Third Sun’s 20 Year Workmanship Warranty
Tips for Choosing a Solar Installer
How fitting that approaching the Summer Solstice, 20 years ago this week, founders Geoff and Michelle Greenfield took the ultimate plunge. Third Sun Solar, a budding dream of the Greenfields, was incorporated as an LLC in June of 2000. Inspired by long sunny summer days, the need for electricity at their rural off-grid home and neighbors who were interested in going solar themselves- Third Sun Solar was born. It is for that reason that we celebrate this month!
Since 2000, Third Sun has installed over 23 MW of total renewable power, mostly solar, which produces over 26.5 million kilowatt-hours of emission-free power every year. As a result of Third Sun Solar’s work, 39 million pounds of CO2 emissions are avoided as customers switch from using utility power to their own clean power systems.
The company is truly fulfilling its long-time mission to “Accelerate the Shift to Clean Energy”.
In addition to clean energy metrics, Third Sun fulfills another dream set out by the founders back in 2000: to use business as a force for good. As a Certified Benefit Corporation, Third Sun Solar is held accountable to people and the planet. Whether purchasing carbon offsets for our vehicle fleets or supporting the non-profits who are doing important work in our communities, we believe that to see the clean energy future of our dreams, businesses must do good in the world. Learn more about our B Corps status here.
To celebrate we are instating a 20-year workmanship warranty at no cost for customers, the longest workmanship warranty for solar in Ohio. Why 20 years? As Ohio’s longest standing solar installer, we’ve proven to the community that we’re in it for the long haul. We’ve seen a lot of progress in the past 20 years & we will be here until we see the clean energy future that we dream about.
Check out our upcoming webinar: How to Choose a Solar Installer to learn additional elements to look out for when choosing an installer in addition to warranties and company longevity!
Since January, CEO Michelle Greenfield has been reflecting on cornerstone projects from the past 20 years. She’s woven together blogs, photos, newspaper clippings, and stories. These pieces of history reflect the changes in the solar market that paved the way for solar as we know it today. These items are listed below – check them out!
Our goal in sharing this history is to celebrate how far we have come and recognize how the current solar opportunity is built on a foundation laid in the past.
Follow us on Facebook as we continue our 20-year look back for the rest of the year!
In September of 2007, then Governor Strickland was introducing a new energy bill for the state of Ohio, which contained a renewable energy focus. The Governor chose to visit Athens County and the home of Geoff and Michelle Greenfield to announce the bill. House Bill 221 initiated what was known as Ohio’s Advanced Portfolio Standard, and with it, the state joined many other states across the country in enacting some kind of standard for renewable and advanced energy production for the state’s mix of electricity sources.
“We were really honored that he chose to come to our house and highlight our home’s solar power,” says Geoff Greenfield, co-owner and President of Third Sun Solar. In 2007, the Greenfields had been living off the grid for 10 years, powering their home with solar and wind. They had also integrated many facets of efficiency into the home. Governor Strickland’s visit was a chance for them to highlight to other Ohioans that families can live comfortably using clean energy.
“When he got to our home, we had a crowd of Third Sun Solar team members, press, and a group of his staff from the statehouse,” recalls Michelle Greenfield. “He spent a lot of time looking at our system, the solar panels, the battery backup system and the electronics.” He also showed great interest in the home’s energy efficiency features like insulated window blinds, Energy Star appliances, and the energy-efficient lighting that was just starting to make it onto the mainstream market at that time.
Looking back, Strickland sought to highlight many of the things the Greenfields were doing that have become commonplace now, 13 years later. Solar on homes, net metering, energy-efficient light bulbs, insulating window treatments… these are all easily found in the marketplace and have gained increased usage today. Part of the reason that these are now common is that political leaders like Ted Strickland sought to highlight and advance those ideas, both with the goal of saving consumers money and helping the environment.
House Bill 221, which contained the energy plan, was passed in May of 2008. It enjoyed several years of success before the political winds shifted in Ohio and the clean energy provision was “frozen” by the legislature and the subsequent Governor in June 2014.
