By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer
December 4, 2012 - Patrick Redgate has seen the solar power industry grow from its nascent days of potential several decades ago to a market today that is expanding to meet increased residential and commercial demand.
While working in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s, during a time of severe gas shortages, Redgate began to think about “where I could make a difference.” He understood the necessity for a robust renewable energy portfolio from both an environmental and economic perspective, long before it was fashionable to do so in either sense.
“The energy sector’s huge,” Redgate, the CEO of Paramount-based Ameco Solar, told the Business Journal. So getting in on the ground floor of the emerging solar industry was important for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the world’s need to broaden its energy supply to incorporate sustainable power sources and move away from dependence on oil. “We have a saying in our business: Fossil fuels are too precious to burn,” he said.
Redgate began working with a solar company in Signal Hill in 1979 after his return from the Middle East. He purchased the company two years later and changed the name to Ameco. Today, the company designs, installs and repairs solar energy systems for homes and businesses. “Most of what we do now is photovoltaic, which is electric,” he said.
But it took a while for solar technology to catch up with Redgate’s vision and early entry into the market. “I got to the point where I thought I was just never going to see it in my lifetime,” he said.
These days, however, solar is more popular than ever. One reason lies in the fact that more and more Americans want to reduce their environmental footprint and are resorting to alternative, renewable sources of energy to do so. Solar also makes good fiscal sense these days. “We may put in a system that only tackles 20 percent of their consumption but cuts their bill in half,” Redgate said.
Moreover, companies are finding solar power helps improve the bottom line and adds a measure of credibility for consumers who want to spend their money with socially and environmentally responsible businesses.
“Companies that can afford to go solar and want to present that image just automatically do it,” Redgate said.
The solar industry also has government investment to thank for its recent growth spurt, but many subsidies are set to expire at the end of 2016, which will likely cause some winnowing in the industry, or a “clearing of the field,” Redgate said. But these incentives have helped keep costs down as the industry expands. “I think that people would really be surprised to find out how affordable solar is,” he added.
Net metering, which provides retail rate credits to consumers who generate energy supplies for the power grid, has perhaps been the biggest incentive for consumers to invest in solar. However, utilities are fighting the way this benefit is calculated.
Still, Redgate makes a powerful case for solar. “Not only are we building infrastructure, but we’re creating wealth for the people that live in this state,” he said. Many residents and businesses in Long Beach like the sound of this pitch.
Whereas solar was once an option for the well-to-do, Redgate has seen young families and blue-collar workers clamoring for a new, green-friendly energy source. Furthermore, Ameco has performed installations for a number of small commercial retail centers, as well as doctor and dental offices, in Long Beach.
Ameco holds free workshops once or more a year for interested consumers to learn about the benefits of solar power, both from an environmental and economic standpoint. The company works with three photovoltaic and three thermal manufactures to provide clients with today’s best industry technology.
Thanks to increases in oil and natural gas production, as well as sustained growth in the renewable energy industry, the International Energy Agency reports that the United States is poised to become energy independent in the next decade or so. Redgate understands that solar is but one component of the nation’s energy portfolio, but a strong one at that. “You can’t just go all solar, or all wind, or all coal, or all nuclear . . . You have to have a mix,” he said.