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SolarFlare – News Flash

Posted by Mac on November 10, 2011
Posted in A Sustainable LifeAboutSolarSolmac Solar  | Tagged With: , , | 1 Comment

The Solar Oregon Board of Directors met and welcomed three new members who were elected by the organization’s membership at the annual meeting on November 5th.

I am pleased to present the new board members to solarflareblog.com readers …

 Robert Cross  * Erin Greeson * David Petersen

To them, I say congratulations on being elected to the board of directors and welcome! 

The Board also elected new officers and I’m proud to present the executive committee:

Ron “Mac” McDowell – President

Linda Barnes – Past President

Kacia Brockman – Treasurer

Ellen Crivella – Secretary

Yep, that’s my name right there – I am the new President of Solar Oregon!!

I was honored to be selected.  Thanks to my fellow board members for your approval and encouragement.  I look forward to taking on the responsibility of the position, but I must warn you, I have a lot of energy for this organization and our mission. :-)  

Solar Oregon Leadership - Claire Carlson and El Presidente

It’s an exciting time for solar power in America. I look to Solar Oregon as more than just a stakeholder – I see us as a leader and a difference-maker. I’ll work with Claire Carlson and our great new staff to ensure that we are indeed. 

The future for Solar Oregon looks as bright as the sun, my friends.

I am your humble servant.

Last week was a good one for Solar Oregon!


Some of my friends jokingly call Solar Oregon “the little non-profit environmental engine that could”.  And boy, could we. This past week we hosted our first fundraising dinner, celebrated our 32nd year as an organization, held our annual meeting, showed off our electric cars, and then added three new people to our board of directors. Whew … no wonder we’re tired.

Solar Oregon Staff - Emily (L), Adam, Imogen, Claire, Joe

I may be biased, but I think the Solar Oregon staff, under the leadership of ED Claire Carlson, is doing a remarkable job.  They’re a relatively new team and are just starting to gel, but they’re getting the job done and our members are expecting big things from them this year. They are the foundation for all that is possible.

A Cena Ristorante

Solar Oregon Community Dinner

Kudos to staffer Adam Sage, Director of Development, for dreaming up this fundraising dinner and getting the board to go along with it. He then went forward and made it the successful event it was! Indeed a memorable night of fabulous food and great company – as advertised.  [Thanks to Roberto and Cap’n T. for tagging along with me.]

A Cena Ristorante owner Chris Custer and Chef Gabe Gabreski served a five-course dinner of traditional Sicilian pastas, secondi, and sweets, paired with local wine. [OMG the breadsticks!!] So, thanks also to Chris and his staff for a tremendous evening.  If you’re looking for the best Italian food in the Portland metro area, then head over to Sellwood and visit a cena ristorante y enotec http://www.acenapdx.com/.  [Hey, this is my very first restaurant recommendation!]

Dinner event at A Cena

Thanks to everyone who joined us in support for Solar Oregon. We were humbled by your generosity.

Has it been thirty two years already?

I’ve already blabbed about the 32nd annual celebration and meeting in a previous post http://solarflareblog.com/?p=3092 … so I’ll move on to the shoutouts.

Thank You Solar Oregon’s Professional Members for participating and supporting the work we do for solar in our beautiful state. Many of you were there at our dinner and at the  Saturday event too and we appreciate that.

Thanks also to the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association and our friends and members for bringing their electric vehicles to share with others.

Kacia Brockman explains things

I was impressed by the standing-room-only presentation provided by Kacia Brockman. Her topic was Solar: The ABC’s of Residential Solar Financing and she talked about the differences between leasing a solar system and owning it. This choice is hotly debated within the residential solar market and I’ll write about this later. In the meantime, Kacia said she’d post her presentation on the Solar Oregon website, so look for it there soon.

We had several past board members stop by our meeting to say hello and show support – thanks guys, it was great to meet you!  Claire presented the highlights of this past year, and we celebrated our successes, and acknowledged our solar ambassadors and dedicated volunteers.  In all, the event was well worth taking most of my Saturday afternoon.

One door closes …

Kathy Bash (R) chats with Imogen Taylor at NW Solar Expo

Kathy Bash announced she is leaving the board of directors. Kathy was the President of Solar Oregon when I first became involved with the organization. Her dedication, passion and leadership compelled me to join the board and I will miss her terribly. She tells us she’ll still be involved with the Goal Net Zero

Kathy conducted many workshops for Solar Oregon

Interest Group to teach others about net zero energy design and construction … and that’s a blessing.

Kathy is a LEED accredited professional with a Master of Architecture Degree and a Certificate for Teaching Technology in Architecture from the University of Oregon.

You may recognize her from the movie “Deep Green” written and directed by Oregon’s Matt Briggs. Kathy was interviewed for this documentary and I’d like to honor her by sharing a part of it with my readers. I embedded a clip from the movie to give you some idea how important Kathy is to the sustainability community in our region.


“All I know is, I’m alive now and I can do something today, and I can’t in good conscience wait for somebody else to do it. I think the time is now; for me the time is absolutely now. It’s the only time anybody has”. ~ Kathy Bash from “Deep Green” (2010)

Pictures from the annual meeting – World Trade Center, Portland, Oregon

Fall is the time for colorful LEAFs


Cindy Hickman shows off her LEAF to Doug and Jason

 Claire Carlson welcomed the attendees



 SA Anders of the Citizen’s Utility Board (CUB) also presented at our meeting.

Chad Biasi of EV4Oregon was there too!


We hope to see you next year at our 33rd annual celebration!    Go Solar!  Go Oregon!

Solar Oregon is a chapter of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) http://www.ases.org/

Please join us Saturday, November 5th, noon-4pm to celebrate Solar Oregon’s annual get together at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland.  The public is invited.

If you’ve been reading this blog you know I’ve been associated with Solar Oregon for several years, first as a volunteer, then as a Solar Ambassador, and now as a Board member. Well, I’m proud to announce that this coming weekend, Solar Oregon will be hosting our 32nd! annual celebration and membership meeting.

This event is an opportunity for Solar Oregon staff and board members give thanks to those who have contributed time, energy, money, and love, to the solar cause. We include a pinch of networking, a dash of information & education, toss in a few electric vehicles and chargers, then add just the right amount of organizational business, to make this a worthy event for anyone who attends.

This is a FREE event … please check the agenda to get the details … http://solaroregon.org/events/solar-oregon-annual-meeting-1/view    

or  >>click here to RSVP



What a week it will be for electric vehicle enthusiasts in Portland Oregon!

The new movie “Revenge of the Electric Car” is opening at the Hollywood Theater this Friday, November 4th and the director, Chris Paine, will be talking with the audience after the 7:00pm showing. The Oregon Electric Vehicle Association (OEVA) will be there and I’ll be there too to share in the revenge!

The very next day, Solar Oregon members will be showing off their own EVs at the World Trade Center courtyard. It should come as no surprise that our members are some of the very first owners of a Nissan LEAF or Chevy Volt. Many members are early adopters and electric vehicles and solar power go together like peas and carrots. 

Indeed, the theme of last year’s annual event was “Driving on Sunshine” and the OEVA participated and sponsored presentations such as: electric utility preparation for PEVs, testimonials from solar-powered EV drivers, and an update on the Oregon EV Project by JD Howell of ECOtality NA. It was a good turnout and everyone seemed to enjoy the show ‘n tell and the formal presentations, so we thought we’d do it again … only bigger!

