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Milton Miller and ConserveIt Giving Solar a Huge Lift

 Photovoltaic systems, solar skylights, a solar water heater, and solar attic fan on the roof of the ConserveIt building located at Truman Avenue in Kingston.


GROWING up, Milton Miller watched his father, Frederick, an electrical engineer, try various methods to generate energy on the farm on which they lived in Hanover.


At 41 years old, he owns ConserveIt, an alternative energy company that supplies and installs solar water heaters, photovoltaic (PV) or solar energy systems, solar pool heating systems, and wind turbine systems.


His son, Remell, through no prompting on Miller’s part, is now studying engineering at the University of Technology in St Andrew.


“My interest in this thing started from as young as 10 years old,” Miller told the Jamaica Observer on Thursday during an interview at his Truman Avenue offices in Kingston. “I grew up with my dad, who is my inspiration in some sense… we lived on a property that had a river surrounding the property and my dad was always trying something new; whether it was trying to dam the river, or turn an engine to make electricity, or to try to make a windmill to put on top of the hill to make electricity; he was always that sort of person.


“And it was topped off when the Scientific Research Council came and did a pilot biogas project at our house in Hanover, and that project allowed us to use pig faeces to make gas and later electricity,” shared Miller, who added that he always knew that there were other ways, besides the traditional means, to generate electricity.


Having consistently experienced at least 30 per cent growth year to year since it started in 2003, ConserveIt’s mission is to become the largest alternative energy company in the Caribbean. And, Miller and his team seem poised to make that a reality.


Miller told the Sunday Observer that come February 2015, ConserveIt will be entering Aruba and are also looking to extend their services to St Kitts and Nevis.


“We will be installing solar photovoltaic systems in Aruba and that project is slated to start next year February,” Miller said. “This is the first step outside of Jamaica. We are looking at other territories, St Kitts for example, we have quoted a number of projects in St Kitts and we continue to work.”


He said he believes that the key to sustainability is to incorporate new ideas as well as having a transition plan.


“I think that… (having a) sort of transition is very important because we are only around for a short period of time,” Miller explained. “I don’t know why I think that when you get to 50 years old your vision gets crowded with what you have done before, but you need fresh ideas and how you incorporate (these) new ideas is very important.”


His son Remell works with him twice weekly and Miller said that there are also others who have grown with him.


“There is a young man, David Brown, who is a cousin of mine, whom I met late in life. He has grown to the point where he is one of those key persons who can pretty much manage the company,” said Miller. “And there are other young engineers who are coming along and that is important for me. I am just fixated on younger people who have a whole heap of ideas and we can learn a lot from them.”


The ConserveIt CEO said his company, on a yearly basis, helps to mould about six young minds who join their team on internships. He also told the Sunday Observer that one of the things he is most proud of now is helping to review the renewable energy course offered at the Heart Trust/NTA.


Looking back, Miller said if someone had told him he would be where he is today, he would’ve said they were lying.


“If somebody had said to me in 11 years of doing my business this is where I would be, at this level, I would say ‘no man, yuh lying’,” said a smiling Miller. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself because of the many achievements. We have done a lot and we have made a lot of inroads and we continue to remain extremely humble and believe that we do have 10 times the amount of work to do in order to get to where we need to be.”


Positing that he believes the market is exploding at this time, Miller told the Sunday Observer that getting to this point was not easy because people were not very open to messages about embracing renewable energy.


“It wasn’t easy initially to convince them that solar was the way, but once they did it, they were all happy. It wasn’t easy but what I had was the know-how to get it done,” said Miller, who started ConserveIt after leaving Solar Dynamics in Barbados, an outfit he joined in 1997 as a technician before moving through the ranks to eventually become the general manager.


“The very important thing is that I had customers who believed in me. We did not have any money, it was really customers trusting us to give us their deposit and hoping that we would deliver. We have delivered everytime,”  he insisted.


Miller shared that his company receives as many as 40 calls per day from people who are interested in going solar, but that they are probably converting about two or three people per day. He said though, there is increased interest in their products, as financing remains an issue for many.


“A lot of them are saying, ‘yea, we are interested, but the price is high’,” explained Miller. “Though they have come down by as much as 100 per cent over the years.


