Sunvelope wins certification, ready for manufacturing
Auguste Lemaire won second-place honors in statewide science fair five decades ago for a project that demonstrated the capabilities of solar energy.
Lemaire has his sights set on a bigger prize today after his Sparks-based Sunvelope Solar Inc. recently won an important certification from The Solar Ratings and Certification Corp.
The certification opens the door for Sunvelope’s technology to qualify for investment tax credits and utility rebates within the United States and its territories.
That, in turn, sets the stage for the company to begin full-scale marketing and manufacturing operations in Sparks.
While much of the recent attention around solar has focused on photovoltaic applications in which sunlight is converted into electricity, Sunvelope has developed a patent-pending technology to deliver hot water for applications such as domestic hot water and radiant floor heating.
The heart of the technology is an envelope hence, the company’s name created from two very thin sheets of stainless steel.
A specially designed sequential spot-welder developed by Lemaire welds the two thin sheets together, creating a pattern of dimples across the surface of the envelope. Another welding unit developed by Lemaire seals the edges of the envelopes.
A thin sheet of water is heated as it moves through the envelopes once they are installed on a customer’s rooftops. The system, Lemaire says, is more efficient than existing solar-thermal systems.
Unlike traditional solar hot-water systems, the high-pressure Sunvelope collector can be connected directly into home hot-water heaters without the need for expensive heat exchangers or glycol mixes.
And the system will tolerate freezing temperatures without damage.
Simple enough? Not for Lemaire, who spent five years and invested the better part of $1 million in development of the Sunvelope Collector and its manufacturing systems.
“Ideas don’t just fall to the ground fully formed,” he says.
He refined the technology through trial and error. Commercially available low-voltage welding systems that would meet Sunvelope’s specialized production needs were far too expensive, so Lemaire built his own. A patent application was developed and filed. The seal of approval from Florida-based Solar Ratings and Certification Corp. took a couple of false starts, three years and more money.
Grassroots marketing effort didn’t cost much cash, but kept Lemaire hopping. He pitched the Sunvelope in magazine articles, broadcast interviews and Rotary Club speeches. The company launched a Web site, and Lemaire is a dedicated nearly-every-day blogger on the site.
But Lemaire no stranger to the effort that’s required to build companies and or develop new technology.
A direct descendant of pioneer Lander County merchant August Desire Lemaire a school and street in Battle Mountain carry the family name Lemaire learned the nuts-and-bolts of product development from his own father.
After his youthful recognition for a solar project in the state science fair hardly anyone was thinking about solar at the time Lemaire made a stab at the solar business in the late 1970s before he migrated into general contracting.
But still the possibilities of solar intrigued him and he returned to it after closing the contracting business shortly before the construction market imploded.
With the new certification in hand, Lemaire expects that Sunvelope will employ five or six people by the end of this year.
It’s possible, he says, that the company could employ more than 50 within five years and will move to a larger facility.
But for that to happen, he says Sunvelope needs to attract further capital to support large-scale marketing and fund the purchase of more equipment to meet the orders that would be generated by the marketing efforts.
“We need some other people to share the dream,” Lemaire says.
“Unfortunately, once developers show up, history disappears and that’s what’s happening to Harrah’s Reno. Like the historic 1875 Adele’s building in Carson City, Bill Harrah’s crown jewel will disappear into the dustbin of history.”