Therefore, we asked our members to bring their new EVs to the party – in order to give neighbors a good look (or ride) – and to talk with others about their experience.

An electric vehicle movement is afoot in Oregon.  Oregon is paving the way for EVs to gain momentum, garnering national and international recognition from automakers as a launch market for newly developed electric cars coming to market in 2011 and beyond, as well as attracting millions of dollars in federal monies to build out EV charging infrastructure.  The seeds for clean transportation have been planted with Oregon’s green ethos as shown in the highest concentration of hybrid cars in a very informed and motivated marketplace; in combination other factors such as integration of land-use and transportation (including bicycles and mass transit), visionary policymakers and favorable policies, and creative local companies – clean transportation is poised to take root and grow.”

~ Quoted from Drive Oregon website:  http://driveoregon.org/

Over the past year, there’s been a flurry of electric vehicle activity in Oregon and so much is going on that it is hard to keep track … like did you know???

  • Hollywood Fred Meyer store is the first in the nation to have installed one of ECOtality’s fast-charging EV charging stations;
  • AAA Oregon/Idaho will be one of the very first to add EV quick-chargers to their emergency roadside fleet;
  • Drive Oregon is about to hire their very first executive director;
  • Electric motorcycle co. Brammo Inc. raised $28 million in funding led by motorsports player Polaris Industries Inc;
  • Solar power and electric vehicles are both disruptive technologies.  [That’s right, but they are harmonious to one another.]

June’s edition of Solar Today featured this cover …“Driving EV – Best practices for establishing electric vehicle-charging infrastructure” and included a great article by Daniel Davids, President of Plug-in America, about lessons learned; and just last month, fellow Solar Oregon board member, Bruce Barney, a PGE employee, wrote about his experience combining his PV system with his EV (Nissan LEAF) in Getting to Zero Net Energy for transportation. http://solaroregon.org/news/getting-to-zero-net-energy-for-transportation/?searchterm=barney.

Professional member, RS Energy, knows that solar & EV go together like peas and carrots

Please contact Solar Oregon at 503.231.5662 if you’d like to volunteer, or join up to get plugged in www.solaroregon.com

Bruce Barney’s story was widely read and we often publish these personal stories on our web-site, newsletter, and on my blog.  For example see …





Hope to you see this weekend!

Report from Solar Power International 2011 – Dallas, Texas

“Solar power will soon be the cheapest form of energy in U.S…” – Danny Kennedy, President, Sungevity

Of all of the solar industry spokespeople, experts, and pundits, I like Danny Kennedy most. He’s a straight talking Australian and I love it when he gets going on a good rant. Passion aside, the fact is I usually find myself in agreement with the guy on most topics. Kennedy says, “We don’t need to build a new technology, the solar tech we have today is excellent … what we need to do is sell it better.  What is required to scale this industry … is financial engineering.” He pointed out that there are three major costs involved: (1) cost of goods, (2) cost of sales, and (3) cost of capital. The solar industry has shown great improvement in the first two categories, he said, but not much on the third.

Today, he and his panel cohorts are telling the audience the solar industry needs to change its message.  Kennedy says, “We are way too modest as an industry.”  They tell us the solar industry is spotlighted to be responsible in the following areas …

  • Climate Change
  • Energy Security
  • Energy Source
  • Job Creation

That’s all?!  Well, this is a challenge.

Mike Casey, President of Tiger Comm, a media-communications company working for SEIA, pointed out the solar industry is matched up against entrenched technologies and fossil fuel industries who own Congress. The coal industry has over a hundred years of political and industrial influence that is tied heavily to transportation, especially the freight train industry because much of it is transported by rail.  Lobbyists for these industries have long been instituted in Washington D.C. and their clout is indisputable.  Even so, it is evident that the solar industry is making progress on all fronts, but we need to promote these advances, especially in light of the recent failures of Solyndra and Evergreen.

Although solar power is considered the most popular form of energy sector by most Americans, it is the least supported energy in the nation. People know that sunlight has been around for billions of years and will be available for billions more to come. There isn’t a peak problem with the Sun like there is for fossil-based fuel sources. So, we got that going for us.

SolarWorld declares war on China

Of course, the big buzz of the day belonged to the announcement that SolarWorld filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission claiming unfair practices on the part of Chinese solar manufacturers. The complaint identifies 200 subsidies that the Chinese government provides its solar industry — including raw materials, tax exemptions, below-market loans and huge discounts on land, power and water.  Although the filing appeared timed to correspond with the SPI, the news was unwelcomed by many here at the conference. It put a damper on the entire show and was topic of conversation on the exhibit floor. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed quieter at the Chinese company booths after that announcement was made.

Sure, I have an opinion, why do you ask?

I was invited by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to give my opinion about solar energy and the role SEIA plays in the industry. An outside agency was hired to conduct focus groups to gain insights on developing the brand. The purpose of this research is to determine if the brand captures the value that the organization offers to its members and the industry. I chose the afternoon session which lasted about 90 minutes. My group of twelve included a good cross-section of the solar industry and it was a fun exchange.

Session Notes

These are the sessions I attended:

  • Expanding Residential Solar Markets
  • The Utility and Industry Case for Community Solar
  • Financing Residential Systems
  • Market prospects for solar in North America: New data and emerging trends
  • Merger & Acquisition: Strategic Partnering and Consolidation in the Solar Space
  • Solar Jobs: Real & Growing
  • Corporate Social Responsibility – hosted by SEIA’s EHS Committee

At a session on residential solar a graph was displayed which showed the U.S. residential solar market (installed) way behind Japan, Germany and … Belgium. Belgium?! One speaker said, “surely we can match a country of only 10 Million. How can we hold our head up if we don’t? Our rally cry should be – let’s catch Belgium!” Indeed.

As we head into Q4 2011, solar module (over)supply is about double the current demand. We’ve seen this coming, but it still is surprising how much inventory is available at such lower prices. We wanted scale, well now we’re getting it, so next is to build demand and I, for one, am ready to do just that.

Europe will be one-half of past demand, while Japan and U.S. markets are increasing year-over-year. Estimates are that U.S. solar market will account for 25% of the entire global market and we should get close to 10 Gigawatts by the end of 2015. Getting to scale is costly for everyone, especially manufacturers.  A major market driver is the dropping prices of solar modules, but this situation has a negative impact in that lower prices = lower margins, and solar manufacturers are struggling to survive. I think we’ll see a few more fall to the wayside over the next year. Won’t Fox News be absolutely giddy?!

Even thin film products, such as what First Solar produces, are dropping in price and experts predict that thin film will make inroads against silicon products by taking 25-30% of the market in the near future. I’ve heard this before.

Utilities ownership of solar power has doubled.  In 2010 ownership grew from 9% to 18% of the market by capacity.

JP Ross, VP of Sungevity, said “this unstable U.S. solar market is like living in the Bay Area earthquake zone, where many small to large quakes come and go. You never know when the next BIG ONE is coming, but you know it will eventually.”

