In the Burlington County landfill, Rutgers scientists have drilled a hole and dropped in a long length of perforated pipe, packed with gravel. The little fan at the top of the pipe draws out very usable methane.

Right now garbage haulers — some of the dirtiest vehicles in our towns) are very much interested in converting their trucks for methane fuel. The solution is ideal, because they can get a fill up every time they dump a load.

On the edge of the Burlington landfill sits the Rutgers University EcoComplex. Inside this center dedicated to renewable energy in all its forms, lives a sustainable loop. The tilapia fish feed off the plants in the tanks, their excrement flows on to feed the hydroponic tomatoes and other vegetables, whose roots dangle in the water. The vegetables absorb the nutrients, grow to an impressive size, and cleanse the water, which returns to the fish tanks. “It’s all a matter of some screen filters, a few pumps, and a watchful eye. Nothing terribly high tech,” says EcoComplex assistant director David Specca.

With such living examples, the New Jersey Technology Council could find no better partner nor venue for its “Green Trends and Predictions 2008” conference. This multifaceted program includes round tables on “Bio-Energies Technology,” “Energy Efficiency and Information Software,” along with several presentations, including “Green Investing Trends.” The conference is held Monday, February 25, at 3 p.m. at the EcoComplex in Bordentown. Cost: $60. Visit www.ecocomplex.rutgers.edu; or www.njtc.org.

Among the several presenters slated is John Ondik, domestic sales manager for Philadelphia-based Solar Roofing Systems Inc. (www.srsenergy.com.) The SRS concept is simple. Everybody needs a roof. Everybody wants clean, cheap solar energy. Why not combine the two into one?

The sheer efficiency of the SRS model meshes well with Ondik’s logistical career. Calling himself “a thoroughly Pennsylvania boy,” Ondik attended Villanova, graduating in 1983 with a bachelor’s in business. He then joined the U.S. Navy, where he spent 10 years as a supply logistician. This experience led him to take on the positions of vice-president of military services for the food services giant Aramark, and national director for purchasing for international consultant KPMG.

Ondik later earned an MBA from the Wharton School, where he still instructs at that school’s Small Business Development Center. In the late 1990s, he teamed up with his brother to form the Ondik Group, an executive recruiting firm. As SRS Energy began to launch in 2004, Ondik became enthralled with the product and joined the team.

Doubtless, there will soon come the time when every newly built structure receives some form of embedded photovoltaic roofing as standard. We are poised on the cusp, with many entrepreneurs and engineers trying to tweak technology to economic efficiency. As a startup, SRS Energy’s roofing tiles are providing one of the initial solutions to this problem.

Tile & solar cell. Take a basic solar photovoltaic cell, place it within a light weight, durable resin, shape it into an attractive roof tile and you’ve captured the overall SRS energy roofing innovation. The goal is to replace the typical, heavy glass solar panels placed on top of an already costly roof. SRS will cover the entire structure with roof tiles, with solar cells set in whatever percentage it takes to meet the customer’s needs.

The technology is still evolving. The initial prototype established in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, has been recently improved by a second installation in nearby Morristown. Basically solar cells, in whatever form, collect the photovoltaic energy from the sun’s rays, which agitate electrons, sending them down a copper wire as direct current. From there, the current enters an end table-sized inverter that transforms the electricity to alternating current, acceptable for home or commercial use.

Setting such a collecting cell in roof tile is not without problems. The cell structure must be formed so it does not impede the sun’s energetic rays, but still provides all the durable warmth and shelter of any roof tile. Achieving exactly the right synthetic resin took literally years.

The second hurdle comes with getting the energy from all those cells, into that single copper wire that will carry it into the inverter. “We’re quite proud of our recent leap forward with this problem,” says Ondik. “And interestingly enough it was suggested by the roofers installing it. Originally, the electricity was collected by rolling out a kind of flexible circuit board under the roof’s tar paper. Little prongs would link to each solar cell tile. Now, SRS merely wires up the battens — those long, thin wood strips nailed along the roof for attaching the tiles. Each tile gets connected as it’s installed.

Beauty & savings. Interestingly, from New Jersey to California, the average home installing solar sets up a three kilowatt system, despite using an average of 10 kilowatts annually. “The main reason for choosing partial installations,” says Ondik, “is that the initial expense is so great, even in New Jersey and California, where rebates are the highest.”

The main cost of solar are the glass panels themselves. At nearly $1,000 each, meeting a home’s full 10 kilowatt needs can demand 50 three-foot by five-foot panels. In New Jersey, which boasts the best state rebate and solar credit enticements, paybacks are now being quoted at 10 years.

With an SRS Energy roof, figuring an exact solar payback becomes more complex, since the customer is purchasing two products in one. But the numbers do crunch favorably. The average high quality tile roof — just the cost of high end red clay tiles without installation — runs about $300 to $400 per 100 square feet of roofing. Top firms like Delaware-based Ludowici Tile offer a 75 year guarantee. Asphalt shingles, with a 20 to 30 year guarantee, cost $25 to $32 to cover the same 100 square feet. The SRS Energy ocean blue tile with a four-kilowatt system costs the customer approximately the same as a good tile roof, with, of course, the advantage of a greatly mitigated electric bill.

Since glass solar panels weigh in at about 70 pounds, putting up an ERS system is done a lot quicker and less expensively than a normal roof plus the additional standard panels.

Aesthetics also are claiming a lot of interest among potential customers. “People keep telling us they want solar, but they don’t want a home that looks like some glistening silver mirror,” says Ondik. It is not all clean air and money.

Currently, about a dozen companies nationally are working on solar roof tile and roof foil systems. Contractors call SRS Energy constantly, wanting to price out this new adaptation for their developments. “The thing to note here,” says Ondik, “is that the technology is mostly all out there. We just have to think a little bit to make it all work.”

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