Doug Hertz: I was restoring houses in Westchester and we kept getting asked by various clients for the name of a good solar installer and we didn’t really have one. So I started to do research and realized there was a real void and an opportunity. It was a technology that really fascinated me. I took my first solar course in the late 70’s and as I looked I realized the industry had matured and the technology was really robust. I was looking for something new and it really came together.
NYH: What courses did you take at SUNY Ulster?
DH: I took the Introduction to Photovotlaics Systems course that prepares you for the NABCEP entry level certification. It was a one week course on solar installation that I believe they still give there.
NYH: What legal certification did you obtain as a result of these courses?
DH: NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) gives certification for all solar installers in America. The course prepared me for the NABCEP entry level certificate test and was a prerequisite for taking the certification test. That certification test allows you to apply to NYSERDA the New York State energy research agency, the organization that administers the incentive programs for solar power. That was essential for me if I wanted to start a business in solar energy and I needed at least NABCEP certification to get it, so the class at SUNY Ulster helped me with that.
NYH: What did you do before you installed solar panels?
DH: For about 25 years I worked in the film and television business, more as a lighting designer and director and as such I ended up doing a lot of electrical design work because we would do electrical design work for film, TV and theater and I ended up designing the electrical and lighting systems for TV studios and we did some architectural work. I ended up working closely with the electricians so the electrical side of the business I knew well so that wasn’t much of a stretch to learn the specifics in solar because I had that background working with electricians. A few years prior to my solar business I had a business that was buying up and restoring old homes. People would come to us looking for a solar installer and when we realized we couldn’t find a solar resource for people I realized there was a void in the market for solar installation.
NYH: Why do you think it is a benefit for a person to take these courses at SUNY Ulster?
DH: I believe this is one of the real growing industries. We are currently hiring installers and I rely on SUNY Ulster graduates to fill these positions. It’s a real growing business.
I think we are going to see a real tipping point in the northeast where solar becomes the accepted technology. We are seeing people jump into the business so quickly in the three years we have been doing this. A program like SUNY Ulster’s really gives us confidence that the people we are hiring have a basic skill sets that we require so I think it is a very valuable program. The program is great for people who are looking to start their own business because it gives them the technical foundation.
One of the things no one prepares you for though is the level of government bureaucracy that solar installation requires. It’s mind boggling. Right now on a residential installation in Westchester seventy-five percent of the cost is covered by various government programs. We work with our clients on how to best maximize the returns on their investments is. Only five to 10 percent of our business is installation (laughs)
NYH: How much could a person expect to save with solar panels?
DH: One of the frustrations is we get a lot of people who expect they can cut their bill to zero and that is often not the case. We have homes that we have taken the power bill down to almost nothing but the average customer can get one-third to two-thirds of their electric bill taken care of. It is rare that we have a customer we can take to zero.
It is really a question of how much roof space we have to how much usage they have. So if you live in a one story house with a large roof compared to your floor space, those are the kinds of houses we tend to do very well on where we can take you down to next to nothing. But a typical two story colonial with four or five people living in it, kids leaving the TV on and running the AC on all day and things like that, yeah you’re not going to get above half of your usage. The answer completely varies. We see people who are very frugal who have already changed out their light bulbs to CFL’s or LED’s, they are very careful with their thermostat and we can make a very significant impact on those people, and we also see other people who are not particularly energy efficient
NYH: Are Solar panels a good idea for everyone?
DH: I would love to say it’s a good idea for everyone, but the reality is it’s not. There are a number of situations where we look at a home and say “this is not going to work for you”. With our satellite tools we can do a very quick solar assessment up front and determine if the house is heavily shaded by trees, which is typically the killer in these situations. Unfortunately in mature communities where the trees are 20 30 years old that is often the case. In newer communities we see a much better chance. Solar isn’t for everyone and we not only do solar electric we do solar thermal systems and the solar thermal systems heat domestic hot water and those systems are not sensitive to shading so those are sometimes an alternative. We are located in Westchester where about half the houses we see work and the other half don’t.
NYH: What is a typical work day like for you?
DH: We are doing things like fielding inquires that come in typically from our website and those are being dealt with either by me or my sales director. We work with our installers either planning new installations or working on current installations. There will be design work, during the day, for upcoming projects. I’ll usually make a call to an architect or an engineer and give them structural plans for the house. There will always be at least one bid going out a day so there is usually a discussion about what we will design for a specific project, what are the best tools, what’s the best way to approach it, because no two project are the same.
We’ve started moving into larger commercial projects and those require much more detailed financial modeling for CFOs. We are dealing with the finance side, talking to finance companies, banks and CFOs that understand what their needs are, if we are going be leasing a system, doing a purchasing agreement or just selling them a system outright and trying to help them understand the complexities of the financing options. You have to become a tax expert to understand the commercial aspects.
NYH: Where do you think this profession will be going in the future?
DH: I think you’re going to see solar become much more main stream. We have seen a few interesting things that have happened in the last few months. Some major companies have declared bankruptcy so there has been tremendous downward pressure on pricing, both from the Chinese and American manufacturers based on the fact that there was so much production prior to the recession happening and it has resulted in a lot of product on the market which has made the prices collapse. The shake out of the weaker companies in the industry is inevitable. Ultimately we see energy prices continue to rise, solar prices continue to fall, more and more companies enter the market place, and we see a level of professionalism increasing in the market place so I think you are going to see solar become a fairly mainstream option for residential and commercial buildings. Right now it’s considered alternative energy but in 10 years it’s going to be a normal option. I think that is the direction we are moving towards.
visit http://www.sunrisesolarllc.com/ to find out more about solar panel installation
visit http://www.sunyulster.edu/continuing_ed/noncredit_programs/sustainability.jsp for information on SUNY Ulsters Sustainable energy courses