Despite this setback, the last 6 years have seen the cost of solar power plummet by more than 60%. Energy Star appliances are common, CFL and LED lighting are mainstream, and consumers are demanding more efficiency for their homes and in their day to day lives. A big shout out to Ted Strickland for having the foresight to be a promoter of clean energy and moving our state forward during his time in office.
I am in my second week of “working from home self-quarantine”, and I found an old photo of my grandfather as a young Air Force pilot, taken just before the US formally entered into WWII. He went on to fly fighters throughout Europe and the Pacific and was one of those that returned home alive. At the time the photo was taken, the war was underway in Europe with bombs raining down on London, while the US was nervously watching a rising danger that still seemed far away to many.
Looking out my window at the quiet woods surrounding my house I feel safe and am grateful for my health. I am grateful as well that this fast spreading virus hasn’t yet claimed any lives in my family or network. This will change, and the death and suffering carried by this emerging threat will be upon us faster than many understand or currently admit. This is not the case among my friends in healthcare who see what is coming and are grim. They are preparing for “the surge”, where our hospitals will be overwhelmed. As they get ready they also know that many of them will fall sick as they struggle to save as many lives as they can while comforting the dying. While it seems that too many Americans are still trying to carry on as normal, those on the healthcare frontlines are steeling themselves for the realities of triage where they will decide who to treat and who to let die. They see the rising danger, and it is no longer a far away threat to them.
The tragic reality of this pandemic is that it is still “far away” for many Americans. While the call to stay at home and flatten the curve is slowly gaining traction, it seems that too many of us are continuing with business as usual. As I look at my grandfather’s young, innocent face in this photo, I can only imagine his thoughts as he prepared for a war that was still distant and far away to many of his peers. Their fragile innocence was quickly shattered as more and more families said goodbye to departing young soldiers knowing that many would not return. These families and their neighbors quickly adjusted to a new reality of rationing, sewing bandages and planting victory gardens. Whether flying repeated bombing runs over a distant battlefield or working on a domestic aircraft assembly line, this war experience shaped and defined these men and women, and changed our culture. Tom Brokaw told the stories of the “The Greatest Generation”, and their actions, mindset and sacrifice provide a stark contrast to our current culture focused on individualism, comfort and consumption.
As we hear about the grim reality of Italy’s overwhelmed healthcare system, many of us are starting to realize the gravity of our situation. This growing awareness is awakening our instincts to contribute, and many are beginning to help in many ways: sewing masks and fabricating face shields, delivering food to the homebound and vulnerable, converting craft-distilleries from vodka production to hand sanitizer. Thousands of small businesses are going into hibernation as they prioritize community health over their own economic self-interest. The inspiring courage of our nurses, orderlies, med-techs, first responders and doctors feels contagious as they scramble to face a growing danger with a shortage of the masks, gloves and gowns that they need to protect them from this invisible enemy.
My grandfather and his generation were shaped by WWII. His role in air combat was just one part of a massive collective effort that defined him and the nation while more than 400,000 Americans died in the war. That horrible chapter in our history brought massive suffering and pain, yet it also birthed a culture where selfless contribution to community became stronger than selfish individualism. If today’s epidemiological models are right, the US may loose more lives to this viral enemy than my grandfather’s generation lost during the war. Will our generation rise to the occasion as his did? Will our efforts mirror the collective sacrifice of “The Greatest Generation” and reshape our culture?
As I continue to see so many not yet taking this pandemic seriously, I am not sure we will. My grandfather’s generation was also shaped by the great depression, and our world today is vastly different than his, so strongly influenced by a media driven popular culture infatuated with pleasure, distraction and consumption. While millions have continued to suffer from calamity and war around the globe, many of us have largely insulated ourselves from this pain, focusing instead on the pleasures and distractions that are beginning to appear trivial. Though our economy has promoted a culture of self-indulgence, I don’t believe that this is who we truly are or how we are meant to be as humans. At our core, our species is meant to be interdependent, working together for group survival. Perhaps these traits are reemerging and our deepest survival instincts are awakening as a response to this new existential threat growing on the horizon.
