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Pink is the New Green

When we founded Spotlight Solar, we intended to make solar more visible. Our first installation was in the middle of Charlotte on the top edge of a parking deck. Then came many other visible spots including the St. Louis Rams’ HQ. But if this don’t beat all…

 Salt Lake City’s Tracy Aviary has long been a leader in education about the natural world, and a proponent of clean energy as part of conservation. They decided that their third solar installation should be uncommonly visible and compelling. So…put it right amongst visitors and birds at the most popular exhibit – the flamingo habitat! Make it big and bright and fun – Spotlight Solar Lift structures in PINK.


I have a confession: I laughed when I heard about this idea, thinking it would be over-the-top and maybe even come off as frivolous, undermining our higher purpose. I was wrong.

Spotlight Solar is about helping more people learn about solar and appreciate the property owners who are using it. This installation will be seen by 150,000 visitors per year, up close and highly memorable. The ribbon cutting event brought two mayors and the press into the shade of clean energy technology, and landed it on the front page of both local city papers, reaching 200,000 people.

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We’d like to give credit where it’s due. Creative Energies is the well-named solar integrator who conceived of the placement, championed the idea, and got it done with excellence. They are a pleasure to work with. Rocky Mountain Power co-sponsored this project with a grant from their Blue Sky Fund (thank you to them and to their customers who opt into that program to fund development of renewable energy).

And we especially appreciate Tracy Aviary’s leaders, who had the vision to bring their flamingos a novel solar system, and the courage to challenge convention. As a marketer, I also love the theme they used: Pink is the New Green. the Aviary is serious about conservation and solar, but knows that making it fun is a great way to attract attention. We’re sure this project will entice people to flock to solar (sorry, couldn’t resist).



Solar on the Front Porch

We are proud to announce the first installation of our new product, Industry. Wake Electric, a coop utility in Wake Forest, saw fit to incorporate three Industry structures at their new headquarters in Wake Forest, NC. This is close to our office, so we were able to be on-site for the installation work by our partner PowerSecure, and the subsequent grand opening of the new building. 

Wake Electric logo with Spotlight Solar Industry medium  1 Wake Electric Spotlight Solar tree front porch

Not only is this the first outing for Industry, it is the first installation by a utility. More are coming shortly, BTW. We love to see utilities embracing solar technology and making it more visible. Many of Wake Electrics customers/member come to this building to pay their bills, and now they do so in the shadow of great looking solar. Wake Electric has embraced solar as part of their energy portfolio and wants to show their support to their customers, and to raise awareness and understanding of renewable energy.

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“All too often solar panels are placed on rooftops or out of the way and out of the public eye. So there’s a lot that the public doesn’t know about solar arrays,” said Don Bowman, manager of engineering for Wake Electric. We agree.

Wake Electric will connect the Spotlight Solar structures to smart grid integrated battery systems, and offset the energy requirements of three electric vehicle chargers at their new building. The combined 6 kW system will power electric cars for 26,000 miles per year.

1 Wake Electric Spotlight Solar tree rear

Jim Mangum, CEO of Wake Electric had this to say. “Wake Electric is working to provide its members the right balance of energy sources, and solar is part of that balance. At our new office, it is fitting to incorporate the latest solar technology, both to provide a source of renewable energy and to provide our members a perspective on the future of energy. The beautiful Spotlight Solar “trees” provided by PowerSecure Solar are a great way to make solar visible, and even to enhance the streetscape of downtown Wake Forest.”


The Weather Channel Profiles Our "Solar Tree"

The Weather Channel took notice of our installation in Atlanta, and a few others around the country. This illustrates the power of high visibility solar, presented artistically, to increase awareness and consideration of solar. This is actually the fifth TV station to cover Hannah Solar’s “solar tree” (as reporters tend to call it).



Hannah Solar’s Net Zero Building Makes a Statement

Hannah Solar is the largest solar integrator in the fast-growing Georgia market.