SolarCity – John Stanton, VP, Gov’t Affairs

  • 17,000 completed projects to-date with a solid pipeline.
  • Currently has 1,300 employees with openings for hundreds more
  • $1.4 Billion in project financing & capital acquisition
  • Is connected to the emerging Electric Vehicle (EV) industry via company chairman, Elon Musk, who also owns Tesla Motors.
  • Planning an IPO on NASDAQ for November 2011

Sungevity – Danny Kennedy, President and JP Ross, VP, Strategic Relationships

  • Offers third-party financing for people who don’t have the up-front capital and want to “pay as they go” for their electricity
  • Now in eleven states where (residential) rate structures are competitive – 5 new states in 2011
  • Currently employs 300 people in Oakland California (up from 160 last Spring)
  • Provides $1.5 Million of installed solar per day

SunRun – Ethan Sprague, Director, Gov’t Affairs

  • Now has 25% market share in residential solar market (as of Q3 2011)
  • Expanded into 9 states and data shows that their solar leases make up 58% of the U.S. residential market and that percentage is growing.

Mignon Marks, CalSEIA, introduces the panel

Community Solar

Only 1% of New York City residents can own and site a solar array on their household. That’s it. In fact, research shows that only 25% of the entire residential inventory in America can own rooftop solar, so this leaves 75% of our residents who cannot.  This is a social inequity issue in many people’s eyes.  Community solar, via virtual metering, aggregated metering, solar share programs, and the like, will allow for broader participation and create opportunities for people to invest in clean energy who otherwise cannot.

It can appeal to the 40 Million rental households in the U.S. who cannot contribute or participate in residential solar energy as they are outside the current market.  If solar advocates and energy businesses can solicit these folks by developing “community” programs even a modest percentage will add megawatts more to the grid.

Tom Price, Director of Policy at Clean Path, is helping to create a favorable atmosphere for community solar in California. He mentioned California’s proposed solar gardens bill (SB 843 Community-Based Renewable Energy Self-Generation Program). This so-called “Solar Gardens” bill is similar to Colorado’s Community Solar Gardens Act of 2010. I like this idea and think all state houses should be considering this kind of legislation rather than the on-again/off-again incentives and rebates we’ve been carving out state by state. Oh, how I yearn for a comprehensive federal energy policy.

Gilley's Honky Tonk was, as they say in Texas, a hoot!

SPI Dallas – After Hours

The rather downbeat mood of the day wasn’t at all evident in the after-hours events – that’s for sure.  Yeehaw … they sure throw a good party in Texas!  I made it to a number of company-sponsored events, but the SPI-sponsored “Block Party at Gilley’s” was by far the largest single party I’ve ever been to in my entire life. Looked like more people were at this honky-tonk (the size of a football field) than at the conference itself.

In the spirit of the venue, SolarWorld hired a Mariachi Band to play at their reception at a downtown Dallas Tex-Mex place.  There was buzz in the air about the unfair practices petition, but most people avoided the topic, and plenty were watching the local Texas Rangers play in the MLB World Series. The margaritas helped dull the pain.  Come to think of it, I didn’t see a single Chinese person at the SolarWorld party. Huh!  Well, I guess they were over at Gilley’s riding that mechanical bull.

Same Time Next Year

SPI 2012 will be in Orlando Florida.  Ughhhh … another place I don’t particularly care for.  This coming year will be one of chaos and consolidation in the solar industry, so I may attend just to keep a seat on the solar coaster.  There are some huge questions for the solar industry that need to be answered, such as:

  • Will U.S., Japan, and China markets evolve enough to gobble up the module oversupply?
  • Will the U.S. become the largest global photovoltaic market as projected?
  • Will the federal tax credit survive Congress and continue until the intended deadline of 2016?
  • Will solar photovoltaic be able to compete with fossil fuel pricing by 2015? (rate parity)

This business is not for the faint of heart, my friends.

The party is over for this year

Quote of the day: “Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) will lead solar to be the lowest cost option for 66% of the U.S. housing market by 2015.” – JP Ross    http://energytechnologyexpert.com/cost-of-power-generation/how-to-calculate-the-levelized-cost-of-power-or-energy/

Opening Day * Dallas Convention Center 

SPI 2011 – Dallas, Texas Oct 17-20

I don’t much care for Texas, never have, other than that cultural oasis they call Austin, there isn’t much to like really. Therefore, I wasn’t crazy about attending the Solar Power International (SPI) Conference this year because it is being hosted in Dallas. I went anyway as it is an uncertain time to be in the solar business, I wanted to know what is really going on, and I needed to be with my peeps.  


A representative from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) one of the conference sponsor/organizers told me that Rhone Resch, President and CEO, invited Governor Rick Perry to attend the conference to welcome twenty thousand plus visitors to Texas.  [Years past, when the SPI was held in California, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger always found the time to welcome attendees to the conference and to his golden state.]  John Stanton (SolarCity) told one session audience that his CEO, Landon Rive, visited Gov. Perry personally to urge his participation; but to no avail, and in the end Perry is a no-show.    

Downtown Dallas

Gov. Perry must be smarter than he appears, because he didn’t bite the hand that feeds him, namely the massive oil and gas industry. For some strange reason, Perry just can’t seem to find a way to support both – Texas’ fossil-fueled economic engine and solar power – and I just don’t understand that?!    

Solar supporter!

Is the little engine that could (the solar business – representing 1% of U.S. energy mix) really be threatening the big, bad, billions of the fossil fuel industry here on its own turf?    

If so, then the solar business has arrived!     

State of Solar Roundtable including Arno Harris, Recurrent Energy, and Barry Cinnamon, Westinghouse Solar

I like the experience of registering at an international industry conference like SPI. I look at the official conference program guide and glance at the main sessions and panels, verify times, and then attack the exhibitor list with a vengeance.  I find out who’s here and who’s not. That is very telling. The market is in chaos and competition is stiffening, and what may have once been a collaborative industry in its infancy, is now dog-eat-dog, especially for the low margin businesses     

As I made my list of booths to visit, I realized how many are Chinese companies. This shouldn’t surprise, as this is indicative of the real-world global solar industry. China is fully committed to it, especially as an export business, and we’re clearly not. And, because of the recent failures of Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, U.S. government investment in solar is being lauded as the thing NOT to do. Most of this noise comes from the media, national political circus, and the oil & gas companies, but this concern is also shared by millions of Americans.  More on this later.

First Impressions    

Everything is BIG in Texas – including the carbon footprint

The Dallas Convention Center is a sprawling concrete edifice and not much on aesthetics. Inside the building, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from end-to-end, and I’d say the exhibit floor held the largest number of booths ever for SPI North America.  I haven’t seen the official attendance, but my guess is more exhibitors, and fewer conference attendees, this year than last.    

More of a Latin flavor at this show with Solar Mexico signs, South American company logos, and Spanish being spoken all over the exhibit floor.  This makes sense – Texas location. I ran into a guy from Iquitos, Peru who I had met in China earlier this year, his name is Hector Soto Arrue’ and he is Gerente General of PROENERGY AMAZON.  It was interesting talking with him about his dream of bringing distributed solar to the Amazon. 
It is hard not to notice the growing presence of some of the largest U.S. corporations now in the solar industry.  Some examples from the exhibit floor:  
  •  Dow Corning – Solar Solutions
  • General Electric – GE Energy
  • DuPont – Photovoltaic Solutions 

Celebrity Sightings    

Hollywood Stars Larry & Matt

 Larry Hagman, known for his role as J.R. Ewing the oil baron on the “Dallas” television show of yesteryear, is now a spokesman for SolarWorld and was seen hanging out at their booth with Matthew Lind, who is an account manager for commercial sales.    

