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U.S. Businesses Learn Renewable Energy Strategies From Solar Revolution in Napa Valley

More than 7 percent of wineries in Napa County are now solar-powered -- a rate of adoption 42 times greater than that of California businesses in general, and nearly double that of wineries statewide, according to Rob Erlichman, CEO of San Francisco-based solar power integrator Sunlight Electric.

Erlichman predicts that by the end of 2010, one in five wineries in Napa County -- nearly triple the current number -- will be solar-powered. "What's especially significant is that most businesses in the U.S. can learn from what's going on here," he says.

Founded in 2002, Sunlight Electric has designed and sold more than twice the number of solar power systems for Napa County wineries than any competitor, and has a fast-growing pipeline of projects in the permitting stage.

Beyond wineries, Erlichman sees the clean energy explosion in Napa as a learning opportunity for businesses looking to build brands and gain insulation from rising energy costs. Identifying the driving forces behind this trend, Erlichman says, can enable businesses nationwide to make educated decisions about the potential benefits of solar power adoption.

"Sixteen states, representing nearly half of the U.S. population, have already initiated solar subsidy programs," says Erlichman. "However, factors such as sunshine, high electric rates, and progressive legislators don't entirely explain the high adoption rate."

Four additional factors are key drivers of commercial solar power adoption, according to analysis conducted by Erlichman and the Sunlight Electric team, and reveal the profile of businesses that stand to benefit: 1) businesses with higher-than-average power usage; 2) a healthy balance sheet; 3) businesses selling branded, differentiated products; and 4) businesses committed to environmentally sustainable and socially responsible business practices.

"The wineries we have worked with all fit this bill," says Erlichman. "But these factors clearly exist outside of the wine industry. With less than 1 percent of electricity in the U.S. generated from solar power, and less than 2/10ths of 1 percent of California businesses currently powered by solar, the penetration of solar in the Napa winery market is all the more intriguing and bears further scrutiny by businesses looking to enhance their sustainability efforts and reduce operating costs."

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