Keeping a Leading Edge on Renewable Energy
Sep 30, 2014 01:23PM
● By Sheila Julson
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems have been converting the sun’s rays into electricity since the mid-20th century in the United States, when they were used primarily to power Earth-orbiting satellites. Innovation in solar technology, along with consumer education and awareness, has rapidly increased over the past few decades, thus increasing demand. After hydro and wind power, solar PV is the third-most important renewable energy source in terms of globally installed capacity, currently in more than 100 countries. Kirk Kindred, national sales director of SunVest Solar, a design-build solar development company in Pewaukee, recognized the positive trend when he saw it.
“I became aware of the opportunities in the solar industry, as there were solar incentives in some states and the market was developing rapidly,” remarks Kindred, who holds a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He began consulting in the solar industry in 2008, initially developing projects in the emerging Colorado and New Mexico markets. He notes, “It was a reaction to where the economy was going, where the trend was and an increased awareness of renewable energy.” Through Kindred’s work on solar projects, he developed a relationship with Mark Neumann and Neumann’s son, Matt. They founded SunVest in 2009, and Kindred joined their team in 2012.
Solar energy is more accessible today than ever and is becoming common in residential, commercial and even government sectors, according to Kindred, who is quick to dispel misconceptions about the alternative energy resource, such as the notion that Wisconsin’s often chilly, overcast climate isn’t conducive to solar energy, or that solar is too expensive. “We have great solar access in Wisconsin,” he affirms. “Obviously, we don’t get as many daylight hours as Arizona, so the models and financial projections have to be adjusted. Solar professionals must know and explain that to customers so they understand. Then customers can see that it does work to generate electricity here. The whole education piece is really important.”
SunVest excels at consumer education, according to Kindred. While customers easily grasp the general operation of a solar PV system, he and other SunVest staff help them understand the financial aspects, as well. “There are some tax incentives; sometimes there are some local or utility incentives. We work with customers to model how much electricity the system will generate, as well as how to generate a PV power forecast and assess the payback so that they can make an educated decision about the opportunity, whether it involves a home or a business. We educate people not just about the amount of electricity generated, but also about how to afford a system and how it will help them.”
According to Kindred, the overall cost of a solar energy system has come down about 60 percent over the last several years due to lower cost of materials and better availability of skilled labor. “There are more people installing the systems and more of a talent pool out there to pick from,” he observes. “A few years ago, it was more of a specialty trade. Now, more technical colleges are offering solar installation programs and certifications.”
SunVest analyzes each customer’s situation and adjusts for specific needs and preferences, as well as the size and age of the home or building, roof access and the acreage of the property to determine which photovoltaic system will work best. Some systems are mounted on the roof, while some are poleor ground-mounted on large lots, such as an agricultural space. SunVest has designed systems for residential, commercial, nonprofit, government and agricultural clients in Wisconsin, Colorado, New Jersey, Missouri and New York.
SunVest is part of a tightly knit community of professionals in the solar industry; representatives regularly attend conferences to keep themselves informed about product developments and industry trends nationally and globally. The company participates in conferences produced by RENEW Wisconsin, an organization of businesses and citizens that has been advancing clean, renewable energy for 23 years. SunVest is also a member of the Wisconsin Solar Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association.
Kindred notes that Matt will testify at hearings in front of the state public service commission on October 1 in Madison and October 8 in Milwaukee regarding requests by local utilities companies, including We Energies, Madison Gas and Electric and Wisconsin Public Service, to change their rate structures in a way that could eventually add more charges for renewable energy customers, reduce the utilities companies’ solar buyback prices and ban third-party ownership of solar photovoltaic systems.
Yet Kindred is optimistic about the future of solar energy and takes great pride in feedback from customers: “When people get their solar systems, they’re excited and happy about how it works. Customers scan their bills and email them to us to show how much they’ve saved. Everyone’s willing to share experiences and brag about their system and about how cool solar is. That’s neat to see.”
SunVest Solar Inc. is located at N27 W24075 Paul Ct., Ste. 200, Pewaukee. For more information, call 262-547-1200 or visit SunVest.com.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer in Milwaukee and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect with her at [email protected].