A solar company hitting its 40th birthday is a major milestone. The industry has changed significantly in just the last 10 years, let alone four decades. In the 1970s, the only significant way to go solar was through solar thermal systems. That’s what Atlasta Solar Center initially offered to Grand Junction, Colorado, when it opened its doors in 1979. Founder Virgil Boggess was inspired to start a solar company after the global oil crisis.
“At that time, it was really seen as your patriotic duty as an American to install a solar thermal system so the country could not be dependent on imported sources of energy,” said current co-owner Lou Villaire.
Atlasta has since adapted to the latest solar trends to stay successful, first transitioning into off-grid electric systems and eventually grid-tied PV. Although residential PV makes up about 90% of Atlasta’s business today, solar thermal still holds a soft spot in its offered services.
“We still do a lot of service on thermal systems,” Villaire said. “Thermal systems can last a long time. They’re a little more labor and materials intensive, and they require more upkeep than solar electric systems. We have customers with solar thermal systems that have been working for 30 or 40 years.”
The company is dedicated to its long-lasting customer relationships.
“We put a lot of emphasis on service with integrity. In our area, a lot of solar companies have come and gone, come from other states and left,” Villaire said. “We provide service to all systems that are out there. We want to provide the best customer service we can. Our customers are the most important entity to us.”
“We really try and ensure we’re part of the community because we’ve been here, deeply rooted in this community, for almost 40 years,” Fowler said. “With solar, it’s such a question of educating the customer. It’s not really a sale—you’re really educating about solar. That community involvement is a good opportunity for customers to get their toes wet in solar and start to think about it.”
Atlasta is looking ahead to the next 40 years and how to stay competitive. The company offers to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) from customers and one day hopes to sell them on the open market.
“If the state imposes any sort of emission standards for businesses, then those certainly would be in demand,” Fowler said.
The company is also exploring energy storage and how to make those projects work for interested customers.
“We do get quite a lot of interest, [but] battery technology is lagging still,” Fowler said. “The economics don’t work out as well for grid-tied solar that they would for backup or off-grid. We still do propose and educate our customers about their different backup options.”
Atlasta Solar Center has seen a lot over the years, and Villaire said he’s excited to see what future technologies will change the industry. He’s especially interested in Enphase’s new IQ8 microinverter that can turn a solar array into a microgrid with or without storage.
“We’ve seen over the last 40 years the complexity of off-grid decrease, and that’s important, as well as the technology with lithium batteries improving and the cost coming down,” Villaire said. He thinks the industry is on the cusp of storage and microgrid technologies becoming more commonplace—something that may have been unthinkable when Atlasta launched its solar services 40 years back.
This month’s Contractors Corner podcast is sponsored by DuPont.
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