Category Archives: Marketing – Sponsorship

Ground Mounts Versus Roof Mounted Solar Electric Modules

What are the advantages and disadvantages of ground mounts versus roof mounted solar electric modules?

Roof Mounted solar photovoltaic modules have the advantages of low cost and height, generally above nearby obstacles and harms way.  This economical method utilizes the trusses of the structure to secure the modules.  However the roof is not ideal in every case.  Perhaps there are significant obstructions to sun exposure on the roof, such as nearby trees, buildings, or terrain.  Or the roof itself has obstructions that will interfere with full sun exposure, such as sky lights and chimneys.  Remember even the shadow from a deciduous tree limb in winter is substantial enough to reduce the output of a solar module.  In these cases a ground mount might be the preferred option.  Advantages here include ease of snow removal and variety in the location of the array.  We typically work with an excavator and pour concrete to secure the mount which increase the total cost of the system. Electric code also requires a fence surrounding the array to restrict access. Give Dan a call to discuss ideal installation for your solar electric system.

Check Out this Net Zero Habitat for Humanity Home!

SBS Solar is super excited to show you the latest Habitat for Humanity of Ravalli Co home in Stevensville, Montana.  This is an all-electric home with new energy star appliances, LED lighting and a very well insulated envelope.

With a $17,000 grant from NorthWestern Energy, SBS Solar was able to install a 30 module, 7.5kWh array with a grid tie inverter and an air source heat pump. We installed this system in December and made the final tie into the grid and installed a net meter on January 2nd.


As of this writing 5 months later, the system has made more power than what the home used thru the building process.  We utilized electric, milk house, resistant type heaters to keep our workers warm and set the drywall mud.  We eventually installed an air source heat pump in March, after the coldest period of winter.

Now that the family has moved in we will see how well all the systems preform and the actual electric usage. Depending on this power usage, we will see if they are actually netting the big Zero at the end of the year.

It was a lot of fun, and a honor, being part of the design and building of what is possibly the first net zero home in Western Montana.

The State of the Solar Grant in Missoula, And Beyond…

There has been much talk about solar grants in our region this summer.  It’s no secret that solar sales were up by near triple in first quarter for most solar installers in the greater Missoula and Western Montana region, as seen in this article in April 2012 in the Missoula Independent.  And then the grants suddenly went dry in July of this year.  Another article in the Indy shares the details.

Here’s the gist:

  • Northwestern Energy gave out $3/watt up to 2000 watts (or 2kw) for grid-tied Solar PV installs in their territory.  This amounted to the $6000 grant folks would commonly ask for.
  • After the 2010 election, some state legislatures threatened to cut the state tax credits of $500/tax payer, $1000/couple, but it stood true.  And the 30% Federal tax credit remained strong.
  • In 2011, hard costs dropped nearly 40% for Solar PV, taking that $6k grant on a 2kW from a 30% coverage on an $18.5K system to a 50-60% coverage of install total on that same 2kW system, now costing under $11K.
  • By early 2012, solar energy was hitting an all time high in popularity on a national and global scale – everything from solar in China and India to solar on the White House, to solar farms in the southwest and solar financing companies popping up.

At this point at SBS Solar, like most local installers, we were selling our grants faster than we could get them.  At the same time, Northwestern Energy was having more requests than ever for solar grants, especially in the Missoula area, and they were maxing out their grant fund.  This, coupled with the drastic drop in pricing, brought things to a (temporary?) standstill in early summer of this year.

What we do know is that Northwestern Energy asked the MREA for a recommendation on how to proceed.  We at SBS Solar, and many of our fellow installers, weighed in with similar sentiments.  Cut the grants per watt in half to $1.50, but keep the maximum grant at $6000.  This would mean that a 2kW system now gets a $3000 grants ,and someone could get a $6000 grant for a 4kW system.   This would be awesome!  A triple-bottom-line here: Customers get a great grant and are now incented to go with a larger system instead of stopping at 2kW, Installers are now selling larger systems (and perhaps more often) and Northwestern Energy is getting double the renewable energy put back into their grind for half the cost, thereby getting them to their renewable energy mandate faster.


So…. here we with no grants, a state tax credit and a federal tax credit that could be in jeopardy depending on the outcome of the November election, and little action in the market.

Enter the SBS Solar Private Solar Rebate.  We are offering a rebate for solar customers that is competitive with the aforementioned MREA recommendation to Northwestern Energy.  Roughly $1.50/watt.  We also have two different solar financing options, one state sponsored and one private.

If you’re interested in solar today, don’t wait for an answer until November (at the earliest), when you can get our rebate today:  406-541-8410.  Ask for Dan.

SBS Solar Welcomes New Office Manager

Hi, my name is Nick Bowman. I started interning at SBS Solar last spring through the Governor’s Energy Internship program. I received my Associate’s degree in Energy Technology form the College of Technology at the University of Montana in 2010 and I am currently pursuing a degree in Geosciences at the University of Montana.

SBS Solar hired me in June to be the full time office manager and I spend most of my time talking to our distributors, tracking and ordering the components needed for our installations, as well as talking to customers who come into our showroom in Missoula.

The best thing about working for SBS Solar is being a part of such an outstanding team.  The quality of our installations really makes me proud to be a part of this company and makes it easy to stand behind our work.  This job has given me a lot of work experience and tools which have developed my professionalism and has made me a better employee.  Also, working for SBS Solar has improved my understanding of renewable energy systems and solar application.

