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Durango, CO 81301


Based in Durango, Colorado, Flatrock Solar is a locally owned and operated solar panel contractor and installer serving the Durango area from Cortez to Pagosa Springs and Silverton to Ignacio.  Flatrock Solar has been helping businesses, homeowners and non-profits convert Colorado sunshine into clean, renewable energy since 2010.  

Thoughts - musings on solar panels and renewable energy

This page is for thoughts and ideas about solar and the environment in general.  I'm passionate about solar and think and read about it daily.  This will be a space for these thoughts.

Fighting wars with solar panels

Matt Helms

In a follow up to my last post on 'Solar and national security', I thought I'd share some interesting stats on the use of solar by the US military.  The US military is the world's largest consumer of energy and is now looking at solar in a big way.  Tanks, trucks, generators, etc. use a lot of energy and unfortunately a lot of soldiers have died transporting fuel from A to B.  The Pentagon has now set a goal of providing "50 percent of the power used by the Navy and Marines come from renewable energy sources by 2020".  This is a huge shift for the military and one that could change the solar industry.  

The war in Afghanistan saw the first marines to use portable solar panels in the battlefield.  Additionally there are numerous military bases around the world that are now equipped with solar power.  I think as we see a shift towards autonomous military vehicles, perhaps powered by electricity, the role of solar in fighting wars will become ever more important.

Solar and national security

Matt Helms

So when I first heard that the Pentagon listed global climate change as immediate risk to national security I thought, "finally, they get it".  This is a global problem with global implications even for rich countries like the United States.  Below is a quote from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel:

“But the challenge of global climate change, while not new to history, is new to the modern world. Climate change does not directly cause conflict, but it can significantly add to the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. Food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, more severe natural disasters – all place additional burdens on economies, societies, and institutions around the world.”

- Secretary Hagel


This is coming from a guy that opposed the Kyoto protocol; I guess we're all wrong sometimes.  

Solar vs S&P 500

Matt Helms


If you look at the historic average return on investment of the S&P 500 vs. a solar system you can see what a solid investment solar is.  These two charts below compare your annual and cumulative return on investment if you invested the same amount of money in either the S&P 500 or in a solar system.  The steady return on your investment with solar would be a better long term investment (and easier on your stomach than the roller coaster of the stock market).

Annual return on investment in a solar electric system in the greater Durango Colorado area vs. the S&P 500

Your solar investment dollars will grow more quickly than the S&P 500, when compared to the last 25 years of the S&P 500.

Cumulative return on investment for a solar power system in the Durango area.

And since your investment in solar is a savings compared to earnings in the stock market, you won’t have to pay taxes on the solar investment return!  And by the way, because the price of electricity is very unlikely to decrease in the future and solar panels today have a 25 year warranty, your investment is very low risk.

Why Solar?

Matt Helms

This is a very important question.  Why Solar?  

While pursuing my degree in Environmental Studies I was presented with a lot of global problems and potential solutions.  Everything ranging from overpopulation in Africa to deforestation in the Amazon.  So why did I choose solar when I was looking for a way to give back?  Because there are only four sources of energy on our planet and solar is the biggest one, that's why...

So what are these four sources of energy you ask?

1. Chemical

This is the one that most people think of when they think of energy.  This is everything that gives off energy in some chemical reaction such as burning.  Coal, petroleum, nuclear, natural gas, etc.  So the important thing to remember about this energy source is that it is limited.  Lots of people argue about what the limit is, but the fact is there is a limit.  We are using this faster than it can be replaced.  This is also an important concept in this discussion; sustainability.  In a nutshell, if you're using something faster than its being replaced, its not sustainable.  If you spend more money than you make every month, eventually you'll be broke.  Depending on your bank account balance it might take months or decades, even generations.  But eventually you, or your descendants, will be broke...

So, we're burning up the chemicals available to us faster than they're being replaced.  

2. Geothermal

The center of the earth is hot.  This is caused by gravity.  I'm not a geologist or physicist, but I think we can all agree that these two facts are correct.  This heat can be harnessed with geothermal pumps, etc.  I don't know the details, but the my understanding is that the options are limited and eventually hot springs cool off if you put too much hot water out of them.  I'm summarizing.  

3. Lunar

This one gets people every time, but the moon creates a little energy on the earth with tides.  As the moon pulls water around the globe, the water molecules rub against each other and create friction which produces a little heat.  There are also ways to harness this energy and people do.  In certain areas of the world there are pretty big tides and they let the moon pull water into a bay with a level for example.  When the tides goes out and the water wants to run from the bay back to the ocean, people let the water run through a turbine and create electricity.  This is a beautiful way to harness lunar energy, but I haven't figured out how to do it in Colorado yet...

4. Solar

I of course saved the best for last.  As I mentioned before, solar is the biggest source of energy on our planet earth.  You can google the exact figures, but its a lot.  So the sun shines on earth all the time and causes wind, rain and just plain heat.  So hydro is really solar.  Wind is solar.  And direct sun on solar panels is solar.  

So this pretty broad, long term view of energy resources available to the inhabitants of earth (you and me), hit me in college.  Eventually we all need to get our energy from the sun, so why not start now?

I'd love to hear your comments on this macro concept.  Thanks for reading.