Looking at this photo in my hand I feel grateful to have spent a lot of time with my grandfather during my youth; his influence on me was pretty significant. His strength of will, determination, and confidence to lean into challenges are traits I have aspired to as I raised a family, built a business and lived my relatively comfortable life. As this virus begins to challenge that comfort and we react and change, how will our culture shift? Decades from now how will our grandchildren view our generation?
Though my observations often make me feel cynical, deep in my heart I am an optimist. I am far from confident in this outcome, but I do have hope that this virus might awaken the best parts deep within all of us. I have hope that as we respond to this threat we join together in collective action and relearn to genuinely care for each other. This existential challenge on our horizon could be our chance to become a second “Greatest Generation”, with a new norm that values the good of the whole over our individual pursuit of comfort and false security.
We did not choose this challenge, yet it is upon us and we will all have a part to play. I am inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s call to action: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. I do not know how our grandchildren will come to view us years from now but I am hopeful that they will see us as heroes similar to the way I view my grandfather. We are all a part of this story, and in the coming months our choices will determine its outcome. This is our turn.
Some time back in early 2003, Geoff and Michelle Greenfield agreed to be a case study “site” for a group of Ohio University Business School students. This meant that the students got a chance to study a real-world small business, with a view into all the challenges and triumphs of a start up. For Third Sun Solar, it meant getting some outside perspective on what they were doing, how they were doing it and what needed refining in order to succeed.
“Our first meeting with this group of 4 students was in the Attic loft room of our home, where we both had set up our desks and were running the business”, says Michelle. “It was a tight space – you could not fully stand up in half of the room and there were files and paper stacks all over the place. One of the students, who was sitting on the floor, bravely asked us if we ever had trouble or found it distracting to work from this cramped space”. Looking around them, Geoff and Michelle did acknowledge that this office was not ideal, especially if they were going to grow, add some employees, meet with clients or need a warehouse.
The students then suggested that the Greenfields look into the new Innovation Center that Ohio University was in the process of constructing on West State Street in Athens. They knew about the Innovation Center, because they were in the process of working with the university to install a solar array on that very building. After meeting with the director, Linda Clark, and being accepted as a “tech” company that met the incubator standards, the Greenfields made the move into one of the smallest offices that the Innovation Center had available.
“Stepping outside the house and actually starting to pay rent and adding overhead, was scary at first,” said Geoff. “But the benefits ended up far outweighing the costs.” Those benefits included the ability to have a dedicated business space, access to amenities like a copier and a separate business mailing address, interaction on a regular basis with other entrepreneurs and access to small business counseling resources that the Innovation Center and the University provided. The biggest benefit was yet to come: a path to adding employees to the team.
Moving to the Ohio University Innovation Center (IC), where Third Sun Solar remained housed for 8 years, enabled the company to grow, add employees, add warehouse space and receive the assistance needed to put the company on strong footing. Over the years at the IC, the company moved to many different offices, larger and larger spaces, and finally multiple offices that comprised the end of one of the wings of the building. When the IC warehouse space became available, Third Sun Solar was able to bring its inventory on site, rather than using vendors and storage units to hold product.
Third Sun Solar became the site for many OU student groups and case studies, from the marketing department to the management school and entrepreneurship classes. During this period, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at OU was growing and adding services. They began to oversee on the Small Business Development Center and the PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) and added a new entity called TechGrowth which provides assistance and funding to early stage businesses. Third Sun Solar was able to access business assistance and services from all of these entities and saw great benefits to these partnerships.
“One thing that Geoff and I have learned over the years in business is to reach out to and learn from all the advisors that are out there for small businesses”, commented Michelle. “Our connection to the Innovation Center, Ohio University and the Voinovich Center has helped Third Sun Solar with outside experts to help address challenges, give perspective and be cheerleaders for the business”. The “entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Athens County is strong and is one of the reasons that Third Sun Solar has remained headquartered in Athens, even as the company has grown, working all over Ohio and the Midwest.
After moving from the Innovation Center into its current space on West Union St. in Athens, Third Sun Solar still enjoys a great relationship with Ohio University and its business outreach services. The Greenfields extend a big “Thank You” to everyone that has worked with the company over the years to help this homegrown Athens County business to grow and thrive but remain rooted in the Athens community.
