Clean Power Research Looks to Tap Seattle Software Developers for Solar Projects
On a grey winter day, it might not seem like Seattle has much to contribute to the solar power industry. But cleantech and IT are converging in the Northwest these days. And what we lack in sunshine we make up for in software developers, according to Jeff Ressler, head of the software division of Clean Power Research, a small renewable-energy company that expanded to Kirkland in September.
The company, which consults and writes software for solar power and other clean energy industries, is a small group of 15. Their Kirkland office has a whopping total of two people so far. But they clearly have staying power. Founded 11 years ago in Napa, CA, the self-funded company is profitable and growing, and all that growth will be happening here in the Northwest, said Ressler, who heads the Kirkland office.
Clean Power Research plans to hire six more employees in Kirkland by this spring. “We’re really excited to be in Washington, just in terms of the job candidates we’re seeing,” said Ressler, a former Microsoftie. “There’s a kind of built-in awareness in many people up in the Northwest of environmental issues, and a real passion for that. That’s what we really want to tap.”
The company has five products on the market right now, all Web-based software applications that calculate energy output or cost of solar panels. The applications range from Clean Power Estimator, a general tool to estimate solar energy available in your area for individuals considering installing solar panels on their roofs, to SolarAnywhere, a database developed in collaboration with researchers at the State University of New York that uses U.S. government satellite photos to calculate the precise amounts of solar radiation across the country at any given time. The database can tell you hourly amounts of solar rays for every 25 to 35 square miles in the United States.
“If you wanted to know how much solar radiation hit downtown L.A. yesterday afternoon, we could tell you what those numbers were,” Ressler said.
While it might sound cool to know the exact amount (or lack) of sunlight shining on your town at any given time, SolarAnywhere is aimed mainly at utility companies building new solar power plants who want to get the most beams for their buck, Ressler said. You wouldn’t want to build an expensive plant in the Sonoran Desert if it turned out there was slightly more sunshine in the Mojave Desert, for example.
Clean Power also sells an application called PowerClerk that government agencies or utility companies can use to calculate incentives for renewable energy. Many states, including Washington, have incentives for homeowners and businesses to install solar panels, and this software automates the rebate process. It’s currently the most widely used online solar power incentive program, Ressler said, with utility company clients in New York, California, Massachusetts, and other states.
Ressler says his firm has software in the pipeline to make cost and output calculations for other kinds of renewable energy as well, such as solar thermal power—using the sun’s warmth to heat a household’s water. Those products should come out later this year.
Clean Power Research seems to be weathering the economic storm so far. Ressler thinks the renewable technology industry will continue to grow in part because there’s a wide range of motivations for interest in cleantech. One of the big ones, of course, is that individuals and companies want to be able to control energy costs on their own, relying less on market fluctuations.
As for those passionate local software folks, Ressler is one of them. The founder of Clean Power Research, Tom Hoff, is a long-time friend of Ressler’s. Hoff talked him into leaving a product management position at Microsoft last year to head up Clean Power’s software side. They decided that Seattle was a better place for software developers than Napa, so Ressler started the local office that he’s looking to expand in the coming months.
“We recognize the uniqueness of being a small company in a position of hiring as aggressively as we are,” he said. “There’s a broad and widely held view that these investments in renewable technology are good investments to be making now.”
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