Having outgrown their building, Hannah Solar refurbished a building in a bustling area of Atlanta. They turned a (frankly) terrible looking building into a tasteful asset to the neighborhood. And rightly so, they incorporated a rooftop solar system, building efficiency measures, and LED lighting to make the building net zero – it makes more energy than it uses. But the many people who drive by every day couldn’t tell it was a green building, and might have missed the “solar” in their name. Not any more.


The addition of a Spotlight Solar “solar tree” (what people tend to call it) ensures that people notice solar, and Hannah Solar.


The construction process attracted a fair bit of attention. Here is Pete Marte, CEO, being interviewed by one of the three TV reporters who covered the story. Also on hand were executives from Georgia Power, which has facilitated the rapid growth of the solar industry in GA. Leaders from the Atlanta mayor’s office, commercial real estate, investment banking, solar finance, sports marketing, electric vehicle, and even the propane business turned up to see what was up.


The crowd was treated to a lovely day, and gorgeous Lumos solar panels topping the Spotlight Solar “Lift” structure, color-matched to Hannah Solar’s logo.


Now, when cars approach the building, they can’t help but notice solar in a How-About-That way. They will also notice the electric vehicles it is powering with clean energy. Hannah is also the largest installer of EV charging stations in Atlanta.


Our thanks to the Hannah Solar team (a portion of them pictured below) for partnering with us to make solar visible and beautiful. We’re privileged to have Hannah Solar as a Certified Integrator.



Tor Valenza Spotlights Spotlight on Renewable Energy world

Tor Valenza has been a primary solar industry voice for years, and can be found under the @SolarFred handle and UnThink Solar, his marketing services firm. He recently saw fit to write about Spotlight Solar’s approach to making solar visible…and beautiful (OK, that word we added). As he says, he doesn’t normally write about products.

But I’m making the exception this week for Spotlight Solar. Spotlight’s not a typical BIPV solution, but a working aesthetic solar structure that’s also a green PR solution that calls attention to hidden solar.

We really appreciate Tor’s analysis, partially because he’s an influential solar advocate, and especially because he’s a marketer. He recognizes the value-add we’re striving to bring to clients and the industry.

their products are meant to be a complementary added value, calling attention to the real solar solution — rooftop or ground-mount panels that are out of site or difficult to see. Alternatively, they could also be calling attention to other invisible sustainability efforts by the building’s architect, such as the St Louis Rams’ green initiatives.

Another example for its use are the many renovated buildings today that have achieved LEED Platinum status, but beyond the press release, a LEED medallion, or perhaps a small lobby display, the general public might walk on by and never realize that there are solar panels on the roof or that the structure was built with ultra high-efficiency windows, reclaimed wood, and 100% LED lighting. From the outside, it looks like a normal renovated building.

With a Spotlight tower, the same building’s visitors and tenants know their building is green from two blocks away. As a result, Spotlight is part art, part landmark, and part green architecture, and of course, all solar.

This will sound a little self-satisfied, but I’m really pumped that Tor gets it. The solar industry is filled with accomplished people who have made essential strides in technology, cost, policy, and financial mechanisms to facilitate investment. It is not, however, filled with investors in marketing – an equally essential element in building a healthy industry. Tor’s is a lonely voice, calling for practical marketing efforts to help more people recognize the appeal of solar energy. Spotlight Solar’s part is to physically make solar more appealing and visible. It is marketing-as-product.


New product outed - Flora

Tor Valenza, a.k.a. Solar Fred of UnThink Solar posted today on Renewable Energy World about Spotlight, and included mention of a new product we’ve been working on. So, I guess we’d better let Flora out of the lab. We’d love to hear what you think.


This product concept arose through listening. Microgrid Solar, which recently installed our Lift product for the St. Louis Rams, suggested we create something flower-ish, based on napkin drawings they’ve done in collaboration with progressive clients. Microgrid really gets aesthetic solar. So we started talking to other integrators, property owners, and architects while we iterated on an idea. We were able to borrow some elements of Lift which customers have really liked, and have gotten a lot of positive feedback.

