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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

Solar Systems

It was a different world back when Michael Kahn first installed solar panels on a residential rooftop nearly a decade ago and decided to shift his business from air conditioning systems to this new, largely unexplored area. Beyond a hunch that he was on to something big, Kahn did not foresee the mental shift that would take place in the Greater San Fernando Valley that gave both businesses and homeowners a new outlook on energy consumption and is fueling the rapid growth of his small contracting business. “It was all luck in timing. I got into the industry and it took. And I love it,” said the 53-year-old Encino native, who has designed and installed solar systems on more than 200 properties in the area. His eight-employee company that operates out of his home in West Hills, last year saw revenues of $3 million. In keeping with consistent year to year growth, even through the down economy, Kahn projects 2010 revenues will be somewhere around the $3.8 million mark. “It used to be that 80 percent of people thought solar was not practical, not doable, not affordable; that it was just something for tree huggers. Now it’s more like 75 percent of people understand that solar is a real possibility and they want to look into it and the other 25 percent are at least curious.” His company Kahn Solar has designed and installed $60,000 solar systems on small single family homes all the way up to $3 million systems in larger commercial buildings. It has even installed a solar car port at a US penitentiary in Victorville. By chance Kahn stumbled into this growing industry almost by chance. As a kid he remembers raising his hand in a kindergarten class when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and saying ‘I want to be an air-conditioning contractor’. “I wasn’t sure what that was, but that is what my dad did,” he said. For more than 30 years, Kahn worked in the family business Kahn Air Conditioning, until one day a customer asked him to install solar panels on his roof. “I had been looking for something new to do, something interesting and I knew from that moment forward that’s all I wanted to do.” At the age of 43 he broke away and started his own business drawn by the mechanics and technology of the solar industry. An avid woodworker since childhood, Kahn, who has no formal education, “always liked to build stuff, invent stuff,” he said. Among that ‘stuff’ that he built was a 427 Cobra which he raced for years at the Willow Springs Raceway in Palmdale, as well as a boat and a motorcycle. “I’ve always been very mechanical, anything with engines and propulsion has attracted me,” said Kahn who is also a licensed pilot. When it comes to solar, Kahn thrives on calculating the location, quantity and angle of the solar panels to create the desired amount of solar energy. For this he uses computer models that calculate kilowatt hours generated based on parameters such as shading, sun rotation etc. The challenge lies in looking at a utility bill, determining how much power needs to be generated and meeting those goals. Following the sun Recently, Kahn designed a system of rotating solar panels that follow the sun throughout the day, which generates more power during the course of the summer and builds enough of a credit to last throughout the winter. “I laugh every time my utility bill comes in, I pay $1.20 a month when before it was around $350.00,” said Peter Dach, a Calabasas resident who hired Kahn Solar to install solar panels on his roof about three years ago, after making an initial investment of $40,000 out of pocket. “We have another piece of roof that’s screaming for another array and when electric cars really take off and the technology catches up, we’ll hire Kahn Solar to install more panels to power our car and then we’ll be completely off the grid,” he said. The economics of investing in solar are attractive to consumers and is mainly what is fueling the growth of his company, said Kahn. “There’s usually a six to ten year payback on a system that’s going to last 30-40 years,” he said. After federal tax credits and a rebate from the Los Angeles Water and Power, an investment of $60,000 may be reduced to about 30 cents on the dollar for residential properties, Kahn said. On a commercial installation the out of pocket investment is reduced to about ten cents on the dollar, he added. Preparing for the future Electrical savings down the road are considerable. Generating their own power isolates the consumer from rate increases as they are essentially prepaying for their power for the next 30 years, according to Kahn. Companies like Kahn Solar’s growth prospects are looking even better as Los Angeles finds itself in the crux of ambitious renewable energy goals set forth by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Tasked with producing 150 mega-watts of local solar power as part of a broader set of renewable strategies, the City Council is now considering a solar program known as a feed-in tariff. The program would require the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to essentially buy the solar energy that residents, businesses and public organizations produce through solar systems on their roofs and properties. “The Feed-in Tariff is an investment vehicle, renting out your roof top to DWP to generate electricity,” said Kahn, who was sought out by the Los Angeles Business Council to join a broad coalition that is putting together a proposal to create an effective Feed-in Tariff program. “I think it’s definitely going to boost business, customers are already asking for it all the time.” Currently, when residents with solar systems in their properties produce more energy than they consume they receive a credit from the LADWP. There is no system established yet by which the utility company can purchase energy from residents. Kahn SolarYEAR FOUNDED: 2000LOCATION: West HillsCORE OF BUSINESS: Design and installation of solar systemsNUmber of Employees : EightRevenues in 2007-2008: $2.6 millionRevenues in 2008-2009: $3 million

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