Solar Battery Repairman 1955

Installation of one of the first solar panels on a rural Georgia phone pole in Oct. 4, 1955. Courtesy of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs and Abby Gruen

It’s been nearly sixty years since the first PV module was invented by Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. This pioneering technology went on to supply power for NASA’s first permanent satellite, and minds even in those days imagined sunlight might provide the bulk of humanity’s energy needs. “Oil is on the way out and solar is on the way in,” said a representative of Exxon in June 1977.

Three decades later, the United States has ceded its leadership in renewable energy to countries more serious about tackling their depedence on carbon energy. Germany is a stellar example of a country that has used smart public policy to drive strong private investment in solar, resulting in their ability to phase out nuclear energy and plan for 80% renewable energy by 2050. China’s aggressive subsidies and push for cost-efficiencies have lead to more than a doubling of Asia’s market share of the global PV industry.

Today, the US solar industry is working hard to regain our position as the world’s envy. Over 723 megawatts of solar were installed in Q1, 2013 (up 33% YoY), and in 2012 America’s share of globally installed solar nearly doubled from ~6.5% to ~12%. There are over 119,000 solar workers in the United States, the majority of which are highly-trained, passionate, and well-paid.

Solar is becoming a powerful economic engine – but what about the actual equipment itself? Can’t we make this stuff in America?

The bright answer is yes we can.

Bring on the Sun – iva

Candia, NH - Solar Electricity

26.78 kw all black Suniva USA-made Solar Electric Array at the home of David Gould in Candia, NH.  This system also features a Solectria inverter built in Lawrence, MA

With China, Japan, and Europe claiming well-over 93% of PV panel market, it’s no easy task to find solar panels manufactured in the U.S. Th

The steep drop in solar prices in 2008-2011 (largely a result of the global economic downturn and the Chinese influence mentioned above) forced many U.S. solar manufacturers into bankruptcy and others to move operations overseas.

Still, ReVision Energy is determined to source American-made solar panels that meet our engineering teams’ exacting standards of performance, built by companies that can demonstrate long-term viability. We want to feel confident that the equipment that we install will withstand decades of New England winters and that the warranties offered by the manufacturer will remain valid because the manufacturer will still exist.

After a rigorous process, our team settled on Suniva solar panels as our “Buy American” option in 2012, and we have since installed over 500MW of their panels.

We like Suniva because they typify what is great about American brands. Rather than focusing on the lowest cost product, Suniva instead focuses on producing PV modules which are both high-efficiency and cost-competitive.

Suniva has earned a worldwide reputation in large part due to uniquely American innovations to manufacturing technology, as well as quality and performance of their products. Their company story itself is quite unique. Suniva evolved from a public solar research center – the University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaic Research and Education (UCEP) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and remains a successful example of a public private partnership.

The sleek all-black look of Suniva’s signature panel, along with attractive pricing and performance, have made it a hit among ReVision customers. Dave Gould of Candia, NH, said this of his recent 27.5kw Suniva installation:

“We try to buy local and buy American whenever feasible. In this instance, the price was not much higher to buy the Suniva modules and they looked better to boot so it was an easy decision. We love our solar array!”

Inverters Are Not All the SMA-me

SMA solar inverter wallhung

An American-made SMA solar inverter installed a customer’s home in Midcoast Maine

There are a handful of grid-tied solar inverters that meet our engineers’ exacting standards, but at the of that list are SMA inverters, owned by a German company and manufactured by their SMA America division in Colorado. SMA’s exacting German engineering and quality American construction leads to an extremely reliable and flexible product.

SMA’s business boasts a large number of innovations – one of the most dramatic is a new-to-the-industry feature that allows a solar home to run loads directly off the solar inverter in event of a power outage.

Also deserving of mention is Solectria, an inverter manufacturer based in Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Solectria is a great ‘buy local’ option and is used in a number of our system designs, particularly in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Drive Local, Too

Cars are deep at the heart and soul of America – we love the idea of the open road, of picking a highway and seeing what adventures will find us along it.

Yet our future depends on a better way to get from point A to point B, and American companies are among those leading the way.

Solstice 2013 Summer Party at ReVision Energy

Solar Customer Fred Garbo’s Nissan LEAF plugged into USA-made Clipper Creek EV charging station

There’s a great immigrant story in Elon Musk, who left South Africa in the 1990s to head to California.  Musk founded and sold a PayPal in the DotCom boom, before going on to found three amazing companies including Tesla. Despite initial skepticism, Detroit automakers have been racing to catch up with Tesla with the launch of the innovative Chevy Volt and Ford Focus Electric (to come later this year).

Need a charge?  You can plug-in with an American-made car charger – with Clipper Creek units built in Auburn, California, or the GE WattStation built right in Auburn, Maine!

Renewable Energy is Patriotic

The reality is that manufacturing is global, and due to forces well outside of their hands, many manufacturers can’t build their products in the USA and stay in business. Those that do exhibit the innovation, perseverance, and tenacity that makes America great.

But regardless of where your solar panels come from, you can ensure that the energy you save stays local. Take some of your savings from solar and spend it at a local farmer’s market, hardware store, restaurant or retail store. Redirecting money otherwise spent on energy fuel to local vendors can have powerful effects!

America has always been a place where rogue minds and independent thinkers come up with the bold ideas that push us into the next age. Those on the frontlines of solar are witnessing how determined individuals, savvy businesses, and community-driven organizations are able to take advantage of solar technology to cut their ties from burdensome oil and electric bills. We invite you to join us on this uniquely American journey – to a clean energy economy.

Happy Fourth of July,
Your Friends at ReVision Energy