Environmentalist and actor Ed Begley, Jr. of “Living with Ed” fame is a featured guest at the Sanyo booth.     

Trends & Big Announcements    

  • The Solar Foundation 2011 Jobs Report was published and released at the conference. 
  • Leasing programs are booming and will comprise half the residential market in the coming year.
  • The only product in short supply is credit. Expect financial institutions to soak up a larger piece of the solar profit pie.
  • Utility-scale solar developers are exploring outside of the Southwest, and are moving away from the multi-hundred megawatt (MW) systems in favor of systems in the 10-MW to 30-MW range.
  • SunEdison, a large scale solar developer owned by MEMC, is aggressively moving into the residential solar market.  Same for First Solar.
  • The Solyndra stink is difficult to scrub off – like a skunk spray … however, political and legal maneuvering isn’t affecting the global market: installations will double, module production will quadruple, driving prices ever lower. It is assumed that most players will make money, except for solar module makers.
  • As the module price war intensifies and margins shrink, many module manufacturers are diversifying into additional products and services: BOS, leasing, project development, etc… Horizontal integration now looks safer than vertical integration. [Hey, Ocean Yuan, Grape Solar, might have been right all along!]
  • Molten Salt systems are coming to drive down the cost of Concentrated Solar Power.

  • Price Break!  Sun Electronics Int. announced the lowest price/watt for solar energy … ever.  Their solar module pricing at $1.00/watt is the first time in solar history we’ve seen a price this low.  It came a lot sooner than most were prepared for and is a harbinger for the future, for both good and bad, of the global solar business.  Buyer beware, I’m thinking these might be cast-offs, so check it out at www.sunelec.com.

 Solar Jobs: Real and Growing    

The Solar Foundation 2011 Jobs Report    

In the political realm and in the media, there are questions being raised regarding growth of “green jobs” in America.  While I know little about other RE markets and their impact on jobs, I do know that there is solid data about the U.S. solar market supporting the proclamation that solar companies employ over 100,000+ workers in America. This was verified by the publication of the National Solar Jobs Census  which was presented at this conference by The Solar Foundation, SEIA, and NREL/DOE. As of August 2011, the National Solar Jobs Census 2011 identified more than 17,198 solar employment sites with 100,237 jobs, a growth rate of 6.8 percent.    

If this data is accurate there is good growth in the solar market sector and it is bucking the employment trend in America.  Overall employment in the sector was up 18-36% at the end of 2010. Solar (PV) Installers grew 51-66% and electricians 42-55% as compared to 2009. The numbers flux because not every job is “solar-specific” … that is to say some are combo-jobs for large businesses (like developers, general contractors, electrical firms), so the employee may not be working solely on a solar project.  Of course, 100K is very small when compared to 177 million jobs in USA, but it is important to note that it is the fastest growing energy segment.     

Hype Factor  Thousands of people are now being trained, or are considering training, for green jobs, but many still cannot find a paying job. This causes frustration in the work force, especially for the unemployed or underemployed and there is a backlash as many people ask …“where are all of these green jobs?”     

People who casually follow the headlines are bombarded by reports of “explosive green job creation” in a down economy, but they don’t see much evidence to support this, so they consider it so much hype.  In fact, it is both … a reality (jobs are being created in solar) and hype (not as much as was/is being reported, projected, expected or promoted.    

Azuray Technologies – an Oregon company

Oregon is doing better than most and our solar energy industry employs more than 3,300 workers, making it the nation’s eighth biggest state for solar jobs (tied with Texas), according to this new study by The Solar Foundation. 

PV Tracker – an Oregon company

Perhaps more noteworthy is how much Oregon’s solar workforce has grown in one year. Our solar industry was identified as having just 872 jobs in the 2010 census, (which we all knew was too low!) and it has grown 284% to 3,346 across 545 different employers, ranking it eighth overall and among the six fastest growing markets for solar employment.    

Naturally, sunny California topped the list by a sizable margin. Here’s the breakdown of the top 10 states for solar jobs:    

  • California – 25,575 solar jobs
  • Colorado – 6,186
  • Arizona – 4,786
  • Pennsylvania – 4,703
  • New York – 4,279
  • Florida – 4,224
  • Texas – 3,346
  • Oregon – 3,346
  • New Jersey – 2,871
  • Massachusetts – 2,395

Contrast this information with the fact that the fossil fuel industry is shedding jobs every year, not creating them. The oil industry is down -2% in employment while their prices and profits are ever-increasing. I’m told they’ve lost 11,000 jobs and the coal industry now only has about 60,000 jobs total in the U.S..  (*Warning, I hadn’t fact-checked this data at the time of this posting.)

Field trips are a common occurrence for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s staff, but they’re usually acting as the host, not the guest. Last month, nineteen 6-8th graders and staff from OSMI’s summer science camp visited Yoshida Foods International for an “Eco Class” and a tour of the Portland sauce factory. These 10-12 year olds also had the opportunity to see first-hand how a business uses solar technology to provide for their energy needs, and I was there with Solar Oregon to participate and share in the experience. 

The Yoshida Group is a conglomerate comprised of diverse companies, but is it best known for the teriyaki-style gourmet marinade created in Junki and Linda Yoshida’s kitchen more than 20 years ago.

Junki Yoshida

Yoshida Chairman, Junki Yoshida, personally greeted the class and invited them to tour the factory to see how his sauces are made.  As he handed out his sauce samples, he jokingly cautioned them not to disclose any industry secrets they may discover on their visit. Watching Junki meeting the youngsters at his factory reminded me of a scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you know, when Willy Wonka first met the children who’d found the golden ticket and offered them a tour of his factory.*

Cameron Coleman, InSpec Group, greets the students on the roof

The group was escorted to the factory roof so students could see the solar array that covers most of the 70,000 sf roof.  Cameron Coleman of InSpec Group, a local engineering and construction (EPC) firm, explained to the class how solar panels generate clean energy and feed electricity back to the grid. I was impressed with Cam’s solar knowledge, but was more impressed by his teaching skills.

He held the attention of pre-teens … on a blazing hot roof … with snowcapped mountains in the background … and airplanes flying past!  He certainly earned my respect. 

Sanyo partnered with InSpec Group to install these 798 SANYO HIT Power solar panels to generate electrical power for the Yoshida Foods factory.

It was hot and sunny on that roof!

Seeing hundreds of those Sanyo solar modules answered a question for me. In 2009, when we were installing our residential solar electric system at naturehouse, we couldn’t find a single 210w Sanyo HIT panel anywhere, so we grudgingly stepped down to the Sanyo 205w. Now I see where they all went!  

HIT® stands for Heterojunction with Intrinsic Thin-layer. [It’s a mouthful, I realize, so just say H-I-T.] These solar cells employ a proprietary technology developed by Sanyo whereby hybrid solar cells composed of single (mono) crystalline silicon wafers are surrounded by ultra-thin amorphous silicon layers. The unique structure minimizes defects and produces highly efficient cells capable of achieving up to 17.8% module efficiency.