Back in the early 2000s, he was sometimes referred to the “the Johnny Appleseed of solar”. Planting the seeds of solar awareness and education across the state of Ohio, one kilowatt at a time, Glen Kizer was a leader in getting solar planted around the state in the first decade of this century. Through his Foundation for Environmental Education, Glen is still planting those seeds 20 years later. How did he do it first? Installing dozens of 1 kW grid connected solar power systems on schools around the state.
It was 2001 when Glen first contacted Geoff Greenfield of Third Sun Solar to become an installation partner. His plan was to install dozens of 1 kW grid connected solar power systems on schools around the state. These systems would be a visible icon, planting the seed of awareness in the minds of students, teachers and administrators. Including a curriculum developed for the classroom that explored the way solar works, how to calculate solar production and using the actual data from that solar array, the program attracted many schools to the cause.
The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) found a partner in American Electric Power (AEP) and their Learning from Light Program. AEP had hundreds of previously used solar panels stored in warehouses that it provided to FEE for use in its mission. FEE established connections in the schools, then contracted with Third Sun to complete the installation process. The State of Ohio provided some funding to help train teachers, and FEE also partnered with the Ohio Energy Project. In all, Third Sun installed about 35 of these projects in several states between 2001 and 2006.
Although a 1kW solar array provided very little in the entire energy picture of the typical school, the system was more about educating than offsetting utility power or lowering emissions. Upon completion of the installation, the schools often had ribbon cutting ceremonies, sun celebrations and sometimes entire assemblies to christen their new solar array. Geoff Greenfield was tapped to speak at these events which often included local officials, lawmakers and school administrators.
The seeds sown by these 1kW educational systems have surely grown and blossomed over the last several years. This partnership was a key launching point for Third Sun Solar. This experience of installing net metered systems allowed Third Sun to expand its work into many other markets. Third Sun has gone on to install systems 500 to 1000 times larger on schools in our state. Some universities have even gone further than that, coordinating installations of 2 MW or more – 2000 times bigger than these early arrays (see Third Sun’s installation at Denison University).
Like Third Sun, 20 years later Glen is still working hard to install educational solar power systems. His geographic focus has changed to work primarily in the state of Illinois, but his influence in Ohio will not be forgotten. After all this time, we sometimes wonder what is happening with these systems? Some schools have been torn down and rebuilt, so some systems have been lost. Surely, there are still dozens out there that are still producing power. But, with ongoing changes in curriculum and focus for our educational institutions, are they still being used? If you have one of these in your community or local school, let us know what you know about them!
20 years ago they took a leap of faith. Geoff and Michelle Greenfield decided to launch themselves into the adventure of a lifetime and start a business. The year was 2000, the beginning of the new millennium. While starting a business wasn’t that unusual, the subject matter of this new business was. Renewable energy and solar power had yet to become mainstream or even a consideration in most people’s minds in Ohio and the Midwest, yet the Greenfield’s decided to launch a business installing renewable energy systems, wind and solar.
In the late 1990s, using solar and wind for powering homes, businesses and schools was a very unique proposition. After the invention of photovoltaic (PV) cells in the 1950s, the technology was reserved for space applications and tiny projects. During the 1980s the costs of using PV started to come down as production increased. The 1990’s saw some growth in the use of wind and PV, but it was still relegated to demonstration projects and experimental sites, and a tiny number of remote homes.
The Greenfield‘s were not the type of people to just follow the mainstream. When they purchased their property in rural Athens County in 1995 and it did not have any power connection to the “grid”, they decided to look at alternatives to mainstream power and build a home “off the grid” and powered by the sun. They moved into the home in 1997 with a tiny 600 watt solar array (that is 0.6 kW to use today’s sizing reference) to power everything. It was ironic that they were able to see, from the hilltop where they built their house, the smokestacks and pollution of coal fired power plants to the south along the Ohio River.
By the year 2000, they had two young sons, ages three and one, and were still working on finishing the house that they were living in. Geoff envisioned the plan to leave his permanent employment and go out on his own installing solar for the few people who were seeking it back then. Starting a business, continuing to build their home and also needing to provide for their children made this leap a little bit scarier. The risks were there, but the mission to enable people to take control of their own energy future was compelling. And what better way to teach their children that there is a clean alternative to powering our lives; that we do not have to use the polluting, unsustainable, and – now we know – climate change causing electricity produced by burning fossil fuels.
