We Do It because We Love It because We Do It…
I started playing with solar thermal panels when I was 17, building my backyard thermos-syphoning hot water system. After college I worked for Solarex, an early major manufacturer of solar cells and modules. The corporation went through several owners including Amoco and BP Solar.
In 1983 my wife Becky and I moved back to Montana and started Sunelco, The Sun Electric Company in Hamilton, MT. We concentrated on designing and selling mail order solar systems to folks who were living off the grid. We also lived five miles from utility power and were able to practice what we preached living with many of the products we sold.
After ten years of operation and growing to a staff of 12 we sold the company to a large competitor out of Arizona. This company and its successive owners could not make the profit they had envisioned and later sold the company to our original first hire and good friend Tom Bishop.
With the development of grid interactive inverters a new paradigm was introduced to this fledgling industry. Prior to this most residential and commercial systems utilized battery storage. Lead acid batteries were the only chemistry that was economical. Other countries around the world, most notably Germany took the inverter industry and developed safe, efficient units which send power directly into the grid connected home, power the homes loads first, then run the electrical meter, in effect backwards, creating a financial credit with the utility.
An organization was created to test and certify solar installers by the name of the North American Board of Certified Electrical Practitioners or NABCEP. This is a great group filling a need for standardized training and knowledge. (Whoever you use with your solar installation, make sure to have a certified NABCEP person on your team. Licensed electricians and engineers are also very helpful, yet a certified solar specialist is critical to the design of a system with a 25 year or more useful life.)
I then came to work for a group of entrepreneurs, Jeff Crouch, John Beighle and Dave Keck in Missoula, MT who created Sustainable Building Systems, or SBS for short in 2009. Their brainchild was to incorporate energy efficiency design and construction, including solar, under one roof.
At the end of 2014, Becky and I purchased the assets of the company and held the name of SBS Solar. With my 30 year background and more than 250 installations under my belt we are back to full ownership and enjoying all that this brings. Solar electricity is a passion and a lifestyle for us as we have dedicated our professional careers to this cause. We work extensively in Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley and throughout Western Montana and our home farm in Hamilton. Becky helps with books, marketing and advice. Ty Bender and several other “young bucks” assist with the heavy lifting and installation work. I try to stay on the ground and point more but still love the hands on work.
The next game changer we see will be in electrical ”battery” storage. The electric car demand is finally here and pushing huge advancements with improved battery chemistries. It is our view that advances in electrical storage will not only change the solar industry but will change the entire electrical grid paradigm as fully as refrigeration changed how we handle our food supply. Keep your seat belt on, it may be a bumpy ride!