Who are you?
What is your business?
We manufacture solar thermal collectors integrated into metal roof panels.
Is there a story behind your business?
President and Owner Fred Harkness has been running his own design and construction business, Harkness Built, for over 35 years, during which time he witnessed the shortcomings of conventional solar hot water panels made popular after the first energy crisis (mid-1970's). Though well-intentioned, they were an accessory which did not complement the architecture and had many mechanical problems. Solar had been somewhat of a family hobby, and Fred experimented with prototypes to fill the gap in the market for an architecturally conscious solar option. When he had designed, built and used a fully functioning system, he sent his collectors to be tested at the Florida Solar Energy Center and was pleasantly surprised by the results. Since then, there have been several rounds of testing and improvements to reach the highest performing version, which is the Nor’easter collector.
What problem(s) are you/your business trying to help solve?
We are trying to increase the use of clean energy and thereby reduce the use of fossil fuels. We are also focused on making solar attractive – in appearance and as a competitive product.
Because we use thermal energy rather than electric, the target use for the energy collected is water heating, radiant flooring and space heating and cooling. In New England, space heating is the biggest end use share of residential energy consumption (water heating is the third biggest), so when a system owner can reduce or fully eliminate that cost it also helps them on a personal financial level.
How is your company changing the world?
While we admire the utility of PV, coming from an architectural or design perspective, we don’t love the look of traditional PV panels on top of roofs. We want to offer a product which makes going green less radical and doesn’t require you to sacrifice the design. We think that nowadays aesthetic is very important and if we can satisfy that need then we can convert more people into clean energy users.
Why do you like being a part of the bigger CI Works puzzle?
For one, Fred Harkness is an Amesbury resident, so we love the fact that it’s local. It’s interesting to see the kinds of businesses we have right here in our small town. Some of the other tenants have really interesting businesses. There is a new brewery going in and I recently saw on the website another tenant is LobsterAnywhere.com, a Maine lobster delivery service! We also recently attended an OSD presentation organized through the center which was highly informative, so it’s great that they offer a program of events to help businesses network and expand. We’ve also paired up with Anchor Hitch who will be doing some photography and video production for us. It’s nice to have an environment where organic partnerships can happen.
Tell us a little about your partnership with fellow tenant, Building Envelope Materials.
One of the simple but effective components of our system is the added layer of insulation beneath each panel. Building Envelope Materials has developed a type of insulation which we believe is a perfect fit for our product. In a non official manner we often exchanged ideas regarding manufacturing techniques and the use of foam and insulation materials. As well as various adhesive tapes. We would often lend tools to each other for projects. They are great people to learn and work with.
What do you hope your company’s next milestone will be?
We are trying to finish the year by generally increasing our brand awareness and that of solar thermal energy in general, as well as completing 10 projects that we can draw data from by the end of the year.
What’s cool about your team?
We have an inside joke that while it’s not rocket science, we do have a rocket scientist on our team because John Del Mar, our engineer, has worked at Kennedy Space Center.
Are there any causes you are passionate about?
We try to live the values we care about – of course environmental conservation and clean energy is one. In fact, this fall we are presenting at the GreenBuild convention, and they have very stringent requirements for exhibitors to be environmentally friendly with their booths and that has inspired us to take a look at where we stand to improve – things like using recycled paper and having high efficiency light bulbs. Another is buy local – we source several components from companies throughout New England rather than ordering them from China, our printer is local and we’re just about to get company shirts from another local vendor.
What is your biggest fear?
We would like to see clean energy employed quickly and expansively. Our biggest fear is that irreversible damage will be done to the earth while the technology is available but just not being used.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
There have been quite a few, but I’d say receiving the ICC-SRCC certification, winning the InnovateMass grant and hearing people mention they’ve heard about a new technology which turns out to be us.
What advice do you have for other small businesses?
You have to start moving. There is always going to be more to do and something you don’t know, but the more you do the more you learn. Massachusetts is also a great place for clean energy and small business, so if you are here, take advantage of it.