Let the Sun Shine—Albion firm sells solar trackers across the nation

From its Albion-based location, Patriot Solar Group engineers, manufactures and sells solar trackers—the systems that support solar panels—to customers across the United States and internationally as well. The goal: to eventually be number one brand in the nation in megawatt hours for solar tracking systems installed.

“We’re receiving almost daily requests from people to be our distributors,” said Ken Sexton, operations manager of Patriot Solar Group. “You need to install 100 to 200 kilowatt systems (to be ranked nationally); (Most of our systems) are 10 to 20 kilowatts. It’s better to have a whole lot of little guys—we want to spread it out.  The smaller scale we anticipate to be one of the largest.”

The group sells solar trackers ranging from horizontal to ground to pole-mount systems, which come in different sizes and are available on fixed stands or movable axises, as well as products from phone chargers to lamps. But Patriot specializes in the SunScout controllers, which allow the solar panels to track the sun across the sky, according to Ken Sexton, operations manager of Patriot Solar Group.

“It’s hard to find a company that has control and tracking,” Sexton said. “We use GPS algorithms to track the sun 100 percent of the time—it’s all designed in house.”

The solar controller can increase the efficiency of the solar tracker by up to 40 percent, depending on the type of solar tracker that is selected, Sexton said.

Sales for 2010 are expected to hit $1 million; the goal for 2011 is $6-7 million, $9-10 million for 2012 and $14-15 million for 2013.   The ultimate goal is $20 million or more in sales annually, according to Patriot Solar Group owner and president Jeff Mathie.

Formerly a subsidiary of Patriot Antenna Systems, which is owned by U.K.-based company Cobham, the Patriot Solar Group was formed two years ago when Mathie bought out Cobham’s interest in the solar component of the antenna systems. Mathie was also the original founder of Patriot Antenna Systems before selling the company to Cobham.

Patriot Antenna Systems, which had federal contracts from NASA, will close by the end of 2010 according to a Sept. 10 announcement from Cobham, which will result in job loss for 100 Albion-area residents.

Nor is the Patriot Solar Group alone in the solar energy industry, which is expanding nationwide. Numerous states, including Illinois and Pennyslvania have created incentives to residential or business owners who install solar panels.

“I think until really the point at which oil got to $140 per barrel, it missed that level of importance,” Mathie said. “As we move forward, you look at (the gulf oil spill and the Enbridge oil spill in Marshall). The gulf spill was 1,000 miles away, but Enbridge affected people that you know.”

On Oct. 2, Mathie and other company representatives will travel to their first solar show since their marketing plan and website were completed in July. The Anaheim, Calif.-based show, called Solar Power 2010,  expects to attract 30-50,000 people according to the show’s website.

“There’s many different opportunities to build products for the market, not only in the tracking and control business, but in any type of product on the market that can be adapted to solar,” Mathie said. “(And besides), I haven’t smelled any nasty smells from any solar trackers or had any contamination so far.”

Visit www.patriotsolargroup.com for more information.

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