Here comes the sun

We’re not fond of taking sides in politics.

But we do like to note when something works.  Especially when that something results in more projects, more PM jobs, and a better outcome for this particular 3rd- rock-from-the-sun.

Today’s Boston Globe newspaper has a short but powerful (excuse the pun) story about how Massachusetts – not exactly the Sunshine State – is tied for second place in the US with Hawaii for the lead in solar projects.  And the reason, at least partially, is subsidies from the government of the Commonwealth.  See the included chart on the left for the top states in the USA, and the chart on the right to see the (cloudy) truth about Massachusetts, in terms of weather.

From the story, here are some extracts.  We strongly encourage you to read the whole thing at the Globe’s site.

Massachusetts is no California when it comes to sun. But that isn’t stopping the solar energy industry from flourishing here.

Massachusetts, better known for long, cold winters, gloomy springs, and gale-driven nor’easters, is undergoing an unlikely solar power boom, attracting solar companies from around the country that are installing systems for homeowners, businesses, and institutions.

Only California has a better solar market than Massachusetts, which tied Hawaii in rankings by Ernst & Young, the Big Four accounting firm that tracks the alternative energy industry. Massachusetts was the only northern state to crack Ernst & Young’s top 10, beating Florida (the Sunshine State), Arizona (home of the Sun Devils), and New Mexico (sun symbol on the state flag).

Here’s an example of one success story:

SolarCity of San Mateo, ­Calif., a six-year-old installation company with 1,800 employees nationwide, entered the Massachusetts market in early 2011. The company installs solar panels at no cost to customers, then sells them power generated by the system, which SolarCity continues to own. The company is then able to take advantage of federal and state subsidies.

Ed Steins, SolarCity’s regional director, said the company already services more than 800 residential and commercial buildings in Massachusetts and has tripled its local staff to 45 from 15 since September.

Among SolarCity’s customers is Tom McDougall, 53, of Whitman. SolarCity installed a 6-kilowatt system on the roof of McDougall’s two-story Colonial. Since the system began operating in February, McDougall said, he has cut his electricity bills in half, paying SolarCity about $60 a month for electricity, compared with the $115 a month, on average, that he paid his utility.

Analysts at Ernst & Young, which does the comparative study of the states, has good insight on the story.


Again, from the story:

“It’s not a matter of how sunny it is,” said Michael Bernier, a senior manager at Ernst & Young. The “thing Massachusetts has been really good at is setting up an environment that helps renewable energy projects get done.”

That environment starts with New England’s traditionally high energy costs that can make photovoltaic systems more competitive here. Meanwhile, the falling solar panel prices, which have plunged more than 50 percent in the past two years, have combined with solar-friendly local policies to make solar installations even more attractive to homeowners and businesses.

So, perhaps the ‘environment’ – in this case, the business/political environment – has a more profound effect on solar projects that previously thought.  If that’s the case, as a project manager, you ought to be at least considering the support of regulations and incentives to bring more solar power to your state or territory.

China’s Solar Madman

sun-moon mansion

Huang Ming worked as a petroleum research engineer in the 1990s.

He started experimenting, on his own, with solar water heaters in about 1992, saying that he “felt guilty” working on petroleum production and use.  Now, in Dezhou, China, a large red banner near a new facility under construction by Huang’s company proclaims, “The Biggest Solar Energy Production Base in the World”.

What Huang wants to do is to create Solar Valley – an experiment in engineering – but not just the ‘technical’ part.  He wants to work on the social, economic, and economic aspects of this engineering project.  Tens of thousands of farmers have been moved into concrete apartment blocks – and their land is being turned into Solar Valley.  This is no small effort; the plan is about $740 million in investment and has attracted about one hundred companies.

Huang’s company is indeed now the world’s biggest producer of solar water heaters, and also has products that are, let’s say, somewhat specialized, like sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tebetan prayer wheels.  His company also completed another project recently – a five-star eco-friendly hotel and is about to launch a luxury apartment complex called Utopia Garden (see picture below).  These are large projects.

As far as the moniker “Solar Madman”, this is a preference of Huang himself.  In Dezhou he is called the “sun king” but he prefers the name “solar madman”

Perhaps we need just a little bit more of this insanity in the West. I’m sure the PMs and others who’d work on these projects would agree…

You can visit Huang’s Solar City site here:

solar utopia garden
Utopia Garden - Solar-based luxury apartment complex
Huang Ming - China's "Solar Madman"

Much of the information in the post came from this story in the Boston Globe.