Bill Sinkin’s Fingerprints on Go Smart Solar

This post written and contributed by Jason Pittman, President of Go Smart Solar, and Andrew Wood, Director of Sales Operations.

Today, May 19th, is what would have been the late William “Bill” Sinkin’s 106th birthday. Bill Sinkin was an advocate for renewable energy in San Antonio and was an early adopter of solar. In honor of his birthday, we wanted to recognize him and his impact on Go Smart Solar and how he changed the career path for a few of our team members.

Mr. Sinkin had a profound impact on Go Smart Solar in three ways. First and foremost, two of our staff met while serving the nonprofit Solar San Antonio, which was founded by Mr. Sinkin in 1999.

The Sky is Full of Opportunities

While studying Environmental Science at UTSA in 2009, Andrew Wood was looking for a way to gain experience in the energy field and make a difference around environmental issues. Andrew reached out to a few local non-profits for an internship while juggling a busy school schedule. He was put in touch with Mr. Sinkin where they instantly connected on both environmental and advocacy efforts. Mr. Sinkin said to Andrew, “Do you want an internship, or a job where you can start building a career?” Of course, Andrew picked the latter.  Mr. Sinkin hired Andrew into the solar industry in July of 2009 as an Analyst and Research Associate for Solar San Antonio. At the time there were only 33 rooftop solar installations in San Antonio. While working for Mr. Sinkin, Andrew noticed that he would always put people first. He was never too busy to invite someone into his office to tell them about how he put solar on his bank in the 80’s or talk about how he worked with President Lyndon B. Johnson during his time as the President of the World’s Fair in 1969. 

When Andrew graduated from UTSA in 2011, he was contemplating moving back to Houston to work in the environmental side of the Oil and Gas industry. Mr. Sinkin instilled the idea in Andrew that “the sky is full of opportunities” and his contagious enthusiasm for solar energy motivated Andrew to spend his career in the renewable energy space – first as a Research Associate for Solar San Antonio to his current role (11 years later) as Director of Sales Operations for Go Smart Solar. 

Solar on Every Roof

I moved to San Antonio in 2009 to help design and build utility scale solar generation projects at the Dos Rios Wastewater Treatment Plant and a project in Somerset, TX. During construction of the Dios Rios facility, I met Andrew and one of his colleagues at a networking event. A few weeks later I gave them a tour of the construction site. Fast forward a few more days,  I received a phone call asking to join Mr. Sinkin for lunch at Solar San Antonio. With little knowledge about the organization and without knowing Mr. Sinkin, I attended  the lunch meeting. 

While at the Solar San Antonio luncheon, immediately after we finished introductions, Mr Sinkin proceeded to ask me insightful questions about the solar market and industry for the next 2 hours. Towards the end of the meeting, Mr. Sinkin asked me to volunteer on the Board of Directors for Solar San Antonio. Since the discussion focused on my experience and insights into the solar space, the mission of Solar San Antonio wasn’t clear to me so I asked him, “If I join the Board of Directors, what do you want me to do?” to which he replied “I want you to get solar panels on every roof”. It was obvious that I wasn’t leaving the meeting without accepting the invitation to serve as a Director, which I did. That statement, “solar on every roof”,  had a profound impact on my life, just as Andrew was impacted by “the sky is full of opportunities”. 

The Challenges with Solar on Every Roof

The idea of solar on every roof gnawed at me to the point I left my job designing and building utility scale solar projects across the US to focus on distributed generation rooftop projects in central Texas. I needed to get closer to rooftop solar.

The second impact Mr. Sinkin had on Go Smart Solar was the ear worm solar on every roof. Impossible. Rooftop solar costs too much, even with generous incentives from the federal government and CPS Energy, the majority of our community still cannot afford to adopt the technology. Working on the challenges of solar on every roof led to the development of the SolarHost concept deployed by CPS Energy in 2015. If price was the main barrier to solar adoption, then I wanted to create a program that eliminated the costs. SolarHost was developed and launched with great success albeit with a different solar firm. Four of our core team members helped launch that program. However, solar on every roof had unknown challenges that were exposed during the SolarHost program. Not every roof is a good candidate for solar PV. The BIG FOUR challenges with solar on every roof, even when the cost is zero, are:

  1. Roof orientation when rooftops face the wrong direction
  2. Roof condition as many roofs in older neighborhoods are too old
  3. The same older neighborhoods have beautiful shade trees which should not be removed 
  4. Many houses in San Antonio have electrical service panels that are not code compliant.

The majority of SolarHost applicants were disqualified due to one or more of the challenges. While looking for ways to mitigate these issues with rooftop solar, Go Smart Solar developed the innovative Big Sun Community Solar program which decouples solar PV from rooftops by placing them on solar carports across San Antonio. We’re currently building the solar carports and selling these panels in the Big Sun Community Solar program. While Big Sun may not be a perfect solution for Mr. Sinkin’s challenge of solar on every roof, it does bring the benefits of solar to every household and business while providing value shaded parking and more local solar generation distributed across San Antonio.

Collaboration with CPS Energy and other San Antonio Innovators

The third profound impact Mr. Sinkin had on Go Smart Solar was to collaborate with CPS Energy, the City of San Antonio and other stakeholders on the CPS Energy Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), which seeded the local solar industry and positioned CPS Energy as an innovative leader around renewable energy. As shown in the following Figure, STEP launched the local solar market and industry in San Antonio. The rooftop solar program shown in blue continues to grow as more and more households adopt solar PV. The JUWI Blue Wing project was the first utility scale solar project for CPS Energy, at fourteen (14) megawatts, it paved the way for the massive and unprecedented 400-megawatt New Energy Economy partnership with OCI Solar.

Mr Sinkin often talked about the benefits of clean renewable energy from solar plus the economic development and job creation the technology would bring to the San Antonio community. The New Energy Economy partnership was the perfect combination of clean energy plus economic development. As the 400-megawatt projects were coming online, CPS Energy launched two highly innovative programs – Roofless Solar and SolarHost followed a few years later with the Southwest Research Institute Solar + Storage (SWRI S+S) pilot program and finally the Big Sun Community Solar program.

But more importantly, the STEP program provided an opportunity for CPS Energy to get more comfortable with distributed solar generation and innovative business models which led directly to SolarHost, Roofless Solar and Big Sun Community Solar programs. The STEP program paved the way for solar on every roof by recognizing that the sky is full of opportunities. Would Go Smart Solar and Big Sun Community Solar exist without Mr Sinkin’s work on the STEP Program? Maybe not.

Go Smart Solar collaborates with utilities to integrate innovative programs with the sole focus of making solar benefits, from financial to environmental, accessible to everyone. Every solar panel Go Smart Solar installs across the central Texas community is a point on our scoreboard and if you look close enough at the scoreboard, you’ll see Mr. Sinkin’s fingerprints all over it.

Happy birthday Mr. Sinkin!  ¡Viva El Sol!