Granite State Solar Embodies the Spirit of New Hampshire
Granite State Solar owner and CEO talks about how he came to solar—and where the industry is going in New Hampshire.
The story of Granite State Solar—and even of solar itself—is undeniably imbued with characteristics that define New Hampshire: resilience and independence, with an eye to financial sustainability. Alan Gaunt, owner and CEO of Granite State Solar, explains how it all came to be.
Solar Is Resilient
In 2008, Alan was building custom homes in New Hampshire. Insert dramatic pause as you realize where our country was with the housing market in 2008. “I needed something to supplement the construction business, so I started installing solar thermal—that’s heat exchange and domestic hot water,” he says. “I was half a builder, half a solar company.”
These initial forays into solar were much smaller than the whole-home arrays Granite State Solar installs today. “Solar thermal systems are typically two to three panels, and it’s only for your domestic hot water,” he says. “At the time photovoltaic was really expensive and the return was 20 to 25 years. So, I started with solar thermal—they cost a lot less, easy to install, and affordable for homeowners.”
It was a good move, allowing Alan to, metaphorically speaking, keep the lights on for his business during the recession. “Solar started to pick up,” he continues. “My partner at the time took the construction business and I took the solar business.”
Then the pricing changed and it only made solar stronger. First, state incentives and rebates brought the price down, but as time went on, those dwindled. Fortunately, this coincided with improvements in technology that also drove down the cost of photovoltaic systems. “We reached a point where it was a better product for my customers to buy just PV and get an electric hot water tank instead of doing a combo deal where they’d do a partial solar thermal for their domestic hot water and then the PV for the electric,” he says.
Alan noted that this change in cost really changed the game for Granite State Solar. “We were able to offer these products as an investment, and not just as a feel-good product, or an ‘I want to be green’ situation.” (Though, to be sure, shrinking your carbon footprint is still a great reason to go solar.)
And with today’s increased warranties—from five to ten years when he started to today's 25-year warranties—Granite State Solar has only been able to expand on its promise of a reliable, long-term investment.
Related: Is Solar Worth It?
Solar Is a Smart Investment—For Your Wallet and the Planet
This promised return on investment has not gone unnoticed by customers—though not always in the way that Alan expected. “When I first started, I thought that younger people moving into their first house would want a fixed utility cost. And if they could build that into their mortgage, why wouldn’t they?”
While this represents some of the market, he says it solar’s financial upsides are particularly appealing to folks beginning to stare down retirement. “They want to make sure that when they retire, for the next 20 years, they don’t have to worry about a utility bill.”
He also acknowledges another solar demographic: 30-somethings who just love technology. “They don’t want the old forced hot air—they want mini splits and electric and solar.” Add on the perk that solar pays for itself over time, and it’s a done deal.
What Alan recognizes is that it’s the financial sense that enables all customers—regardless of age—to satisfy their desire to go green. “People in their 30s are pushing to have a green world,” he says. “And we have the same attitude from people looking to retire. They’re thinking about what they’re leaving their grandchildren and they want to leave the world a better place—and I want an investment, and I want a fixed cost on my energy bill.” Solar makes all this possible.
Solar Is the Future of Energy in New Hampshire
“When I started Granite State Solar, it helped to see the surrounding states do really well, which led me to believe that we’ll follow suit eventually,” Alan says. And he’s optimistic that progress is coming.
“Right now, New Hampshire is still behind, but the trend is that everything is moving up—New Jersey was the hotspot, it’s moved up to Connecticut, it’s moved into Massachusetts and New York, and now Vermont and Maine are exploding. Logic tells me that it’s going to carry over to us. We’re surrounded by state-wide success stories.”
“My biased opinion is that NH is going to explode because it’s so untapped. There’s land, there are businesses, and having some of the highest electricity rates in the country—that’s all going to matter.”
He does lament that politics and coal investment have tried to slow the wheels of solar’s progress. “But there’s only so much that people who are against renewable energy can do," he adds. "They’re not going to be able to stop it.” He points to the emergence of electric car markets as well as simmering dissatisfaction with expensive and fluctuating electricity costs.
“People are getting fed up with rate changes and the uncertainty of how much their electricity is going to cost them—this year, next year, in five years.”
Solar Is the Ultimate in Independence
This speaks to the strongest part of the New Hampshire spirit: Independence. “People in NH like to be independent,” he says. “They just feel like they’re being held captive because they can’t go out and shop a different electric company. The thing that people want is control—especially in NH. This whole thing with rates going up and down, it’s a lack of control and it drives certain people nuts.”
Solar, on the other hand, offers unparalleled independence since the system is expertly sized to meet your energy needs and offset your utility bill for the electricity you use when the sun goes down (thanks to net metering). Batteries only further this independence potential, since it means that you can store your electricity during the day to use it at night, and your panels will always perform, even during a power outage.
“I hear all the time: ‘I’m tired of paying the utility company. I don’t even know why my rates went up.’ And I have to tell them—it’s because the investors demand it.” But when it comes to solar, it’s your investment that’s paying off.
By Julia Westbrook
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