“What we encourage them to do is to start with conservation, meaning look at changing out the bulbs from incandescent to LED… encourage them in terms of whether they are using air conditioning, persons to look at their windows to ensure the room is sealed,” Miller continued. “So we encourage efficiency first, so that’s something that we want to drive, so you look at efficiency before you really look at solar systems.”  He said that his company works a lot with returning residents who are looking to maintain a stable life.


“We are always concerned that what you plan for retirement as it regards to your pension can be simply eroded by energy costs and in fact, in some cases, throw you totally into poverty,” Miller reasoned. “We work a lot with returning residents and what they tell us is that if it wasn’t for the fact that they are getting their pension in US dollars and they keep getting exchange gain from that, they would not be able to actually pay their utility bills, and it’s the trend all around.”


“I don’t know any individual who has budgeted an energy budget and got that prediction right, it has escalated every year,” declared Miller. “And going solar or going renewable energy is probably the only way to predict your energy cost going into the future.”


Miller told the Sunday Observer that ConserveIt practises what it preaches and that the company has set a budget of $10,000 to $12,000 as its line item for energy cost on a monthly basis for its 5,000-square-foot property, an amount that has remained constant, with some months attracting little or no cost.


“We have been able to predict and ensure that that line item in our budget remains constant and that is very important. Other businesses who have a similar set-up will tell you on a monthly basis that they are spending in excess of $120,000 or $130,000 to be able to survive.”


The ConserveIt property, Miller explained, was designed with sustainable living in mind. It incorporates products, which are all offered by ConserveIt. There are solar awnings, which are not only attractive but are used to shield the glass from the sun while also generating electricity to operate a fish pond at the front of the property; there are also solar skylights, which negate the need for lights to be switched on inside the building during the daytime.


“The entire building is solar and we are using both technology, we are using both grid-tied and the off-grid,” Miller explained. “The grid-tied is predominantly for daytime use, so that means we are actually using the power as it is being produced directly onto the air-condition. The off-grid is what we use at nights to run the server, the computer, the battery, the things that stay up, the lighting around the property is run totally off that.”


“Our attic or our ceilings are vented by solar fans, so we are also taking out the heat, so we are cooling the building, but we are also taking the heat out at the top,” Miller explained. “All the walls on the southern side are actually foam, so we are stopping all the heat from being transferred inside the building, so it’s much easier to keep the building cool.”  ConserveIt also uses solar panels and solar water heaters.


Miller said all these products, including a solar refrigerator, are available at ConserveIt. He said the most popular product the company has is the solar water heater, which increases in popularity as Christmastime approaches. The man at the helm of the alternative energy company who has been in the renewable energy industry since studying at the College of Arts, Science and Technology before later doing several short courses overseas, said in a bid to get people to not only buy solar water heaters but to also incorporate other renewable energy sources, ConserveIt is now offering a new hybrid solar panel package deal for $180,000.


The CEO said the unit comes with a “total 50-gallon storage, a 26-square-foot panel with 50 water solar panels, along with lithium batteries, and four LED bulbs”.


“So what the hybrid unit does, for persons who are buying a solar water heater, we are saying to them that on top of buying a solar water heater, we will sell you a hybrid solar panel that not just does solar water heating but that also provides you with four outside lights and these outside lights are run pretty much every day by solar, dusk to dawn, so you are buying one unit and you are getting the benefit of two things,” Miller insisted.


He said ConserveIt, which introduced the hybrid solar panel about six months ago, were the only company offering this product in the market and that they already have sales for more than 150 units. Miller told the Sunday Observer that his company was looking to extend these solar energy solutions to some of the existing development agencies with whom they have been working.  Miller said that ConserveIt’s solar photovoltaic systems are also doing well.


“We have packages as low as $300,000 for off-grid systems and depending on your consumption, so that has really caught on,” Miller said. “A lot of persons are really looking to go solar and that is one of the things we are saying to persons, you don’t have to start with a massive budget, we can help you to tailor something so you can make a start to go solar.”


Miller started ConserveIt with one employee in 2003. He now has 27 full-time employees, but he believes that there is still room for growth, not only with his own company but with the local market.


“Currently, you have multiple players in the local market and we think what we need to do is take the strength of each company, put it together to make a real conglomerate in the local market,” Miller suggested. “I think that something that is really missing on a whole is that everybody is trying to do their own thing. I think at some point, some of the main players need to just combine their strength and make a more uniformed market.”


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