Meet Bill Keith, aka the 'solar fan guy.' He's the small business owner who stood up yesterday in President Obama's first town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., and asked about the green stimulus package. Indiana has been hardest hit by the recession and now has a staggering 15 percent unemployment rate. People like Bill are giving hope to his community by showing that there is a road to economic recovery ahead.

Bill Keith was a roofer, and just six years ago he got a very bright idea. While installing an attic ventilation fan in near 140 degree heat, he was almost electrocuted. The moment inspired the solar-powered attic fan, and after several years of production, he now has a $4 million/year business called SunRise Solar.

Bill says that he was strongly encouraged to take his manufacturing operation to China, where labor is so much cheaper and profit margins higher. Instead he decided to build his factory in Warsaw, Ind., sourcing labor and parts locally.

Though he could be making much more money by off-shoring his manufacturing, he is happy knowing that SunRise Solar is a bright spot in the otherwise gloomy horizon of the Midwestern economy. In the past few years, SunRise Solar has seen dramatic growth in business, "I can show you my records, and its like a 45 degree angle straight up... and that's without an incentive. "

The device works by sucking hot air out of the attic during summer months, heat which normally requires a home's air conditioning to work double time. A simple solar-powered fan, controlled by a thermostat, draws free solar energy as needed, dramatically reducing a home's summer electricity bill — up to 30 percent on AC consumption, according to the manufacturer.

So in addition to creating good jobs and saving homeowners money, SunRise Solar is doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from wasted energy. Air Conditioning, according to the EIA, accounts for a full 16 percent of TOTAL residential electricity use in the U.S. Central AC typically uses 2800 kWh per year. If 20 million homes added attic ventilation, we would save about 9-10 billion kWh's per year! That's about three 500 MW coal plants we would no longer need.

In response to Bill Keith's question about the green stimulus money that would encourage more companies to follow the SunRise model, Obama laid out four strategies he hopes to achieve (the first three are included in Obama's recovery plan, the last is going to take longer to fund):

  • We need to pass a renewable energy standard and set a benchmark for percentage of green energy. This will stimulate investors, R&D, and kick-start growth in that sector.
  • We should be providing tax credits and load guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency installations. Several credits are on the verge of lapsing and need to be renewed and expanded.
  • We need to work with utilities following California's lead, by incentivizing the utility companies to credit home owners that invest in solar and other energy measures. The consumer should be able to sell energy back at standard prices.
  • Lastly we need to improve R&D. As has been shown, government investment in research leads to better technology with cheaper pricing, the key to large-scale implementation. 

As Obama stated, "The country that figures out how to make cheaper energy that’s also clean, that country is going to win the economic competition of the future. And I want that country to be the Unites States of America." For more details on the green components of Obama's Recovery bill, read my Green Stimulus post.

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