As some of the coldest temperatures of the year settled over the Capital Region last month, the Monolith Solar installation team was at work harnessing the power of the sun.
Braving the chill, they installed a solar electric photovoltaic power system at the Food Pantries for the Capital District on Essex Street in Albany. By the end of the day, sunlight was lighting up the Food Pantry — literally.
This recent solar panel installation is just one of many Monolith Solar, a less-than-5-year-old company based in Rensselaer, has undertaken.
Every year, Monolith produces enough solar electricity to power a town the size of Mechanicville. And much of that electricity stays in upstate New York, powering homes, businesses, school districts and religious institutions.
“We do a lot of school districts,” said Steven Erby, co-founder and vice president of Monolith. “We just finished up a system on top of the Rensselaer High School and Rensselaer grade school.”
For the upcoming year, Monolith has contacted for more than 50 independent school projects from Colonie to Westchester County. One of the most beneficial parts of working with school districts is that many of them are now adopting curriculum centered around solar energy, according to Erby.
“They get to save money for no investment,” he said. “But also, I think, schools realize this is the next Internet.”
Tim Carr, national director of sales for Monolith, said schools understand they need to start preparing kids for this new energy and possibly working in the solar energy industry.
“I think schools are realizing our industry grows exponentially every year,” Carr said. “There are probably a handful of kids in their district that are going to be in this industry, so why not prepare them? These systems that we are installing are sort of like on-site laboratories.”
The most common misconception about solar energy is it is too expensive, Erby said. In reality, he said, solar energy pays for itself. Every ray of sunlight produces both power and revenue.
Erby came across the idea of solar energy when he was having difficulty dealing with his home electric bill, which seemed to continually increase — no matter what. Coincidentally, he caught an episode of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” a few days after a frustrating encounter with his electric company. On his show, Leno was installing a vertical access windmill on his garage.
Erby, a former railroad engineer, was sold. He went back to school to study windmills, but then realized solar energy made more sense in this part of the country.
“It was all because I caught this episode of Jay Leno,” he said. “I was on my knees in front of the TV going, ‘This is it. This is what I’ve got to do.’ ”
For a place like the Albany Food Pantry, the system being installed ultimately will cover 100 percent of their usage, Erby said. With no upfront costs, they will save between 20 percent and 50 percent of the utility rate they are currently paying.
Erby and Mark Fobare, co-owner and president of Monolith, met at a solar energy class offered by Hudson Valley Community College a few years ago. Erby said their partnership was temporary and designed to help each other install systems on their individual homes.
“We realized quickly that with the amount of work required, it would be better if our two companies merged permanently,” he said, and Monolith Solar was born.
Fobare is responsible for engineering, design and product development, while Erby is responsible for corporate strategy, business development and daily operations.
“Everything we do is economically sound and useful,” Fobare said. “These systems pay for themselves.”
Monolith began in a garage with just two guys and it grew from there. Recently, it expanded to Kansas City, Mo.
It now has more than 50 employees.