The name of the business became an embodiment of this small family. The Greenfields knew that starting a business would require constant nurturing and care, just as having children did. It would become their “third son”. The business grew, alongside their actual kids. Now, their sons are ages 21 and 23, and the business is 20 years old. All three have definitely brought thrills, excitement, fulfillment and love. All three also have presented challenges along the way, with ample opportunities for learning and growth for parents (and business founders) Michelle and Geoff.
Reflecting back to the time when Third Sun was an infant, it is evident how the business grew in a “bootstrapped” way. Picture the start-up office in the attic of the house, with piles of papers and makeshift desks. A lot of work and dedication was needed to get the business off the ground and onto stable footing. The path from the attic to their current location in Athens, encompassing more than 3,500 square feet of office and warehouse, passed through a variety of office spaces from 2003 to 2012 at the Ohio University Innovation Center. It was there that the Greenfields really began to understand that small business “helpers” were abundant in Athens, encouraging and providing tools and advice to entrepreneurs like them.
During their 9 years as tenant clients at the Innovation Center, Third Sun Solar was able to go from the 2 founders to more than 21 employees, completing some of the largest solar power projects that the state of Ohio had ever seen. Business counselors and support from Ohio University’s Small Business Development Center, the Voinovich School and TechGROWTH all assisted the Greenfields in learning how to close contracts, manage employees, understand the financials and strategically grow the business. Third Sun also began to cultivate its network of outside advisers such as lawyers, accountants, business professionals and other business owners. Geoff and Michelle now felt comfortable asking for support. By 2012 they were “hatched” out of the incubator space into their own home office on West Union Street in Athens, where they remain headquartered today.
Even with all that support, nothing can replace the gumption, the persistence, and the intelligence of the owners to keep a business going. Entrepreneurs need to react quickly when faced with obstacles and understand how to capitalize on opportunities. Every day it is hard work to keep the ship moving forward and to keep growing, keep the doors open, and keep contributing to the economic health of the community.
Third Sun Solar is proud to be the oldest continuously operating full service solar installation company in the state of Ohio.
In the very early years, on a visit to as solar conference in California, Michelle told a California solar installer that Third Sun was a young company based in Ohio. He looked at her and said “it takes guts to do solar in Ohio!” He was right. But the fact is that Ohio is the fifth largest user of electricity in the country. The state has a robust network of utility infrastructure and a large population of residents as well as manufacturing and commercial facilities. If a larger portion of utility customers in Ohio went solar it would leverage a great impact on reducing our carbon omissions in the United States and working towards the carbon emission reduction goals that need to be achieved in order to curb climate change.
The Greenfield’s first two sons are grown and have left the house that the family built so long ago in the hills of Athens County. As they pursue their own paths and ideas of what work and careers that they want to pursue, their third “son”, Third Sun Solar, continues to enjoy the attention of its “parents”. With Geoff and Michelle still at the helm as owners and operators, the company has built up a professional team of employees that contributes to the continued growth and success of this “child”.
The impacts across the state of Ohio and even beyond this state have been great. Since 2000, Third Sun has installed over 23 MW of total renewable power, mostly solar, which produces over 26.5 million kilowatt hours of emission free power each year. As a result of Third Sun Solar’s work, 39 million pounds of CO2 emissions are avoided as customers switch from using utility power to their own clean power systems. The company is truly fulfilling its long-time mission to “Accelerate the Shift to Clean Energy”.
What a major milestone! Stay tuned to Third Sun newsletters, blogs and social media posts during 2020 to experience the rich tapestry of company history that will be presented. It will be fun looking back at favorite projects from the last two decades. There will be an interesting cost comparison of what it used to cost to go solar and what it costs today. Keep an eye out for archival photos, newspaper clippings and stories of the history of the company that might provide a few giggles. Expect to learn more about the forward thinking and sustainability mindset that has underpinned this company from it’s very beginning; our goal in sharing this history is to celebrate how far we have come and recognize how the current solar opportunity is built on the foundation stones laid in the past.