In 2005, global solar photovoltaic capacity was around five gigawatts. In 2021, it grew to 940 gigawatts. For many, solar energy is an emerging technology of the last few decades. However, for some, solar energy has been around for much longer.
Luke Christy is one of those people familiar with solar energy before it became mainstream, and we were fortunate enough to interview him to learn about his journey as a solar installer. “Some of my earliest memories of interfacing with solar were having to help my dad create a solar power system for our house because, up until that time in the mid-80s, we didn’t have any power,” said Luke. Luke recalled how he and his father would buy materials from scrapyards since used lead-acid batteries were available from old Telecom systems. Solar modules were sourced through suppliers like Real Goods and were coming from decommissioned power plants in California back then. This early exposure to solar power influenced Luke’s future path.
In 2006, Luke founded Solar Gain Services, a design-build solar installation business with a focus on off-grid systems located in southern Colorado where he has been since. Luke talks about the roots of his passion for solar, “That sense of reliability, sustainability, being able to create something in the middle of nowhere has never left me.”
Meeting interesting people is one of Luke’s favorite parts about his job. In fact, he explained it’s one of the things that keeps him in the solar industry. “I think it’s not so much the industry as the way it gives me access to interesting people in challenging projects and fulfills some of the needs I have to be hands-on in my working life.”
Another aspect in which one can see Luke’s commitment to helping people is his emphasis on customer service. “The part that is not customer service is physically putting things together and putting them on the wall, but that’s not really what most of the work is about. The work is about developing a relationship with the customer, finding out how I can solve those customers’ problems doing that in a way that uses a skill set and experience that I’ve gained through nearly 30 years of involvement with the solar industry. I enjoy tailoring systems to meet the unique needs of individual clients. Not every integrator is interested in dealing with that complexity. ”
In addition to helping people, Luke also makes sure he is helping out the environment. “I try to donate because often I’ll come in and we’ll be pulling out perfectly good equipment that’s being replaced or updated for various reasons.” Luke makes sure that equipment or parts that are in good condition are sent to someone who could still use it.
Buddhist Temple- Colorado.
Schneider Electric’s Legacy
Solar systems are a unique type of technology. Whereas a lot of mainstream technology has a relatively short product lifespan, i.e., phones typically last only a few years, the life span for solar systems is much longer, typically decades. In fact, Luke has a few customers who are using Schneider equipment (legacy branded) manufactured 20-25 years ago. For those who have installed their systems long ago, it can sometimes be hard to get support for their system decades down the line. However, here at Schneider Electric we build our solar system with this in mind, which has helped both Luke and his customers. “I could update many [legacy products] to the latest firmware and that’s not something that every manufacturer is doing.”
When asked about the support he receives from Schneider, Luke says “I appreciate the reliability, the commitment to being able to not just label products as obsolete but rather to make it possible to update them and bring them as current as possible.”
In addition to that, Luke mentioned remote monitoring on systems that Schneider Electric offers has been a great help. “I’ve used [remote monitoring] a lot and it’s been really helpful for remote clients where I can’t get out there. It might take me three hours to drive to a site, but as long as they have an internet connection I can check in, troubleshoot issues, and often solve problems from anywhere.
Retreat Center – Colorado.
The Future for Luke
For the future, Luke predicts there is going to be a large emphasis on storage in the solar industry. “I think anyone who’s in the industry sees this, that storage and ways of controlling storage to both support the grid and more seamlessly manage power both on a residential and commercial level, that’s going to be more and more a part of every new building project in the system. All that brings a lot of complexity with it. But I see storage being a big part of our future in the solar industry and in ways that aren’t fully worked out yet.”
As for Luke’s own future, he still loves what he is doing so he plans to continue designing and installing solar power systems. However, he also wants to place a larger focus on consulting work in addition to taking on new and challenging projects. “The future for me is going to probably involve focusing more on projects that are really compelling, with opportunities to apply creative solutions to complex problems, be that new technology, be that some situation where we’re pairing electric vehicles, or maybe alternative power sources like hydro, those things I find really cool.” Particularly with off-grid energy solutions, the key to getting all of the pieces of infrastructure to work well is taking a holistic view of the entire project, particularly when a PV power system is involved. I really enjoy working at the intersection of all of those disparate systems. Schneider Electric equipment is often an important component in making that happen.
If you are interested in contacting Luke, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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