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Solar's new battleground: Colorado

Solar installers look to sunny Colorado for new projects.

Nature hates a vacuum, and apparently so do solar installation companies.

A number of solar installers with national ambitions have or are preparing plans to open operations in Colorado. Standard Renewable Energy, which is trying to create a nationwide network of energy efficiency consultants (see earlier story here), has linked up with installers in the state, said CEO John Berger. Besides solar, Standard also advises customers on light bulbs and heating systems. (Berger used to run the East Coast trading desk at Enron, but there's no probationary ankle collar on him. The East Coast desk was not the one implicated with blackouts in California.)

Meanwhile, Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City is moving to the state, he told me. Barely a year old, Solar City is the largest installer in California and recently raised $21 million in venture capital funds. Solar City's gig is group installing: It signs up 50 or more homeowners in new subdivisions to go solar. The buyers enjoy volume discounts and cheaper installation costs as a result. Installation is about half the cost of getting a solar system.

You can expect to see Conergy in the state too. The German solar installer has opened operations in the U.S. By 2008, Conergy wants to generate half its revenue from outside of Germany and half from products other than photovoltaic panels, e.g. wind turbines and biogas furnaces.

Colorado voters passed a solar subsidy and credit program in 2004. To date, the market has been served by local installers.

Although it snows in Colorado and the state doesn't get as much sunshine as, let's say, Southern California, it can still benefit from solar. Cold and clear are actually ideal conditions for solar. Snow can also reflect light onto silicon panels in certain circumstances.

Ontario and Pennsylvania--which are further north--have begun to prime the solar market. Conergy in February bought an installer in Canada.

Next week is Solar Power 2007 in Long Beach. All of these companies will be in attendance to beat each other up, no doubt. Expect a lot of news from panel makers too.