ARLINGTON — Two local companies — OutBack Power Technologies in Arlington and Silicon Energy in Marysville — served as hub sites for this year’s Snohomish County Solar Tour, whose informational walk-throughs on Saturday, Sept. 21, were designed to answer the questions of area residents and industry professionals alike.
“We’re trying to show local homeowners and contractors what’s possible with solar power,” said Phil Undercuffer, director of product management at OutBack’s recently opened facility just east of the Arlington Municipal Airport. “We want them to see the advantages of changing over to solar, and even the visitors we’ve had, who were already knowledgable about this field, weren’t aware of a lot of the new technologies.”
Jon Butler was part of a group of students from Shoreline Community College’s Clean Energy Technology Program to visit both OutBack Power and Silicon Energy that day, and meet with representatives of Arlington Electric and Fire Mountain Solar, who were at both sites.
“Sustainable energy is part of our responsibility to the environment and future generations,” Butler said. “It’s been neat to learn about the potential applications of solar power products, such as mobile power for the food and music industries. Whether you have a food truck or you’re setting up a concert, you can do it anywhere, in completely natural settings, without worrying about where the power will come from.”
On a more serious note, Butler cited the recent Colorado flooding as but one example of a natural disaster which could benefit from the mobile power provided by solar energy, not only for vital emergency services, but also for homeowners to run off their own solar panels and battery backups when the grid is down.
“Solar is where it’s at, and we all need to be part of it,” Butler said.
Russell Tilton, vice president of Arlington Electric, put in a personal appearance at OutBack to try and make the public aware of the largely untapped potential of solar energy in Washington state.
“Only 1 percent of the state is on solar,” said Tilton, who touted the solar system at Arlington High School’s John C. Larson Stadium as powering the stadium’s refrigerators and concession stands during games and other events, with plenty of energy left over. “Just because it’s cloudy, people think that you can’t rely on solar here, but we get more than enough sun. We get more sun than Germany, and they rely on solar more than anybody.”
Silicon Energy began at OutBack’s prior Arlington facility in 2007, but moved into its Marysville facility in 2010. On Sept. 21, visitors to Silicon Energy in north Marysville received a guided tour from Stu Frothingham, who handles the company’s marketing and communications.
“A normal company produces as many solar panels in a shift as we do in a year,” Frothingham said. “We’re never going to offer the cheapest product, but we believe in good quality handcrafting and we pay all our employees a living wage. Nobody’s getting rich here, but we love what we’re doing, and we have solar arrays from our company on our own houses, so we’re drinking our own Kool-Aid.”
Frothingham explained that Silicon Energy’s durable sandwich of glass and encapsulating lamination around its otherwise fragile solar cells requires a zealous commitment to cleanliness, from dust-proofing of its assembly line processes to cleaning the water that’s used to wash the glass.
“There is a tiny bit of lead in our panels, but they are entirely recyclable otherwise,” Frothingham said. “The most dangerous item on our production floor is isopropyl alcohol. No one needs to wear breathing masks or hearing protection to be on our production floor.”
Although Frothingham admitted that Silicon Energy has yet to map out any possible upgrade policy for its older panels, since it’s only been around for six years, he pointed out that 99.94 percent of the more than 20,000 products that it’s shipped out have not needed any warranty service.
“I’m very impressed with the quality of this product,” said Allan Persyn, a retired homeowner in north Marysville. “It’s beautiful to look at, and its failure rate is phenomenally good. I’m also impressed by how they treat their employees. My family comes from the oil industry, so I know what the future is going to bring, and it’s people like this who will save us. There is no question in my mind that I will be using this company’s product.”