1976 was a whole long time ago for me, yet in some ways it feels like it was yesterday. If you had told me in 1976 that 45 years later I would still be the president of Sun Light & Power, that I would be working from my home in the redwoods, and sending this message out to the world via a laptop computer with a full color screen (no, we didn’t have those back then), I actually think I would have believed it. We were dreaming big back then. Maybe I would have also believed that I would be domiciled on the moon or Mars, for that matter.
One of the most interesting changes for SLP since 1976 revolves around money: how much we charged, SLP earned, and the amount employees took home. Fortunately, none of the founders had a need or desire to earn a lot; none of us were married or had kids, and we all had modest lifestyles and meager needs. We were doing what we could to walk the talk. So much of what we earned in those early years was retained or plowed back into the company to pay office rent and buy tools. Would you be surprised to know that when we started, we were charging a whopping $1,000 for a 64 square foot, 100 gallon solar water heater, all-in? Adjusting for inflation, that system would cost $4,770 today, so it was still quite a bargain. Keep in mind that in 1976, the annual middle class family income was around $12,500, a two-bedroom apartment rented for $100/month, a new home cost under $15,000, and gasoline was $.59/gal.
So back in the early days, I was making a few hundred dollars a month (when I cashed the checks) and I had a side job selling wholesale cheese to actually pay the rent (but that’s another story). I remember once when I looked in a drawer of my desk and discovered about 9 months of uncashed paychecks.
Thankfully those days are gone, and Sun Light & Power is paying competitive wages to 76 team members. Our people are getting married, raising families, and buying homes while working at SLP. I was curious, so I asked Stephani in Accounting and Marge in Sales to pull together some of our historical numbers. Here are a few totals since 1976 (adjusted for inflation):
Total salaries paid to SLP team members: $90M
Total payroll taxes paid: $9M
Wow, I think those numbers would have impressed me 45 years ago. That’s a whole lot of wealth creation which equals a substantial amount of prosperity generated for our team members. This has also been a nice chunk of change to help keep state and federal government programs running!
Next, I decided to look at the societal/environmental impact that Sun Light & Power has had over the years:
Total installed Watts of PV: 38.5 MW
Total installed solar thermal: 257,760 sq. ft
Total solar projects built: 3,700 projects
Total service customers served: 6,500 customers
Those 257,760 square feet of solar thermal collectors would cover over 12 acres!
Of course, numbers are fun and gratifying to look at, and can be revealing, but none of those above measure the huge satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with being part of something so durable and valuable to the planet. Most of the projects we have built are still out there saving energy and reducing GHG. With proper maintenance, they will continue to do so for decades to come.
It gives me a lot of satisfaction to talk to the “newbies” in the solar industry. They are often in awe of SLP’s 45-year legacy. I recognize that we are an inspiration to many, but I like to say that all we ever did was start and not quit - and they can do that as well. Even those who leave SLP for some reason very often take another job in the solar industry, so I consider that a win for the world rather than a loss for SLP. And, you would be surprised how many of those who leave us end up returning after a while, and we welcome them back.
So please join me in wishing SLP another 45 years of success! Now that SLP is 100% employee owned, I expect that this legacy will continue beyond 45 years into the future!
Gary Gerber is Founder, President, and CEO of Sun Light & Power