Interview with Katharine Rushton of Sunsense Solar

Welcome to Katharine Rushton of Sunsense Solar – a residential solar developer based in Colorado.

Katharine Ruston of Sunsense Solar
Katharine Ruston of Sunsense Solar

What does Sunsense Solar do?

In a nutshell we design solar PV systems and then build them for our customers. We are based in Colorado so most of our work happens here, although we have provided some consultation and design services for projects in other states. We have a very robust residential department and have successfully shepherded many larger projects to fruition in the public sphere – mostly with our local municipalities, counties and school districts. Finding financing mechanisms that can work for public entities is one of our specialties. Its not always easy as energy rates in Colorado are pretty low compared to much of the rest of the country. Aside from that, we have deep experience in battery based systems as Sunsense Solar has been working with off grid clients since we started in 1990. Now we are using that experience for our utility connected clients as the Solar+Storage market gains traction. We have also been able to pursue opportunities in the community solar market, building some smaller solar gardens (2 – 5 MW) for our local utility company. And we have a service department fulfilling operations and maintenance contracts and responding to reactive service calls. We do a lot – it’s a bustle of activity at the Sunsense Solar office!

What do you think the main benefits of solar energy are for residential customers? Are there any downsides people should know about?

Installing solar on your home allows you to reduce or even eliminate your electricity bill, earn returns on your investment and increase the value of your property. Beyond that going solar will minimize your environmental impact and help to address issues such as climate change and health problems related to carbon emissions. Each individual solar installation reduces our collective dependence on fossil fuels. There are no downsides to installing solar per se but there could be plenty of downsides to selecting the wrong solar installer! It pays to educate yourself and choose a solar installer than has the necessary experience, certifications and longevity in the industry. You can find more resources on our website including information on how to choose a solar contractor.

Happy Homewoners with Sunsense Solar Array

What motivates your customers to purchase solar energy systems, is it mainly a smart financial transaction or are they mainly focused on the environmental benefits? Some other reason?

Well actually it depends entirely on the customer. Different clients have different motivations. We try to have a consultative approach to all of our interactions with potential clients – listening to their goals and motivations allows us to custom design a system that fully meets their expectations. There is a range of buyer “types” in the residential market.  Many of them have some kind of environmental motivation, although the majority are also hoping for financial savings. The cost of solar has come down substantially in the past few years and with the federal tax credit still in place it’s easy to achieve a fairly reasonable return on investment. Decision makers for commercial projects are much more focused on the financial benefits – which makes sense as they have a fiscal responsibility to the business – but as demonstrated by companies like IKEA, Google, Apple, Whole Foods and others, investing in solar is a smart financial decision that allows businesses to hedge against electricity price volatility and inflation.

What is one thing most people don’t know about solar energy?

Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth — 173,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the Earth continuously. That’s more than 10,000 times the world’s total energy use!

Ribbon Cutting for 83 kW solar array at Carbondale Water Treatment Plant

What are the main challenges in your industry?

Policy measures have been critical in driving the industry forward but as these measures come and go it creates a potential boom bust cycle for the solar industry which is a challenging environment in which to create a sustainable business.

We also face some technical challenges as renewable energy reaches grid penetration levels that our aging grid transmission and distribution system cannot handle. Upgrades are needed to the gird system to maintain stability and reliability of delivery including the addition of storage and more cooperation between the individual grid balancing authorities.

If you could have one wish immediately granted for the energy industry what would it be?

I wish we could all agree that the climate is warming and that burning fossil fuels is contributing to that situation. Its clear that we need to transition to a 100% renewable energy economy and if we could all get on the same page about that then we can work together to over come the hurdles to getting there. Obstructionist policies at the Federal level are short sighted and dangerous and ignoring the climate issue is having very real consequences to the well-being of mankind and the planet we live on. Consequences of a warming planet include economic destabilization, famine, fires, floods and conflict – all of which translates to human suffering. Fortunately, there are reasons to be optimistic in spite of a lack of leadership on climate at a federal level.

100% solar powered high school

Do you have any role models or people you look up to?

I have great admiration for anyone working towards making solar energy more accessible to the low-income population in the Western World or implementing solar projects to provide energy access where there has been none in Developing Nations. There is a connection between affordable energy access and the alleviation of poverty and solar has a strong role to play in improving quality of life for the majority of the worlds population that don’t have the privileges that many of us take for granted in the US, such as clean water, light by which to study or electricity to run a small business.

Thank you Katharine Rushton for coming on the Climate, Sustainability, Technology Blog! 

Graham Majorhart is the co-founder of Carby Box, the first way to become carbon neutral though Amazon Alexa by saying “Alexa, order Carbon Neutral.”

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