Aur Beck, owner of Advanced Energy Solutions (AES Solar), has built a reputation as a go-to local expert in solar installations and technology. He recently returned from a trip to Grand Cayman, where he taught a two-week solar course at the University College of the Cayman Islands. The idea of equipping your home or business with solar panels, generators and other technology has indeed gone global, he says.
And as solar energy becomes a more affordable part of the energy mix, home and business owners are inquiring more often about the process of equipping their properties with solar-enabled systems. Beck took the time to answer a few questions from Southern Business Journal on the present state of the solar industry in the region, as well as the exciting innovations set to take solar to the next level.
Question: Compared to say 10 years ago, do people and businesses in Southern Illinois know more about solar energy today or do you still find yourself educating potential consumers on the benefits?
Aur Beck: Definitely more knowledgeable now. Also in the last year instead of me going out a trying to get information from people for me to make them an estimate, almost any public event I go to someone asked for a card so they can get an estimate from me. People are starting to understand that solar is now cheaper than regular electricity.
Q: I know the global and even national market has led to some reductions in price in terms of solar equipment and components, are you seeing the same type of reductions in the cost of local solar installations?
A: In the past five years the equipment has come down in price almost 70 percent, mostly due to China exporting to the United States.
Q: What are most homeowners and business owners most surprised to learn about when it comes to the benefits of solar installations on their property?
A: How It is not as expensive as they thought. That you don’t need batteries unless you want a backup power system or will have a completely off-the-grid system. How with a modern grid tied system they can put in as little or as much as they have space and budget for. Some people put in a 60-percent utility bill offset system and than add more later.
Q: News about high-efficiency solar generators, breakthrough batteries and the concepts of solar sharing with neighbors is becoming more common. What are some of the emerging innovations in solar that get you excited?
A: Community solar projects will be multiple people (no one entity can own more than 40 percent) building a solar farm together. This has to be local and the system offsets your energy bill just like it was on your roof. The economy of scale would bring costs down and this would make it possible for everyone to go solar, even the ones with small or shaded roofs. Watching people get excited about putting in backup power systems and going off grid is also great to see.
Q: What is your personal outlook on the solar industry as the energy “crisis” gets more and more attention from government officials, the media and advocacy groups?
A: This industry is the fastest-growing industry in the world in spite of very little cohesive government support, although Illinois just signed the Future Energy Jobs bill. Renewable energy is now cheaper to install in 60 countries than any fossil fuel power. More people are living in zero-energy home or learning about living off the grid.