Is It Time for Solar?

John G. Swanson
May 31, 2011
THE TALK... | Markets & Trends

This week, I received an announcement from American Vision Solar about a new program for homeowners.  It caught my eye because the Southern California company is also a window dealer. Another reason it caught my eye is that it followed on the heels of a news report last week about Lowe's Home Improvement entering the solar business.

Obviously solar has been capturing more attention in the past few years. Everyone loves the idea, but solar hasn't yet gained mainstream traction. I certainly haven't seen that many traditional building material and window and door dealers investing a lot of resources into this arena. These two stories, however, made me wonder whether the tide could be turning in solar's favor.

Are more window, door and skylight companies–dealers and/or manufacturers–starting to invest in solar? That's our poll question of the week.  And, as usual, I'd like to hear from you. Are typical replacement window buyers ready for solar? What about builders?  If solar is gaining, why?  Recent rises in energy prices? Tax credits and other incentives? Improvements in solar technology? Post a comment or email me and tell me what you think.  


Survey Results as of 06/06/2011:


Do you offer solar power related products?





No, I don't see solar power fitting into our business.




No, but I think we will eventually.




No, but I suspect we will within five years.




My solar energy question didn't generate much discussion, but our poll results suggest many window and door industry manufacturers, distributors, dealers and suppliers are paying attention to solar.  Just over a third of our respondents said they don't see solar fitting into their business, but the same percentage reported they are already involved in solar. Another 11 percent of respondents think their companies will be involved in solar within five years, and more still think it will happen eventually.

Those numbers were pretty surprising to me, I'll admit. Like most people, I love the idea of harnessing the sun's energy but I'm also a bit of a solar skeptic. More than 25 years ago, when I first started covering the glass and window industries, people were predicting solar technologies would be cost effective in a few years.  I believe that will happen, I just don't know when (particularly if you take government subsidies out of the picture).

Perhaps we are getting close.  According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar energy industry had a banner year in 2010 with the industry’s total market value growing 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6.0 billion in 2010. It issued a market study at the beginning of the year that shows particularly strong growth in the residential sector over the past five years.

I don't pretend to understand what an MWdc represents as far as numbers of homes or millions of dollars, but residential installed PV capacity has increased from 25 MWdc in 2005 to 254 MWdc in 2010. “This report shows that solar energy is now one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, creating new opportunities for both large and small businesses," says Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.

“This remarkable growth puts the solar industry’s goal of powering 2 million homes annually by 2015 within reach," he also states.  I still think it will take a while for solar to be mainstream, but when I hear a figure like 2 million, and I see companies like Lowe's getting involved in solar, it makes me think it might be time to pay more attention.