Hannah Solar Ensures Georgia’s Place in the Sun

Lucy Adams

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Georgia is one of the fastest growing solar markets in the country and Hannah Solar, winner of the 2014 Champion of Change Award, is accommodating commercial-industrial and agricultural demand for solar energy. Born in 2007 in CEO Pete Marte’s spare bedroom, Hannah Solar generated revenue of $140,000 during its first year. Less than a decade later, that success is minimal compared to the company’s $35 million revenue posted this year. Marte says, “We’re not selling green from a sustainability perspective. We’re selling green from an economic standpoint.”

“It’s been a stair-step progression,” asserts Marte. “If you look at three years ago, two years ago and this past year, you see that the scope and complexity of projects have increased.” Revenue for fiscal year 2013 equaled $31.5 million for 98 projects. Revenue for 2014 went up while the number of projects declined to 58, indicating a more in-depth technical quality and larger project size driven by lower solar prices. Marte forecasts that next year Hannah Solar will complete 100 projects that result in doubled revenue.

In addition to the evolving nature of customers’ needs, changes at the state level and in the marketplace have made solar technology appealing. “Solar came down in cost over 80 percent in the last three years,” says Marte. Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald’s promotion of solar power in Georgia and the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative coupled with federal tax credits have created a climate friendly to financing solar energy capabilities. Marte explains, “A person who spends one million dollars on a solar array will get 65 percent back in tax advantages and the other 35 percent back in energy savings over the next five to six years.” Depreciation also factors into this equation.

Birdsong Peanuts in Colquitt, for whom Hannah Solar installed a one megawatt five acre solar farm, is a model for the benefits of solar energy to business. Solar panels generate 1.45 million kilowatt hours of energy per year and feed energy to Georgia Power’s electrical grid. Georgia Power compensates Birdsong for the energy it can then sell to its customers. The array also enables Birdsong to meet its sustainability metrics.

Commercial entities in urban centers profit, as well. Hannah Solar installed rooftop panels for Hewlett Packard’s Atlanta data center. The solar energy generated offsets 100 percent of the energy load of the associated administrative offices.

Marte, who says, “At the state level, we can become more energy independent every day,” explains that once Hannah Solar designs a solution that best addresses a client’s needs and that contract is approved, the physical structure can be installed within weeks. Arrays for agricultural and industrial clients seeking to offset energy loads are directly connected to the onsite circuit. Those contracted to sell energy to Georgia Power are connected to the Georgia Power grid. In both cases, clients receive annual service and emergency maintenance from Hannah Solar for five years. The average life of the solar equipment, however, is 30 years. 

With the federal tax credit scheduled to drop from 30 percent to 10 percent on January 1, 2017, now is the time to invest in solar technology. “The real push right now is a matter of awareness,” says Marte. “The cost is unbelievably low, yet there’s no time to dawdle.” Getting energy tax savings in place and hedging energy costs moving forward must be a top priority for Georgia industry and agriculture.

Another arm of Hannah Solar, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, is also quickly evolving. Georgia is first in the nation per capita in EV ownership. Parking canopies for charging EVs not only have application for corporate service and delivery vehicles, but also in the retail arena. Marte notes that research demonstrates that customers who drive EVs spend more time and more dollars with retailers that provide charging stations. Parking canopies for charging enable retailers to serve multiple customers at once, with the added amenity of shelter from the elements. The sale of advertising space on the parking canopy increases cost efficiency.

Hannah Solar, located on Collier Road, has come a long way from its spare bedroom beginnings in 2007. The solar array artistically arranged on the sculptural tree outside of its Buckhead building is immediately recognizable, proving that alternative energy can be as aesthetically pleasing as it is economically and environmentally attractive. Hannah Solar’s vision ensures Georgia’s place under the sun.

For more information on Hannah Solar, visit hannahsolar.com.