When Geoff Mirkin co-founded his company, Solar Energy World, a decade ago, the solar power industry was just in its infancy.
Today, Mirkin and his partners, Tope Lala and Al Gleeson, are solidly in the mainstream, with the residential solar energy business expected to double by 2024, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. More than 1 million solar systems have been installed in the United States, and homeowners are reporting estimated savings of up to $20,000 over extended periods of time.
Based in Elkridge, Solar Energy World installs solar panel systems for residential and commercial property owners in Maryland, Virginia, southern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Washington D.C.
Jmore recently spoke to Mirkin, a Gaithersburg resident who serves as CEO of Solar Energy World, about his company and the solar power field.
Why should homeowners go solar?
It depends on your motivation. Some people want to save money on their utility bills. That’s the most popular reason. The other reason is that it is more environmentally friendly.
How exactly does one afford going solar, and how much can you save?
Some people will pay for it outright, and they will get a 10 percent return on investment right away. Or you can finance solar over several years, and with a low interest rate loan you will still be cash-flow positive, compared to whatever you are paying the utility for your energy now. Even with a loan, you will start saving money immediately.
There’s also a power purchase agreement, or PPA, where you lock in a low rate for 25 years. A finance company finances that project, and sells the energy back to the homeowner at a low rate with guaranteed production.
How complicated is solar panel installation?
We have really streamlined the process to make going solar easy. We take care of the permitting, the site inspections, the interconnections with the utility companies. We take care of everything to make it as simple as possible.
So what happens on cloudy days?
Obviously, solar systems produce better when it is fully sunny, but they still produce on cloudy days. If it is raining, you can still use the electrical-grid production. We also do some battery backup, so that even if the grid goes down, we can draw electricity from the battery, which is charged by the solar.
We also use several tools that show the last 100 years’ worth of weather data, so we can give projections on solar production based on data that accounts for sunny days, rainy days, snowy days. It’s very predictable.
Do you see the demand for alternative energy evolving in the coming years?
We have been doing this for 10 years and we are ahead of where we thought we would be. I am very bullish on the future. When we started, people thought solar was like putting a space shuttle on your roof. They just had no idea. Now, people see solar everywhere. It’s much better understood.
People also see the fiscal sense of it. If you are going to pay the electric bill regardless, why not save on that? So we see a growing demand every year. At this point, only about 1 percent of the homes on Maryland have solar on them, so we have barely scratched the surface.
What do you need to do to compete successfully in this emerging industry?
You’ve got to hire good people, people who are passionate about the work and will put the company first. Then, you have to know what each particular customer wants and be able to provide that.
For example, it takes about eight weeks to go solar today. Some people want to get a call five times a week. They want to know everything that is happening in the process. Other people are more hands-off. You check in every two or three weeks just to let them know it is on schedule. We find out how they want the project handled and we work to meet that expectation.
Why exactly did you get into this business?
I sold my roofing company in 2008 when there was a lot of legislation around tax credits for solar. It looked like a great business to get into.
I was also motivated by the environmental aspects. My kids were in elementary school learning about renewable energy, and it meant a lot to them.
They’re going to be around a lot longer than I am, and I felt like it was important to do my part.
For information, visit solarenergyworld.com.
Adam Stone is an Annapolis-based freelance writer.