Megumi Marsh, Megumi Marsh administers Sanyo’s solar educational program called “Power Our Planet with Sunlight”

Following the rooftop excursion, the students headed to a classroom for an Eco Class hosted by Sanyo’s Megumi Marsh who told the group about the “3Rs – Reuse, Recycle and Reduce.” Megumi held their attention because she tapped into the curious nature of a kid who is in an OMSI summer science camp. She asked great questions, and prodded, until the bolder ones offered up an answer. Megumi was assisted by colleague, Tim Kary, from Sanyo Solar of Salem Oregon, who presented Sanyo’s solar manufacturing process to the group. He brought along wafers, solar cells and a polysilicon ingot that the class really appreciated.

“Touching the actual crystal wafer and feeling how thin it is … was amazing” - OMSI class participant

Megumi Marsh administers Sanyo’s solar educational program called “Power Our Planet with Sunlight” which teaches students about the benefits of solar power. This Sanyo program began in Nevada last year and is now expanding and collaborating with non-profit environmental organizations such as Solar Oregon. 

Claire Carlson & Tomoko Renner

That’s one reason Claire Carlson (Solar Oregon Executive Director), Tomoko Renner, (Solar Oregon Volunteer), and myself, were invited along on this field trip.

Thanks to Tomoko for coordinating!

Artwork courtesy of InSpec Group and Wayne Chin

System Specifications Solar Modules:  Sanyo HIT 210A

  • Inverter: (2) PV Powered 75kW
  • Racking:  Sunmoto
  • Roof  Space:  70,000sf
  • System Capacity:  166.3kW
  • System Production: 172,000kWh (Annual)

* Willy Wonka is a major character in the classic Roald Dahl children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He is the founder of the Wonka Candy Company and proves an unparalleled genius in confectionery development, inventing seemingly impossible products that capture the world’s imagination. From his factory, his products are shipped and sold worldwide. 

I dunno, sounds like Junki Yoshida to me … without the Oompa Loompa slavery, of course.

Now, where did I put that golden ticket?

Note: I wrote about Junki Yoshida once before, see my post Honoring a self-made man http://solarflareblog.com/?p=1135


About Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) – OMSI is a scientific, educational, and cultural resource center dedicated to improving the public’s understanding of science and technology. OMSI seeks to inspire wonder by providing engaging science learning experiences through exhibits, programs, and experiences that are presented in an entertaining and participatory fashion.  OMSI is an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and relies on admissions, memberships, and donations to continue their educational mission, programs, and exhibits. http://www.omsi.edu/home 

About InSpec Group – InSpec Group is an innovative multi-disciplinary engineering and construction group providing facility and energy solutions to customers across the nation. In addition to its PV solar integration business, InSpec Group has project expertise throughout the entire supply chain of Energy Solutions industries. For more information, visit http://inspecgroup.com.

About Sanyo – Sanyo North America Corporation, a subsidiary of Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd. is a global leading company providing solutions for energy, environment and lifestyle applications. The Energy System Solutions Division is headquartered in San Jose, California, and handles sales and services for photovoltaic and Smart Energy Systems. For further information, visit Sanyo’s web site at http://us.SANYO.com.

So … let’s say you’re a homeowner interested in solar power and you’ve been reading my blog and doing the research, maybe even getting some quotes, and all that is good. This is a big ticket item (even with the incentives) and it shouldn’t be a rash purchase. The more information you collect, the better, as it will only help you make the best decision possible for your circumstances. 

A bit of advice, if I may, before you decide if solar is right for your home … go visit a solarized residence and see this technology in action for yourself. Yeah, a real home, not some manufacturer’s presentation or a model home, I mean a place where people live and use this energy every single day. Ask them what their experience has been and what the value proposition looks like years down the road.

What … not so easy, you say?  There isn’t a Solar Ambassador in your area?  There isn’t a residential solarize program in your community?  Well, then how can this be accomplished, you ask?  One can’t just hop over the fence at some stranger’s house with solar panels, or knock on that door and introduce yourself as “curious” – not recommended.  (Although I have to admit, I’ve done that.)

Well, lucky for us the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) has already provided an answer and they offer it up to anyone for free once a year, every year.  For most of the nation, this opportunity presents itself this weekend – Saturday, October 1st.

The ASES National Solar Tour is the largest grassroots solar event in the world. It offers us the opportunity to tour innovative green homes and buildings to see how we can use solar energy, energy efficiency, and other sustainable technologies to reduce monthly utility bills and help tackle climate change. It is estimated that more than 160,000 people will visit some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the U.S.

Now in its 16th year, this event is coordinated nationally by ASES in collaboration with dozens of outstanding partner organizations, including Solar Oregon. In addition to highlighting solar options available, an increasing focus of the tour is on energy-saving techniques and sustainability through green building design, energy efficient appliances, and use of green materials during remodeling. Tours also provide helpful, real-world examples of costs and how to save money with federal, state, and local incentives.

I’ve heard from others that this tour inspired them to become part of the renewable energy movement.

For most of the U.S. this tour is scheduled for these next two Saturdays, Oct 1 & 8, however Portland (9/24) and Eugene (9/18) Oregon held theirs earlier and I understand there was a great turnout in both cities. There are more Oregon tours scheduled in Hood River, Ashland, Bend, Eagle Point, John Day, Roseburg and Salem.  No matter where you live, you can check out the city closest to you that is participating at National Solar Tour. From Alaska to Florida and among 40 states in between, this annual cascade of open house solar tours leaves little doubt that with 100,000 workers, the spirit, economic viability and job-creating prowess of the solar industry is alive and well in America. 


Today I submitted a nomination for an annual leadership award sponsored by Sustainable Business Oregon. http://www.sustainablebusinessoregon.com/awards.html

Every year, Sustainable Business Oregon recognizes an individual for their leadership in creating a thriving sustainable business environment in Oregon. They asked our help in finding the leader most worthy of recognition by submitting a nomination for the annual Leadership in Sustainable Business award. Yeah, they honor one individual that has been instrumental in leading the Oregon sustainable economy.

John Patterson speaks at the Oregon State Capital

It should come as no surprise that I nominated Mister Sun himself – John H. Patterson.

The online submission form had two small boxes for answers to two questions. The box read “1000” so I assumed it meant I had 1000 words to make my case and I prepared what is posted below. However, to my chagrin, the box only held 1000 letters! So I had to greatly reduce my input, which is a shame and doesn’t serve Mr. Sun justice.

Who knows, maybe I can convince the award committee to read my full submission, but in the meantime I posted it here for you solarflareblog.com readers.  If I made my case, and you support this nomination, I implore you to submit one for John Patterson yourself.  [Or for whomever you think is a person that has played a crucial role in moving Oregon towards a sustainable future.] Better hurry ‘cuz they close the nomination on September 11th.


Mr. Sun Solar has been in the solar business for three decades

Q: How has this person contributed to Oregon sustainability economy?

John Patterson has been an innovator, influencer and a leader for renewable energy in Oregon for 31 years. Patterson is President of Mr. Sun Solar and for many he’s known simply as “Mister Sun”. For the past three decades, Mr. Sun has shown leadership for renewables and sustainability in the Pacific Northwest. His company has sold, installed, and serviced thousands of solar energy systems of every type and his solar experience is unparalleled in the industry. http://www.mrsunsolar.com/

John Patterson has shown leadership with a focus on sustainable practices since the beginning (1980) including some of these “firsts”:

  •  Mr. Sun became the first net-zero business west of the Cascades.
  • Mr. Sun was the very first photovoltaic system in the Energy Trust program. 
  • Mr. Sun Solar was selected 3 times for the innovative residential Solarize programs.
  • Patterson invented and manufactures Sol Reliant™ the most advanced technology in solar hot water heating in the industry.

