Americans consume their weight in petroleum every seven days.

“And after tens of thousands of years, we are still burning things for energy. We need to phase out hydrocarbon combustion.”

Mike Tierney describes the need for solar power to RPA conference attendees.

Why Harness The Sun?

Tierney stated that the answer is obvious: “We need an alternative energy source.”

He said that direct-beam solar is the one solar radiation form that offers the most advantages. Direct beam hits the earth surface without a change of direction. And the angle of the sun’s rays determines how much energy is received.

Tierney said that people who plan to use solar energy should consider where to locate solar panels (often built onto rooftops or situated on a nearby location) or where to build a home or structure to maximize the exposure to direct solar beams.

“The more perpendicular the solar rays are, the better the volume of solar heat collected and stored,” he said. “When selecting a site to build, it is possible to choose a location that takes advantage of the ‘solar window.’”

The solar window is calculated by factoring the winter and summer solstices to determine the most exposure to the sun. Tierney said there are other factors to consider, such as the location of trees or other buildings.

Solar energy also can be used for supplying warm water to radiant flooring, either via direct heating of the fluid or the indirect way using a heat exchanger, where the fluid is collected and stored in a thermal vessel for later use.

“Most radiant/solar systems are custom design-build,” stated Tierney. “These are not plug-and-play systems.”

Renewable Energy Source

Tierney believes that consumers need to weigh the installation costs and energy savings payback. They should also consider this: “Are the real reasons for saving nonrenewable energy sources because it is the ecologically correct thing to do?”

On its Web site (, Aspen Solar describes the need for renewable energy and the efforts made by interest groups to boost the technology in Colorado.

According to the Web site, Governor Roy Romer established the Renewable Energy Task Force in June 1996 to develop strategies designed to help Colorado better use renewable energy resources such as the sun and wind. The goal is to establish Colorado as a world center for renewable energy industries.

“Coloradans want to use more renewables as a way to protect our environment,” Romer said. “Our state’s abundance of sun and wind, and our wealth of advanced technology experts can make Colorado a leader in developing and using renewable energy.”

According to Tierney, “Growth increases the demand for services that require energy. The Renewable Energy Program helps local officials, utilities, and individuals identify applications of renewable energy technologies that can save money, stimulate the local economy, and help to protect the environment.”

Aspen Solar has been installing solar heating and solar electric systems for 13 years. In 1990, the company was named Solar Company of the Year for the state by the Colorado Solar Energy Industry Association.

For more information, visit or call 970-925-3659.

Sidebar: Inventor Shows Off ‘Radiant Groover’ At RPA Expo

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — John Ruhnke, owner of JR’s Plumbing & Heating of Norwalk, Conn., brought an idea to the RPA Expo in hopes that he might find some interested parties — interested enough to want to mass-produce the product.

The product is called the “Radiant Groover.” Ruhnke describes it as a “new installation method for radiant heating, and the tools to go along with it.” The Radiant Groover is designed to rout out grooves in wood flooring for the installation of radiant heat tubing.

He said that the installation method will compete with companies that sell premanufactured panels. “The material involved with premanufactured panels can cost as much as $5 per square foot or higher,” Ruhnke explains in his literature. “The materials used in this new installation method will cost less than $1 per square foot.”

He stated that while premanufactured panels are limited in tubing sizes and tube spacing, the Radiant Groover allows for any spacing or tube size.

“Custom layouts are possible with the Radiant Groover and impossible with the premanufactured panels,” Ruhnke said.

Although the project is not yet available to the public, he is seeking a manufacturer to license the Radiant Groover technology.

JR’s Plumbing and Heating is a family-run plumbing and heating company that has been in business since 1990. The company services lower Fairfield County, Conn., working in residential, commercial, and industrial areas. JR’s specializes in hot water heating (including radiant), steam heating, and plumbing.

For more information on the Radiant Groover, visit or visit the company’s Web site at Ruhnke can be reached at 203-849-1479 or

— John R. Hall

Publication date: 07/14/2003