Project Open Hand prepares 2,600 hot meals and over 400 grocery orders per day to seniors and those with symptomatic HIV/AIDS in San Francisco and Alameda County. Since October 2007, Project Open Hand has begun using the sun to power its operations and provide hot water for its kitchen.
Three years ago, Dan Schuman, Project Open Hand's Director of Operations, and Steven Hunter, Director of Building Operations, began planning new green initiatives to cut operating costs and reduce Project Open Hand's environmental footprint. They had difficulty finding funds for a solar electric system until PG&E offered to donate an 18 kilowatt (kW) system. When PG&E realized how much hot water Project Open Hand consumes, they proposed expanding their donation to include a solar water heating system as well.
Project Open Hand worked with Luminalt [luminalt.com] to design and install their solar thermal system. In the year since it was installed, Project Open Hand's ten solar collectors have produced over 34 megawatt hours (1,150 therms) of energy and saved approximately $1,500 in natural gas bills. On a sunny day the solar collector temperature is usually around 140/160°F by 10/11am. "We've had a number of different contractors visit our facility at press events and they all say, 'Wow, this is so nice. How did they do all that?'" Hunter said of Luminalt.
Project Open Hand consumes so much water in its kitchens - 4,500 gallons per day - that it only needs one 119 gallon solar hot water storage tank. Water cycles through the solar system so quickly that the collectors preheat the water temperature just a few degrees. That difference is enough to meet around 16% of their annual hot water load, according to Hunter.
Schuman hopes to double Project Open Hand's solar thermal system in the near future. "Our pitch to our board is not just about how much we can save in operating expenses," said Schuman. "We talk about it in two terms: dollar savings in operating expenses and CO2 benefits. We expect to save two million pounds of CO2 over the next 25 years." Schuman considers Project Open Hand's solar thermal system a pilot project that has demonstrated the value of solar thermal. "Now we can say to donors and our board, 'You give me $1 and I can turn it into $2 or $3 in the long run.'"
Project Open Hand's green initiatives - cleaner vehicles, recycling and composting, energy efficiency, and then solar electricity and hot water - not only helped reduce operating costs, Schuman explained, they also introduced Project Open Hand to a broader public. "For us that's everything, the promotional aspect. The publicity we received helped us reach out to a whole other community that didn't even know what Project Open Hand did. Our solar system is directly related to an increase in our profile and it's given us a lot of good PR.