WindSolarUSA, Inc.: Harnessing the Sun

New kids on the block in downtown Springfield, WindSolarUSA, Inc., is bringing renewable energy to the greater Springfield area – not just as a company that designs and installs systems, but also one that installed panels to offset energy in its own office building. Eighteen21.com spoke with the female business owner and president/CEO of WindSolarUSA Inc., 48-year-old Michelle Knox, to find out more about what powers her business and the changes she hopes to bring to our local community.

What does WindsolarUSA do? 
We are a turnkey renewable energy development company with a focus on solar photovoltaics.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in renewable energy? 
I was having a beer with a friend from CO (long-time solar state) who posed a question to me, “I wonder if someone could take out a loan to purchase a solar energy system, use the utility savings to pay it off, and then have free energy for the balance of the lifetime of the system?” I wanted to know that too. I began researching to see if I believed that could happen and found that it could.

How long did it take you to complete the coursework and obtain your certification? 
I started training in September of 2008 and finished the initial phases in December of 2011. I’m still training today - technology changes, so you’re never really done learning in this industry.

Is there anything in particular that you find most intriguing about renewable energy? 
It’s exciting that individuals/businesses now have the ability to purchase a simple, affordable system that allows them to capture clean energy from the sun and turn it into usable electricity produced at their own site for free once they have paid off the initial investment in equipment.

Where were you previously located? 
I worked out of my phone until September of 2016 to keep overhead low and to allow me to build the business without a heavy debt load.

Why did you decide to move downtown? 
Most of the business that we do is in Springfield. Our building owner, Chris Nickell, is a customer. When I saw the third-floor office space he had available in the historic Kerasotes building with a view of both the Old State Capitol and current Capitol buildings - I knew it was the space for us.

Could you explain how the solar panels on your building work? 
The system is ballasted, which means it is held in place by weighted blocks with no penetrations, this is a common application for flat roofs. The modules are racked at 10 degrees, facing south. They produce DC (direct current) power, which is converted to AC power (alternating current) via micro inverters mounted behind each module. The power that the 9.9kW system produces offsets about 30% of the consumption at the building.

Do the panels perform well here in the Midwest? 
In Springfield, we have, on average, about 4.6 sun hours per day…a great resource that these solar panels are able to utilize. 

Will you be working with any other local businesses or organizations? 
Yes, I am a member of Downtown Springfield, Inc., Local First, Sustainable Springfield, Inc., The Sierra Club and The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. We work with local engineers, architects, and builders and have a dedicated install team comprised of Jon Lock Home Improvement for the construction portion of residential installations and IBEW electrical contractor Senergy Electric for the electrical portion of installations.

WindSolarUSA will be involved in several projects, what do you feel will be the most challenging?
Keeping up with demand and staying on top of the shippers…we are very organized and have our processes dialed in. Our largest source of frustration comes from ensuring that product shipments are complete and on time.

What residential and commercial services do you offer? 
System sizing, site analysis, system design, cost modeling, completion of all rebate and/or permitting applications, bidding in for the sale of renewable energy credits, set up of monitoring systems, and final commissioning.

Is there anything else that you would like to share or think that we should know about WindSolarUSA? 
We market American-made modules and racking and are proud to support American manufacturing in this way. SolarWorld - the oldest American manufacturer that is still in business, makes the modules that we install. SolarWorld has been making modules in the US since 1973.

To find out more about WindSolarUSA Inc., visit www.windsolarusa.com/ or www.facebook.com/WindSolarUSA/ 

Photo credit: Bill Vala, Chicago Producers (Maldaner’s & Kerasotes) & WindSolarUSA