Photovoltaic Prospects Are Sunny

Story by Bill Kovarik

Brian Walsh installs photovoltaic panels across the state of Virginia. Photo by Pam Owen

The phones are ringing off the hook at Solar Connexion in Blacksburg, Va., but Brian Walsh is out in the field installing photovoltaic panels.

Keeping up with the rising number of inquiries is a dilemma that Brian Walsh faces as he thinks about how to expand his solar photovoltaic business.

“We are now in the process of figuring out how we are going to grow,” Walsh said. “I feel we are only taking fraction of potential that’s there.”

Established 20 years ago, the solar business has seen a steady rise over the years, to the point where a one-man part-time business has grown to include several full-time installers.

At some point, the business will need more of a front-end office and educational effort. And that requires investment capital, a rare commodity in a recession economy.

The time between an initial contact and final installation tends to be longer in the solar business than other kinds of enterprises, Walsh notes. Usually, there is about eight months of lag time while customers consider their options.

“It’s a long-term term investment no matter how you break it down,” Walsh says. “If you put realistic factors into the capital investment, you can justify a 20 to 25 year payback [before tax incentives],” he said. Yet many systems last from 80 to 100 years. “You could say it’s an heirloom purchase,” Walsh says.

The cost of a residential photovoltaic array, without backup batteries, is about $7,000 to $11,000 per installed kilowatt, he said.

A lot of people will buy part of a system and expand it over the years, Walsh says. “Of course, the smart thing is to spend effort and money to make a home more efficient and use less electricity in the first place.”

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