When I am not at work, in the summer, I enjoy hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and exploring the outdoors.  In the winter, I ski and snowboard.  I enjoy watching movies, listening to music, and hanging out with friends.  I also try to participate in advocating and lobbying for clean renewable energy.

SBS-Solar is Moving!

We are moving.  That’s right, SBS-Solar will have a new home by the end of November 2011!

While we are super sad to be leaving our cool office cooperative on S. 4th W. (ho. hum.), we are very excited for our new office at 401 S. Orange St., Suite C on the corner of S. 2nd W. and S. Orange streets.  In reality, it is only about 4-blocks from our current spot.  (We are in the old Missoulian Angler building.)

The new office will give us parking, great drive-by visibility along Orange Street, easy access to Downtown and Midtown, a large entry/display area, separate offices for each of us and a great conference room with a deck. (can you say 4pm deck meetings in summer….)

A small remodel begins THIS WEEK and we plan to be in there and open by the end of November.  In our new space we will have standard retail office hours: Monday-Thursday 10am-5pm and Fridays from 10am-2pm or by appointment.

Check out the changes as you drive by and come for a visit soon.

SBS is now SBS-Solar; With a New Website, Too

The advent of heavily reduced rates in solar, the increased interest in solar locally and solar subsidies from utility grants and tax credits means we are putting more time and energy in Solar PV than ever.  As well, we have an additional owner/investor with a heavy interest in Solar.

NEW LOGO: SBS is now SBS-Solar

With this in mind, SBS is changing it’s name to SBS-Solar.  We’re keeping the “SBS’ part (sustainable building systems) and adding the”Solar” for a better representation of what we actually do.  SBS-Solar will have a heavier emphasis on Solar and continue its energy efficiency work in the form of home and business energy audits, third-party verification, consulting, and retrofitting.

In addition to the name change, SBS-Solar  is proud to unveil our new website.

Same URL:  Totally New Look.

You should find a cleaner feel, more information, and better organization.  We still feature our solar calculator, project examples and staff information. Highlights include an ever expanding solar and efficiency glossary, explanation of our staff certifications and memberships, and a greatly expanded services section including ground source heat pumps.  Expect to see a more robust project area with photo shows and videos, and an expanded glossary in the coming months.

Check it out and let us know what you think.

Green Blocks – Final Phase

SBS has had a wonderful and successful time on the side-order list for the City of Missoula’s Green Blocks energy saving program.

We began work back in the Fall of 2010 by getting 2-inters from the University of Montana’s COT Energy Program and got them fully trained on doing a basic solar site assessment.

Our Team ended up doing over 120 assessments over the course of 3-months last fall.  They braved blazing sun, side-ways rain and blowing snow from October – December.  But, it was well worth it.

This spring 2011 marked the final phase of this project.  The City added about 60-90 participants to get to their total count of 300.  We got ourselves another COT Energy intern for this past Spring and he went out and did about 48 more solar site assessments.

Half way through this phase we saw an 18% REDUCTION in the cost to install solar, plus the state and feds decided to KEEP the tax credits in place for renewable, Northwestern Energy gave us a dozen more $6k grants to hand out to customers in good standing, and the MT DEQ revolving loan fund keeps on chugging along (although they are 8-10 weeks out on funding).  To top it off, SBS starting taking credit cards for deposits.

The wet cold spring made for a slow start, and with the unseasonably cool summer, folks were not thinking about solar.  But with the aforementioned incentives, and a little 90 degree weather, we are in full swing.  Over half of the installs we’re doing in July and August came from Green Blocks leads and SBS is now booked out until September.

Thanks to the City of Missoula for this great opportunity!  We’d love to do it again.

If you’re interested in information about solar – get in touch: or

SBS Intalls Solar for Ravalli Co Habitat for Humanity

According to the Bitterroot Star, last week the the fifth home by Ravalli County Habitat for Humanity was completed and keys handed over to the owners. The new home is on Cherry Street in Hamilton and now belongs to Travis Sanderson and his family.

Much of the materials for the home were donating, including a Solar PV system – made possible through the work of Sustainable Building Systems (SBS) and Northwestern Energy’s Solar PV grant.  This system will reduce the family’s prior heating bill of $350/month in winter to around $80/month.

Read the entire coverage from the Bitterroot Star here.

SBS sponsors Selway-Bitterroot Foundation Fundraiser

SBS is proud to sponsor the Selway-Bitterroot-Frank Church Froundation fundraiser next week in Missoula.  They are bringing the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival next Thursday, April 7, 2011.  We love this Foundation, as they are the primary stewards and protectors of this largest wilderness in the lower-48 states.  Please join us on April 7th for this great event.

Here’s some quick points:

  • Telluride Mountainfilm Festival – Showcasing the very best films from the 2010 festival.
  • Presented by the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation
  • April 7th at the Roxy Theatre, south Higgins – in Missoula
  • Doors open at 6pm,. films start at 7pm
  • Beer from Blacksmith Brewery
  • Crazy amount of raffle prizes including; whitewater rafting trips, guided fly fishing trips, patagonia and cloudveil prizes, backpacks, cooking stoves and much more
  • Sponsored by Sustainable Building Systems, The Independent, Montana Headwall, Grizzly Hackle, Kent Bros. First Security Bank, NRS, REI, Missoula Federal Credit Union and Kuhl Clothing.
  • All proceeds benefit wilderness stewardship and trails maintenance in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
  • Tickets are $12, students are $10

We hope to see you there!

SBS Team