Steve Johnson installed his first grid-tied solar system on his home in 2006. Later that year, Steve boldly switched his business from electrical contracting to 100% solar photovoltaics (PV). On July 5, 2006, LightWave Solar was born!
Steve's first solar experience dates back to 1978 when he helped build a small solar emergency communication system for priests in Belize. Then, he installed a stand-alone emergency radiation detector for TEMA at the Soddy Daisy Nuclear Plant. An electrician by trade, Steve's enthusiasm for solar PV grew as he learned more about it. He believed sunlight could and should power more than calculators and satellites.
However, with high solar panel costs, he would not install more solar until 1999 as part of the Y2K concerns when he helped install several off-grid systems.
||Steve (middle) with first customers Brian Paddock & Mary Mastin at LWS anniversary party
In 2006, LightWave Solar's first customer was attorney Brian Paddock and attorney Mary Mastin with 3.8kW at their home in Cookeville, Tennessee. LightWave Solar's first commercial customer was Street Dixon Rick Architecture in Nashville. Slowly but surely, LightWave Solar gained speed with other pioneering customers including Al Gore, Billy Caldwell with Caldwell Travel and several Nashville-area homeowners. Then, LightWave Solar landed projects for big names like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Franke Foods and Firestone.
As solar panel costs came down and state and federal incentives increased, LightWave Solar grew tremendously, doubling in number of employees and revenue every year for the first 5 years. Other solar installers popped up, solar component manufacturing expanded, and Tennessee had a thriving solar industry, despite the country's economic downturn.
Over the last four years, TVA stepped down their solar incentive program somewhat faster than solar panel prices dropped, and fixed charges on electric bills have crept up quietly. The ace in the hole is solar has no fuel cost, and that is a hard act to top. Without fuel costs, a levelized cost of energy (LCE) is easy to forecast in the solar industry - not so in industries that require constant burning of fuel dollars to generate power. With more unknowns in the future, a predictable free source of fuel brings value to the table.
We have stepped up our activity with larger projects, including 3.9 megawatts in Houston, Mississippi - a project 1,000 times the size of our first customer's system.
Though it has been a wild ride, LightWave Solar has been 100% committed to solar PV, and we are optimistic about the future of solar energy in Tennessee. We owe our success to Steve's vision, our passionate customers, our dedicated employees and many solar advocates across the state. THANK YOU!