Below are some renderings of what it might look like around the Chapel Hill and Raleigh area.



Of course, we wanted to make something aesthetically appealing, but also ensure that it looks purposeful. We try to make beautiful machines which will make a compelling clean energy statement. In this case, we wanted to reference natural forms (flowers) without making a literal copy of a flower. We also wanted to try something smaller than Lift (which is 22’ tall, 24’ wide, and has a power capacity of 3kW). Flora (so far) 16’ tall, 11’ wide, and 1.5kW – about half the size (and price) of Lift. And we wanted to create something that could be installed in groups.


And as usual, we want to make our products flexible, so they can be customized and accessorized. Of course, it’s available in your favorite color combination. It also has two axes of tilt adjustment, and options for seating, power outlets, lighting, and communication displays. As those items get detailed out, we’ll share them.

And we’d love your ideas! Please comment.


Product Update – Lift now with 87% more Awesome

Our installation at Sandy Grove Middle School was the first public appearance of our new-and-improved Lift structures. We made progress…

  1. 50% more energy production
  2. time to assemble is now under one day
  3. four structures fit on one truck
  4. more beautiful (IMHO)

Lift Refinements Graphic v3

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How we did it: We listened.

We went to our customers’ sites for several installations, photographed every moment, and discussed with our installer partners what could be better.

We listened to this guy, Andy Stough. 

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He’s engineered rockets, bulldozers, and innovative wind generators. He made a two-way joint for Lift’s solar arrays that moves* like butter, and locks against 140 MPH winds, in an wonderfully simple way. He used a 3D printer to try out the details, and a rare laser shaping machine for production.

We borrowed lessons from my work on other architectural products. Balancing beauty, ease of assembly, flexibility, and function is tough, but it’s what makes a great product. Spotlight products act like Legos, designed with standard parts which go together in different ways.

And we listened to our design advisor, David Hill. He’s good.

Some highlights of changes:

  1. refinements to the shape to convey stability while reducing visual weight
  2. new convenient places to hoist large components
  3. 20 fewer bolts
  4. new, clever ways to adjust the solar arrays (like butter)
  5. Lumos 250 watt solar modules. Elegantly simple, efficient, and beautiful from every angle – even the back.

Don’t worry, it still comes in 200 colors.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these changes and other ideas you might have for Lift. Please comment.


*No, the arrays don’t track the sun, but they can be oriented in any direction very easily.


Beyond Net Zero Energy

 Last week, four shiny new Spotlight Solar structures were installed at an amazing new school in North Carolina. Sandy Grove Middle School is not just net-zero, it will make more energy than it uses. It has a 590kW solar system, a geothermal system, advanced efficiency, LED lighting throughout, and more. And it has four Spotlight Solar “Lift” structures in vibrant color right in front.


When this school opens in August, it will benefit students, faculty, and parents. And it will lift expectations for the whole community. That’s something we’re proud to be part of. AND, because of its innovation in energy management and the public-private funding method, it will save the taxpayers $35 million.

What is Spotlight’s part? It’s the symbol, the shorthand, the landmark. “Hey, have you seen our new school? I heard it’s really green.” “You mean the one with the cool solar trees out front?” “Yeah, that one!.”

The architect and project developer, Firstfloor is the champion of this project (lead architect Kathryn Lynn, pictured). They, along with our integrator partner, PowerSecure Solar, chose Spotlight Solar to provide the cherry on top of this beyond-net-zero sundae. Not just to look great, but to connect the dots for students. Every morning when the busses unload, kids will walk right under beautiful solar machines, and know they are learning at one of the most future-savvy schools in the country.

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We couldn’t be happier with the result. More pictures here.


We’ll update this story as the building and landscaping reaches completion this summer.