Here comes the sun Featured

2:51pm EDT February 28, 2011
James Marlow, founder and CEO, Radiance Solar LLC James Marlow, founder and CEO, Radiance Solar LLC

James Marlow calls it just plain intuitive. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of an abundant energy source that saves money and the environment?

Of course, he’s passionate about solar energy as the founder and CEO of Radiance Solar LLC, an Atlanta-based company that designs, develops and installs turnkey solar energy systems. But thanks to energy innovations, price drops and tax credits – not to mention the satisfaction that comes with a smaller carbon footprint – solar makes more sense all the time.

“It’s never been a better time to put solar into your operations,” Marlow says. “The technology is better and more affordable than ever. It can help save money over that full 25-, 30-year life span, and it can certainly reduce the environmental impact.”

Marlow doesn’t have a problem attracting people to the concept of solar energy – especially those from companies with financial savings goals, environmental goals and innovative mindsets.

But there’s something keeping even the most interested heat-seekers at bay: The initial cost of many alternative energy sources can be a little steep. Even though the savings shine through long-term, it’s sometimes hard to wait that long in the corporate world.

The solar industry is helping potential customers overcome that hurdle by offering other types of payment plans to reduce the initial burden. Leasing is now an option, and others use Power Purchase Agreements, paying a monthly fee to a third party who owns the actual solar panels and provides maintenance. That option eliminates upfront cost and ongoing maintenance fees.

On top of lower-impact financing options, companies can also reap tax credits for going solar. The federal government is giving 30 percent cash grants to commercial customers that install solar in 2011, and allowing for 100 percent depreciation. Plus, Georgia offers a 35 percent state tax credit.

In addition to those perks, the price of solar is dropping. Panels dipped in cost 30 percent last year, and they’re becoming smaller and more efficient all the time – along with much of the accompanying equipment.

“Very similar to what you’ve seen in personal computers or cell phones or flat panel TVs, we’re seeing a drastic price drop and we’re also seeing an improvement in the efficiency and the quality of the products,” Marlow says.

With 100 different technologies available in the solar field alone, the industry’s internal innovation is making it easier for other innovative companies to lead the way by going green with alternative energy.

“Companies like GE, Apple computer, Nike – the really smart companies are in the forefront of this effort,” says Marlow, who cited Wal-Mart’s goals toward 100 percent renewable energy, zero waste, local sourcing and a sustainable supply chain that’s good for people and the planet.

With brands like that leading the way, the idea of environmental responsibility is becoming more mainstream in corporate America.

“People are thinking about sustainability as a good business decision,” he says. “If you lower your cost, that’s a good thing for your bottom line. It allows you to be more profitable and sustainable.

“If you lower your environment impact, that’s good for your community and the health of your employees. People are just beginning to understand system-wide thinking. People that are more siloed in their functions have a harder time with it because their scope of work doesn’t really involve the whole picture.”

Sometimes, it just takes education about the whole picture. Marlow talks about water a lot, explaining the “water-energy nexus” to help people understand the impact of their energy usage – that, in Georgia, it takes 1.5 gallons of water to produce a kilowatt-hour of energy.

Companies need to adopt that same big-picture mindset to truly embrace sustainability.

“It’s a different approach for many people and once they begin thinking that way, it changes their perspective,” he says.

How to reach: Radiance Solar LLC, (404) 885-9898 or www.radiancesolar.com