Patterson is regarded as one of the foremost experts in the world on solar water heating (SHW). He’s presented and lectured in America and now he’s chairing a panel at the invitation of the Chinese for the First Low Carbon Earth Summit, which will be held in October 2011 at World Exposition Center, in Dalian China. This is evidence that his influence is expanding.

Mister Sun, John Patterson, in Shanghai, China

Mr. Sun Solar was selected as the solar contractor for Solarize Northwest and Solarize Southwest Portland programs. These were innovative, volunteer-driven, community efforts to bring affordable solar electricity and weatherization to Portland homes. Part of the reason both selection committees chose Mr. Sun Solar was because of the company’s commitment to sustainability and local economy.

The Solarize Southwest campaign was one the largest neighborhood solar projects in the nation, resulting in revenue generation of $2.8M and 480kW installed PV on 168 Portland rooftops. Much of this revenue stayed in the local community for product and labor because Mr. Sun used local solar manufacturing for modules (SolarWorld-Hillsboro), Inverters (PV Powered – Bend) and electrical components (Platt Electric); plus he hired and trained a number of local employees to support this business growth.  

Mr. Sun Solar started as a one-man operation and has now grown to a team of over 25 employees and subcontractors.  Patterson uses sustainable business practices and drives a Prius, in fact, most of the company’s full-time employees drive hybrid or biodiesel vehicles, and three of the company’s vans use bio-diesel.  Mr. Sun recently celebrated their 31 year anniversary and held an event to commission their new (additional) 10 kW photovoltaic system and give rides for the kids in their electric vehicle (truck) which is 100% powered by the sun!

As one Energy Trust administrator said, “Mr. Sun Solar walks the talk.”

John Patterson’s leadership has left a big imprint on Oregon’s solar policies and on the residential solar market. He served as Chairman and President (3 times!) of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association and remains actively involved in energy policy legislation in Oregon. He lobbies local policy-makers and legislators in Salem to invest in Oregon’s future by keeping solar tax credits so that individuals and businesses will continue to  invest in our employees, our economy, and our environment. He  helped to create solar supportive legislation by testifying at state budget committee hearings and the Oregon PUC, is often invited to advocate for solar energy, and is a featured speaker at many public events and rallies.

Q: In what ways does this person help business thrive while embracing sustainability?

John Patterson leads by example. He educates and teaches at every opportunity. He promotes, evangelizes and testifies. He supports public-private partnerships. He is a thought-leader.

Patterson firmly believes that education is key to promoting renewable energy. He shares his own three decade solar story with others and has a direct influence on the local “green” economy. I personally know of three existing solar businesses that were started by ex-Mr. Sun employees, and when a group of solar professionals gather in Portland, it often has the air of Mr. Sun Solar employee re-union.  

John has trained thousands over the years

Patterson strives to further solar energy causes and awareness through educational outreach and workshops offered through Portland Community College. He teaches others how to thrive using sustainable practices and is the instructor for the PCC Green Living workshop series entitled, “Solar Thermal & Electric Systems Installer Training Series”  This series of workshops provides an overview of existing solar systems and how to build, install, and service them from the individual components to completed projects. Students learn system sizing, orientation, configuration, load analysis, installation and service from basics to the completed project. Indeed, John Patterson has trained more Oregon Limited Renewable Technician (LRT) apprentices than any other contractor in the Portland metro area.


 When Solar Oregon hosted our 4th annual Goal Net Zero Tour in May, Mr. Sun became the tour’s major supporter / sponsor. The tour is an innovative way to educate area homeowners, designers, builders, and real estate professionals that allow a firsthand look at remarkable homes on the path to carbon neutrality. Patterson also has experience working with local architects who design solar into new construction, most notably the Dolph Creek townhomes in Portland in which Sol Reliant water heating systems were part of the blueprints.

 Patterson has written and published a number of articles on solar energy topics and recently published a book about the dangers of global warming called, “FOOTPRINT: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Extinction. His book is about climate change and the need to shift to a renewable energy economy very quickly.  It places the responsibility on individuals and shows them exactly what steps to take in order to reduce their carbon footprint and how to influence others in their community to do the same.  It is one of the best books written on climate change and has been endorsed by Dr. James Hansen – our nation’s leading climatologist.  [See my book review http://solarflareblog.com/?p=828]

About writing the book, Patterson said, “Over the years, my focus has shifted from saving money to saving the planet. As I was researching for the book, I realized that global warming is a clear and present danger to human life. Fossil fuels and rampant consumerism are two things we must give up if we hope to derail the runaway train of global warming and climate change.” 

John stands beside our solar system – His company installed it

On Oregon’s sustainable and economic future, Patterson says, “I see Oregon leading the nation and even the world, into its new clean energy future. Our legislation that promotes non-polluting energy will vault us into the forefront of a growing market, and help steer us away from using fossil fuels. Renewable energy is no longer just an option for the individual; it’s a necessity for the greater society. I feel blessed to be a part of the clean energy revolution, and that solar energy has been the place for me to shine.”

Not only does he do what he sees as necessary to create a sustainable world, both environmentally and economically, John Patterson teaches and influences others to do same. 

That’s why I nominated the guy.

John Patterson (L) circa early 1970s

Solar power and Santa Barbara are a good fit!

Santa Barbara Goes Solar! 

The headline read …  “The Community Environmental Council counts Solarize Santa Barbara a Success! “

I’ve been writing about solarizing neighborhoods for awhile now, but with a Pacific Northwest slant because that’s where I live and work.  I moved to Portland Oregon twenty years ago after living in Santa Barbara California for nearly half my life. [This is when most people just shake their head at me.]  I’ve never looked back, but I still have love for my old hometown.  Therefore, I’m quite proud that SB has taken a page out of Portland’s sustainability book and completed their first residential solarize campaign, quite successfully too, I might add.  

The Community Environment Council (CEC) of Santa Barbara sponsored this program and it was expertly managed by Megan Birney, who is the renewable energy specialist for the organization.  

She told me, “As I’m sure you can tell, we have borrowed quite a bit from the Solarize Portland and Solarize Salem projects.  The people in Portland and Salem that we have spoken with have been extremely helpful in getting this program up and running.  I honestly don’t know if we could have done it without them.”

Here’s the synopsis …

Solarize Santa Barbara                     


Campaign Started:        May 2011

Sponsored by:               Community Environmental Council (Non-profit)                           

Coordinator:                 Megan Birney

Chosen Contractor:     REC Solar & Sun Pacific Solar Electric            

Participation:               187 sign-ups         75 workshop attendees

Contracts signed:        49

Total or projected installed:   205 kW

(Note: 4 contracts are on hold, if they move forward the total will be 220 kW) 

[Note: For your reference, I’ve posted below the results of a number of residential solarize program/projects, many I am personally involved or familiar with so I validated the numbers.  Judge for yourself whether or not these programs do as advertised or are worth the effort.]


Imagine Energy was the first solar contractor to engage

Has Solarizing Gone Viral?

