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Solar start-up uses waste energy to heat water

As an engineer at Intel Corp., Ron Smith spent years devising ways to deal with the waste heat that builds up in microchips, sapping their performance.

Now he's tackling a similar problem in solar panels, with a local start-up that aims to cut the cost of power from the sun and grab a piece of the green-tech market. SunDrum Solar LLC, based in Placerville, makes what's essentially a snap-on radiator for photovoltaic systems. It pulls heat off the panels, improving their efficiency, and uses what otherwise would be waste energy to heat a building's water.

For customers who want to get both electricity and hot water from the sun, SunDrum's combo unit has the potential to cut costs, according to local installers. Lowering prices is one key to increasing the adoption of solar technology, which can still take a decade or more to pay for itself even with government subsidies.

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