Boulder, Colorado's Namaste Solar Electric Company has been red hot, not only in terms of blazing an exciting trail for a renewable energy future, but also showing that green business can not only be profitable, but it can exceed everyone's expectations.
The four-year-old company installs solar electric systems for homes and businesses throughout Colorado, and has swelled to 45 owner-employees, from the original three. Namaste is the leading installer of photoelectric panels (PVs) in the state, with 25% market share.
This impressive growth has been accomplished with some of the most innovative, progressive corporate policies around, including six weeks of paid vacation for all employees, a uniform pay scale, decisions by consensus and a culture of openness and honesty not to mention generous donations of solar systems to nonprofits.
TDG recently interviewed the president and co-founder of Namaste Solar Electric, Blake Jones, via telephone. The hustle and bustle of a busy operation could be heard in the background, as the 34-year-old St. Louis native (who sounds a bit like a smarter Keanu Reeves) talked enthusiastically about the future of alternative energy, and how Namaste does things differently. He cut his professional teeth as a civil engineer for a Halliburton subsidiary, working in the oil and gas industry, according to CNN.
TDG: It seems Namaste Solar Electric has rocketed onto the renewable energy scene. What has that been like?
Blake Jones: Our four-year-old company has about 45 employee owners. We started with three, and we've been growing pretty quickly. Our growth is representative of what's happening in the solar industry in the U.S. and around the world. In Colorado the industry basically started right when our company did. We've installed over 500 systems in the past three years, and we expect to double in size next year.
Solar energy has been growing 40% a year for the past 20 years. The sky is the limit for how much it can grow. There's been a lot of investment in solar industry recently, and we get résumés every day from people who want to work here, especially from people who want to change careers to something this exciting.
Many of the home solar systems installed by Namaste Solar Electric are surprisingly unobtrusive.
How important has it been for states to show such leadership in supporting solar power?
Several states have taken it upon themselves to develop incentive programs for renewable energy because the federal government wasn't taking action. Massachusetts just passed an important solar law, as did Ohio [see more here].
When we started there were only 30 to 40 solar companies in Colorado, and now there are more than 200. Colorado has followed in the footsteps of other states and has passed programs to support solar energy. California was the first, and is now the largest market in the U.S. New Jersey was second. Those states have created hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs what we call green collar jobs.
Of course we'd like to see the feds taking a leadership role in promoting solar energy, as well as setting standards for the whole country. Similar to what's happened in Japan, Spain, Italy and elsewhere. The U.S. is lagging behind, and importing most of its solar technology, because Japan and Germany started supporting their industries years ago. Now China is investing in solar in a big way.
Does the lack of national standards for solar energy make it difficult to expand?
Yes, it would be much easier for solar companies to expand if there were federal standards. Growth has been challenging because the situation in each state is completely different. Understanding how incentive programs are operated, state laws, permits, etc. is complicated. We need a federal incentive program and interconnection standards.
Half the states have standards, the other half doesn't, making it very difficult to promote distributed generation.
A solar awning, installed by Namaste Solar Electric, on the roof of radio station KGNU in Boulder.
Have you been seeing increased interest in alternative energy in recent months due to high fossil fuel prices?
Definitely, we're seeing more calls recently because of energy worries. When we first started we were giving a lot of presentations to educate the public on solar. Now our phone is ringing off the hook. If you would have told me four years ago global warming would be on the front of every magazine and paper, and that An Inconvenient Truth would have won an Oscar
Today the average citizen's awareness of global warming and energy policy has increased dramatically. We survey our customers before and after a job, and we ask them about their motivations. Some say they want to help with energy issues, some say they care about national security and energy independence, and others just want to stick it to the utility. There are multiple benefits to going solar, and it's becoming a very bipartisan issue, with people who are environmentalists right next to people who are concerned about fighting the war on terrorism.
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