The first Portland campaign, Solarize Southeast Portland (2009), was sparked by a homeowner who wanted to install solar power and partnered with Tim O’Neal (SE Uplift) and Lizzie Rubado (Energy Trust of Oregon) to create a neighborhood group purchase program.  They borrowed from 1BOG, put a Portland spin on it, and the program received lots of media attention (Solarize SE in USA Today) as it was seen as innovative and a potential market game-changer.  Over this past year, many individuals who participated in a Solarize Portland program have traveled to national conferences to present and explain this successful model to others. 

Solarizing supports city sustainability goals and helps meet RPS

The Northwest cities that adopted this same model, like Beaverton, Salem, and Seattle all got press and accolades for their own successes too, but my favorite coverage was for Solarize Pendleton which had their story told in an Associated Press article that was picked up and broadly published in the New York Times, CBS News, Huffington Post, and scores of other outlets.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/09/pendleton-oregon-solar-energy_n_847061.html

And, as recently as last week the Huffington Post Green section published an article entitled, “Group Buying the New Thing in Residential Solar – And Beyond?” By Lewis Milford and Anne Margolis of Clean Energy Group  http://www.cleanegroup.org/blog/group-buying-the-new-thing-in-residential-solar-and-beyond/.  It is a good article on the subject and I’ll leave it up to you to read, but I do want to call attention to this quote:

“The [Solarize Portland] model is potentially replicable by communities across the U.S., and is particularly important to study in light of declining state incentives and challenges to the PACE residential financing program … Since then, several other “Solarize” -type programs have popped up all over the U.S. (and beyond), in cities, states, and utility territories, and, based on their apparent success, these programs may be just the ticket to keep up the solar energy momentum in these times of diminishing state and federal incentives.”

Solarize campaigns create buzz and bring attention to renewable energy

Then it goes on to ask, “So what is so great about the Solarize model?” and provides the appropriate answers.

Yeah, we get the headlines and deservedly so. I think we’ve proven this model will stimulate and create demand, while promoting awareness and educating residents, but now we’ll see if it is sustainable.

This guidebook was published in January 2011

One tool that will certainly help keep the solarize momentum going is …

The Solarize Guidebook: A community guide to collective purchasing of residential PV systems

Authored by Linda Irvine, Alex Sawyer and Jennifer Grove of NW SEED (Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development ) and sponsored & funded by DOE/NREL’s Solar America Communities program,  The Solarize Guidebook describes key elements of the Solarize campaigns in Portland, and offers several program refinements from projects beyond Portland.  

Educational workshops are crucial for a successful solarize program

Contributors include: Lee Rahr, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability; Lizzie Rubado, Energy Trust of Oregon; Ross Swartzendruber, Salem Creative Network; Lee Jorgenson, Solarize Pendleton; Jessie Denver, City of San Jose; and Dave Llorens, 1BOG.

The guidebook provides lessons, considerations, and step-by-step plans for project organizers to replicate the success of solarizing. If you’re considering doing something similar for your community, you owe it to yourself to do the homework and this book is it. [Including reading solarflarebog.com of course !]

Download The Solarize Guidebook (PDF)

The results of solarizing are obvious - a raising tide lifts all boats

Solarizing:  Results and Comparisons (These are the campaigns I know about – there are others, no doubt!)

Solarize SE Portland (2 campaigns)


Campaign Started:    1 – 2009                            2 – 2010

Sponsored by:  SE Uplift & Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association                                    

Coordinator:     Tim O’Neal, Jonathan Cohen

Chosen Contractor:   Imagine Energy                                                    

Participation:   1 – 350 sign-ups      2 – 300

Contracts signed:    1 – 130               2 – 109

Total or projected installed:  1 – 350 kW       2 – 358 kW

 Solarize NE Portland


Campaign Started:   January 2010

Sponsored by:  Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN)                                              

Coordinators:   David Sweet, Kelly Rogers

Chosen Contractor:  Solar City                                                              

Participation:   1000 sign-ups    

Contracts signed:   204

Total or projected installed:  549 kW

The City of Portland was a good partner - this promo was in the Portland Curbsider


We had over 100 people at this Earth Day Solarize SW Portland workshop


Solarize SW Portland


Campaign Started:   April 2010

Sponsored by: Southwest Neighborhood  Inc.                                       

Coordinators:   Todd Farris, Leonard Gard, Ron McDowell

Chosen Contractor:   Mr. Sun Solar                                                                 

Participation:         700 sign-ups        300+ workshops

Contracts signed:  168

Total or projected installed:  480 kW

 Solarize North Portland


Campaign Started:  January 2011

Sponsored by:      North Portland Neighborhood Services and Neighbors West-Northwest

Coordinator:         Mary Kelly, Carrie Richards Andrews

Chosen Contractor:  Imagine Energy                                                                               

Participation:             200 sign-ups    150-175 site assessments

Contracts signed:        32 (+15 more possible)

Total or projected installed:  Estimate = 100 kW

Solarize NW Portland


Campaign Started:   February 2011

Sponsored by:   Neighbors West-Northwest and North Portland Neighborhood Services

Coordinator:   Alison Wallisch

Chosen Contractor:  Mr. Sun Solar                                                                       

Participation:    157 sign-ups         110 site assessments

Contracts signed:   26    (plus 1 SHW & 3 solar pool heating)

Total or projected installed:   74.6 kW

Solar Beaverton


Campaign Started:  March 2011

Sponsored by:   City of Beaverton (Community driven)           

Project Coordinator:  Rebecca Fitzsimmons  

Chosen Contractor: Livelight Energy (2009 = SolarCity)                                                      

Participation:   580 sign-ups      (2009 pilot = 400 sign-ups)

Contracts signed:  75                    (2009 pilot = 50)

Total or projected installed:  225 kW     (2009 pilot = 150 kW)

Solarize Corbett


Campaign Started:  July 2011

Sponsored by:      Resident-driven                                  

Coordinator:         Cecelia Giese, David Rossman, Michael Guebert

Chosen Contractor:  Mr. Sun Solar                                                                  

Participation:            69 initial sign-ups

Contracts signed:    TBA

Total or projected installed:  TBA

Solarize Eugene        


Campaign Started:  June 2011

Sponsored by:      Energy Design  (Contractor driven)

Coordinator:         Vince McClellan

Contractor:           Energy Design                      

Participation:        Lowest pricing via group buy in Pacific NW = $4.95-$5.05/W installed

Contracts signed:  Unknown

Total or projected installed: Unknown

Solarize Massachusetts  (Involves 4 cities) 


Campaign Started:  April 2011

Sponsored by:  Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in partnership with Green Communities Division of the Massachusetts Dept of Energy Resources          

Coordinator:     Jake Lambert

Chosen Contractor(s):  New England Breeze Solar (Harvard), Alteris Renewables (Hatfield & Winchester), Munro Distributing Clean Energy & Electrical Solutions (Scituate)          

Participation:                        TBA

Contracts signed:                 TBA

Total or projected installed:  TBA

Solarize  Minneapolis – Make Mine Solar H2O: Solar Hot Water 


Campaign Started:  August 2010

Sponsored by:         Minnesota Renewable Energy Society  (non-profit ASES chapter)

Coordinator:            Laura Cina

Chosen Contractor:   Customer chooses from an approved list                 

Participation:          150 workshop attendees,  216 sign-ups

Contracts signed:   14

Total or projected installed:  TBA

Nike Solar Initiative project


Campaign Started:  March 2011

Sponsored by:  Nike Corporation (Workplace participants)                                   

