West Virginia

West Virginia now ideally suited to solar energy use

West Virginia is now ideally suited for the use of solar energy

“Technology has come in leaps and bounds since the ’80s and ’90s,” says Solar Holler’s Dan Conant. (Photo: Dawid Zawiła)

Perhaps surprisingly, much of West Virginia enjoys about 85 percent as much sunlight as Miami, Florida, which means it’s ideally suited for harnessing solar energy, says West Virginia-based founder and CEO of Solar Holler.

Thanks to advances in technology, solar power is now an affordable and viable option for many Mountain State residents, according to Dan Conant.

A solar array in Kenova, West Virginia, takes advantage of the Ohio Valley's sunny conditions.
An installation in Kenova takes advantage of the Ohio Valley’s sunny conditions.

“Technology has come in leaps and bounds since the ’80s and ’90s,” Conant said, although he emphasizes that every solar installation depends on various factors.

“The exact numbers obviously depend on where you are, the shade, what angle your roof is facing — all those different variables,” he said.

The team at Solar Holler creates 3D models of every roof they work on for those interested in converting to solar energy.

“I’m really proud of our team for what we do,” said Conant. “If someone says, ‘Hey, I’m interested in seeing what this might look like for me,’ we create a 3D model of your roof, the chimneys, the trees, the nearby buildings, and the hills and mountains.”

Roof panels harness solar energy on a home in northern West Virginia.
Roof panels harness solar energy on a home in north-central West Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Teresa Pershing)

After the model is created, the team runs sunlight simulations so they know where the sun is at every hour of every day of the year. They are also studying how shading of nearby obstacles affects how much sunlight falls on each square inch of the roof at each hour of the year.

“Then we run that through all of our electrical simulations so we know exactly how much power your system will produce as we designed it,” Conant said.

While not every home is a good candidate — say, a cabin in the middle of the woods — Solar Holler is still able to provide accurate models and analysis of the financial implications to get that information out to people to let them decide whether it’s what they want to pursue, Conant said.

A Solar Holler crew installs panels on the Atlas building.
A Solar Holler crew installs panels on the Atlas building.

Headquartered in Shepherdstown with additional offices and bases in Huntington, Parkersburg, Fayetteville and Morgantown, Solar Holler employees live and work in West Virginia building solar projects across the state.

Conant said he’s proud that Solar Holler has unionized its crews in 2020. They are members of the IBEW electrical union.

“From the state’s perspective, it’s just tremendous to employ electricians and get jobs locally — they’re also union jobs,” he said.

Aside from job creation — Solar Holler alone employs nearly 100 full-time employees — solar power may cost less for consumers in the long run, especially when compared to rising operational costs.

“For most people, you’ll see that solar energy costs 10 to 15 to 20 percent less than what utilities are charging,” Conant said.

“Whether you’re a homeowner, a church, or a school, you can set your electricity prices,” he explained. “The beauty of solar power is that once it’s up there, it just sits there and the fuel is free. Sunlight is free.”

There are just as many benefits of solar for commercial use; Labor aside, electricity is a major expense for businesses, especially manufacturers.

“Electricity can be a really high-level cost for a lot of our industries in the state, and making sure you control those costs over the long term and have control and knowledge so you can stay on budget is tremendous,” Conant said

When someone buys a solar power system, they take out a loan to cover the cost, but Conant said the loan payments cost less than what businesses and homeowners pay for utilities. Payments on the loan will not change over 20 years, even if electricity and utility prices may increase.

“Once you pay off the system, all the monthly costs are just gone,” Conant said. ‘There’s gravy over there. It really puts people in control of electricity bills. In the case of solar, that’s your option of choice.”

Many multinational and international companies like Apple, Amazon and Google have renewable energy goals and in some cases need access to clean energy.

“If you want to sell to these companies or quote their West Virginia data centers, they need access to clean energy,” Conant said.

“Because of this, we have seen a comprehensive shift in how the state is now approaching renewable energy. Not only is it a nice thing to do every now and then, it’s kind of mission critical to the economy.”

Founded in 2013, Solar Holler originally worked with nonprofits like churches and homeless shelters to find ways to make solar energy affordable for those organizations.

Having just celebrated the 1,000th solar installation in Appalachia, Conant reflected on how far the team has come over the past decade.

“We just kept growing from there,” said Conant. “At this point we have 95 full-time employees doing everything from modeling and design work to installation services.”

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