By Lara Piu / Photo by Kimberly Carrillo
When Brian Gibson established his solar panel business in Scottsdale in 2008, solar energy wasn’t a widely accepted way to generate power.
“We were still trying to convince the public that solar panels work, that you put them on your roof and they really did something,” Gibson recalls. “Now, we really never have to say that to anyone anymore.”
A third-generation construction contractor, Gibson and his wife Cindy opened Advanced Energy Systems during the Great Recession because its construction similarities and environmental benefits were a good fit.
“I’ve always been interested in renewables, so this was like a dream come true,” the Scottsdale Airpark business owner says. “It’s good for the planet, and in construction, in particular, there are so many things that are not green – although the industry is getting better all of the time – [sustainable construction] is something that I always felt that we needed to concentrate on.”
And as electricity bills increase, he notes, the solar market demand corresponds. “Utility rates keep going up and up and up and up,” he adds. “Even at our own house, I don’t think I’ve had a bill more than $9.78 from APS in years.”
The process of generating electricity from sunlight (photovoltaics) has remained the same since his company was established. Solar panels are arranged in groups to form a solar array. Each array transfers the direct current electricity (DC) to an inverter which changes the electricity to alternating current (AC), which is the form of usable electricity which can be fed back to the grid.
However, the supporting technology has constantly improved throughout the years, Gibson stresses. For example, present-day panels are now more efficient and therefore put out more energy, and when a panel gets shaded or isn’t working well, its entire string no longer shuts down.
“This is much better than what we used to be able to do,” Gibson says, as he demonstrates another advancement: A smartphone application that allows him to evaluate in real time if customer panels are working correctly. In one case, he detected a down panel and replaced it. His solar panels come with a 25-year warranty.
“Being able to control and watch what’s going on is key,” he elaborates, “because what good is a 25-year warranty if you really don’t know what your panels are doing? So we can see these things much better now.”
Commercial property owners, like DBM Architects, are increasingly going solar, Gibson reports, and like homeowners, they’re in it for the money. “If you’ve got a $200 electric bill, and you can put solar on your roof and eliminate that bill, that’s great,” he says. Plus, there are tax incentives for both businesses and homeowners.
And things seem to have settled down between the Corporation Commission and APS. “The program that APS has in place now is, I think, a very fair program. It’s good for both,” Gibson says.
The main dispute, he explains, was the disparity between the demand for when electricity is generated and when it’s used; however, the new program counters that.
“It’s kind of a partnership now between solar and utility companies, whereas we’ve really been archenemies up until this point,” he says, adding there are a lot of incentives to add the LG Chem wall battery, which stores power at the house and feeds it back to the grid between high-demand times.
Gibson has ridden the solar wave in his ten years of owning Advanced Energy Systems and is one of few solar companies to survive the long haul. One of several ways the company remains competitive in the market is having a staff for installations.
“The big companies farm out people to install panels and they really don’t have control over what’s going on and they don’t design it in a custom fashion like we do,” Gibson says. “We customize everything we do. We do an analysis of what their electric bill has been for the last 12 months and see what their solar needs are and what we can produce.”
Advanced Energy Systems installs solar panels throughout the Valley as well as in Casa Grande, Florence, Prescott, Chino Valley, and throughout the state. Commercial customers have included Blessed Sacrament Church, Franciscan Renewal Center, Andre House, Celebrity Equine, Casa Grande Mini Storage, McDowell Mountain Community Church, and DBM Architects.
For more information about Advanced Energy Systems, call 602-228-6384 or visit solar-aes.com.