Coordinator:  Larry Lowery

Chosen Contractor:   Northwest Solar Solutions                                                           

Participation:   116 sign-ups

Contracts signed:    Estimated = 25

Total or projected installed:  Estimated = 80 kW

Solarize Pendleton  (Note: 2nd campaign started March 2011) 


Campaign Started:   April 2010

Sponsored by:      City of Pendleton (Community driven)

Coordinator:         Lee Jorgensen, Larry Lehman, Lindsey Hardy

Chosen Contractor:  LiveLight Energy                                                                             

Participation:     Workshops were full

Contracts signed:   56

Total or projected installed:  135 kW

Solarize Salem


Campaign Started:   August 2010      (Note: 2nd campaign started May 2011) 

Sponsored by:   Salem Creative Network (Co-op)                                                         

Coordinator:      Ross Swartzendruber

Chosen Contractor:  Solar City and RS Energy.                                                                         

Participation:   Fee-based service for co-op

Contracts signed:   52

Total or projected installed:  165 kW

San Jose Credit Union / SJ Employee buy program

Sponsored by:   San Jose Credit Union, SunPower, City of San Jose

Coordinator:   Jessie Denver

Participants:   130 sign-ups

Contracts Signed:    40 (35 PV, 5 thermal)

Total or projected installed:  140 kW

Solarize Seattle – Solarize Queen Anne     


Campaign Started:  July 2010

Sponsored by: Northwest Sustainable for Economic Development  NW SEED          

Coordinator:         Linda Irvine, Alex Sawyer

Chosen Contractor:  Sunergy Systems                                                                            

Participation:        160 sign-ups     150+ workshop attendees     96 Assessments

Contracts signed:   30

Total or projected installed:   130 kW

Solarize Seattle – Solarize Magnolia      


Campaign Started:  July 2011

Sponsored by:  NW SEED                                        

Coordinator:    Alex Sawyer


Residential Solarize Campaigns Sponsored by …

Non-Profit Organization:    Community Environmental Council (Santa Barbara), Salem Creative Network, Northwest Sustainable for Economic Development – NW SEED (Seattle)

Community Based:   City of Portland, City of Pendleton, City of Minneapolis, City of Madison, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center

Employer Sponsored:  Columbia Sportswear, Nike Corporation, San Jose City employees

Associations:   San Jose Credit Union, Forrest Heights HOA (Portland), Creekside HOA (Salem)

Publicly-owned Utility:   City of Santa Clara’s electric utility – Silicon Valley Power

Contractor Driven:   SolarCity (multiple cities), REC (multiple cities), Gulf South Solar – 1 Solar Block Group Buying Program (Baton Rouge),  Energy Design (Eugene), Spearhead Solar (Davis), Imagine Energy (SE Portland 2nd campaign)

For Profit/Business:  1Block Off the Grid, Group Energy, Open Neighborhoods Community Solar,  Clean Energy Logistics Lab – CELL (Gainesville)

Solarizing makes a connection with community

* About Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council

Since 1970, the CEC has led the Santa Barbara region – and at times California and the nation – in creative solutions to some of the toughest environmental problems.  Today CEC is focused on eliminating the use of fossil fuels in the Central Coast region in one generation – Fossil Free by ’33.

Find the CEC on the web at www.cecsb.org  on Twitter @CECSB and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CECSB

Let's Solarize the USA!

It is time to take residential rooftop solar from the early adopter to the mainstream America phase.

For the past thirty years, the U.S. residential solar market was built by American blue collar tradesmen. History will call them solar pioneers.  These folks came from varied skill-sets and backgrounds: real estate, roofing, construction, plumbing and electrical, and they morphed into what is known today as solar contractors, solar installers and/or solar integrators.  Most of these were small companies with fewer than ten employees, yet these mom & pops literally owned the residential solar market.  They created it customer-by-customer, rooftop-by-rooftop, panel-by-panel and system-by-system.  A solar contractor might install a couple systems per month (average) for residential photovoltaic (electric) solar. That’d be a good year back in the day, but no more.

I admire these early pioneers and give them their due. They suffered years of doubt and discrimination from just about everyone: the government, utilities, politicians, oil companies, HOAs, permit bureaus, public officials, on and on. Add to this equation the enormous product cost and customer acquisition costs, well, it was a labor of love for many.  However, in spite of all this these pioneers prevailed, carved out an industry and built a market.  Many are still in business today.

One reason these guys prospered was that they completely controlled (owned) the customer experience.  Their sales pitch was cleverly crafted and catered to a particular potential buyer.  Every solar sale was sized contingent upon a customer’s ability to pay and every install was a one-off and a priority all its own.

While this approach was beneficial for the solar contractor, it was often hell for the potential customer. [Not quite the car sales experience we all know and love, but similar.] There just wasn’t a whole lot of useful information available for the customer and not many options either. There was some truth behind the “only rich people can buy solar” moniker put on solar by its opponents.

Not to over simplify, but this was one reason why we had a whopping 38 solar electric systems installed on Portland single family homes before the first Solarize Portland campaign began in Summer of 2009.

This paradigm was crying out for change … and change it has.

Two years ago in the Pacific Northwest, homeowners were paying $10/watt (system install price) and today it is almost half that amount.  Yes, the solarize projects in Portland, Beaverton, Salem and Seattle had something to do with it, and it is one reason solarizing has had such a successful launch.

Note:  The lowest residential pricing in America is contained within group purchasing projects and Dave Lorens (1BOG CEO) told me that pricing for their residential group projects currently range between $4.75/w (NJ) to $ 6.65/w (CA), and he even sponsored one project for $4.60/w saying it was a “special pricing situation”. *  Here in the Pacific NW it is closer to $5.25/w.

Naturally, some of the solar old timers are chagrined about what has happened to their business model.  See blog post “In every endeavor there is conflict”  http://solarflareblog.com/?p=929 .   I do understand their distress. The solar business is changing rapidly, with more players entering the market on a daily basis, and the established business model of yesterday has been shattered.

Clearly the customer experience has changed, but solarizing is not for everyone.

Some people require much more of a protracted experience.  For them a bit of handholding and coddling is required.  After all, this is big ticket purchase for any household.  I think people realize that large-scale residential solar programs don’t always allow for a high-quality, individually satisfying, experience.  [In the case of Northeast Portland they were working with a list of over 1000 potential customers, and for the Southwest Portland program we had 700 families sign up.]  So, I believe there is still room in the marketplace for a solar business that caters to this demographic, we’ll soon see.

Image from “Deep Green” a movie by Oregon’s Matt Briggs

I am someone who believes all of the science that points to AGW regardless of the misinformation campaigns that proliferate the internet, and anything that gets us to economies of scale and gets us off fossil fuels sooner, is on my radar.  With respect to the solar old-timers who are very unhappy about community group purchasing or solarizing programs, they need to understand that this is the quickest path to ubiquity. We simply cannot achieve what is required by installing a dozen homes a month!  In my view, we need to scale up and do it very quickly and the solarize approach helps facilitate this objective like no other.

This is the first post of a five-part series entitled “Solarize USA:  The paradigm shift”

*From a panel session at American Solar Energy Society “Solar 2011” annual conference entitled “Community-based Group Purchase Models for Solar – what’s working? – Forum” (moderated by Kacia Brockman, Energy Trust of Oregon & Solar Oregon Boardmember) – May 18, 2011