Solar Congress brings together Virginia’s solar community

By Ben Delman on October 18, 2017
Members of the Virginia solar community traveled from across the state for the 2017 Solar Congress on Saturday, October 14.

More than 110 solar supporters from across the commonwealth came together on Saturday October 14th for Solar United Neighbors’ 2nd Annual Virginia Solar Congress. The day-long event, held at James Madison University, brought together experts to discuss a variety of solar related topics. The event was an also an opportunity for attendees to share and celebrate their experiences with solar.

The day began with a morning plenary session where Solar United Neighbors of Virginia Program Director, Aaron Sutch, talked about solar’s continued growth in the commonwealth as well as the organization’s name and branding change. Jonathan Miles, Director of JMU Center for Wind Energy, made remarks as the Congress’s principal partner. Sutch highlighted the network of partners that have made solar possible in Virginia, and described the organization’s commitment to leading a transition to an energy system that empowers local communities to control and benefit from their own energy.

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After this opening, the Congress broke into several workshop sessions. Solar United Neighbors presented a Solar 101 Information Session to educate those new to solar about the technology and the process of going solar. Solar homeowners Joy Loving, Bob Biersack, Chris Wise, and Wayne Nolde led a panel presentation on Growing Solar in Your Community where they described their experience hosting solar open houses and spreading the word about solar in their communities. Alleyn Harned of Virginia Clean Cities led a session that discussed how electric vehicles can be paired with solar.

After a networking lunch, the Congress broke into another round of workshops. Jeff Nicholson of Solar Energy International and Sigora Solar led a panel discussion on Solar Jobs in Virginia which included Drew Skinner of Prospect Solar, Nicole Steele of Grid Alternatives, and Jonathan Miles of JMU Center for Wind Energy. These solar industry and education experts discussed how the expanding solar industry is creating new opportunities for the Virginia workforce and how to break into the field. Harrisonburg community members Jeff Heie and Timothy Godshall led a session where they described how to complete a do-it-yourself solar project based upon their successful project with a local thrift shop. In the third workshop, a panel of experts including Will Gathright of Tumalow Energy and Watt Bradshaw of Blue Ridge Energy discussed battery storage technology and how it applies to solar.

The day finished with a closing participatory open forum discussion about solar in Virginia and what the community can to help it grow further. The discussion collected attendees’ ideas for next steps with policy, solar deployment, and building Virginia’s community of solar supporters. Congress attendees left with concrete ideas and momentum for building the solar movement in Virginia.

Powerpoint Presentations from the 2017 Solar Congress

Solar 101 Information SessionIan Reichardt, Solar United Neighbors

Learn the basics of how solar works on a home or small business, the economics behind solar, and the incentives available to you. If you are new to solar or considering going solar, this is the session for you!

Growing Solar in your CommunityJoy Loving, Bob Biersack, Chris Wise, & Wayne Nolde, Solar Homeowners

Solar homeowners will share their experiences spreading the word about solar in their community, from hosting solar open houses and solar tours to writing articles in local papers and tabling at community events. You’ll leave this session with tangible ways to share your experience going solar and bring more solar to your community.

Electric Vehicles and SolarAlleyn Harned, Virginia Clean Cities

Learn why electric vehicles are the perfect match for solar. The presentation will focus on technology, costs, charging, and other practical considerations so that you can “fuel your vehicle with solar.” The session will also cover information for business owners interested in installing an EV charger at their business.

Local DIY Solar and Barnraising Initiatives Jeff Heie and Timothy Godshall, Harrisonburg Community Members

Learn about how a group of community members in Harrisonburg took solar into their own hands by creating and implementing multiple non-traditional models for solar, including a pool of community resources for several DIY solar installations and a “barnraising” crowdfunding initiative to solarize local non-profit, Gift & Thrift.

Solar + Energy StorageWill Gathright, Tumalow Energy

Learn the latest about battery storage for residential, commercial, and municipal solar installations. A panel of experts will discuss emerging technology, costs and the applications for battery storage in Virginia.    

Participatory Open Forum Discussion Notes