Solar Panel Store Opening in the Ville

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Three guys who met on the Schuylkill River Exiles Rugby Team recently decided to use their diverse skills to make a difference in the world of renewable energy. Their new solar panel store, Open Sky Energy Systems, is slated to open its doors to the town of Swarthmore on September 29.

Ben Williams, Joe Coyle, and Michael Matotek’s new business, nestled on Dartmouth Avenue between Vicky’s Place and the Swarthmore Food Co-op, will design and install solar panel systems for home and commercial use. Its conception has been in the works for quite some time, and its opening has been preceded by quite a bit of conversation and research.

“Mike and I have been talking about this for quite awhile. There’s all sorts of problems in the news… wherever you want to look about oil prices and electrical prices and fossil fuels and nuclear plants. We talked about it quite a bit, and finally Mike’s like, ‘Why don’t we do a company to do solar power?’” said Williams, the company’s Chief Technology Officer.

Out of all types of renewable energy sources the company chose solar panels because they are the most practical to sell. They require less capital investment and engineering work than other alternatives, such as biofuel and ocean wave power. All construction work on solar panels is done in a factory, and engineering is only required to put an individual system together.

Solar panels also proved to be an appropriate choice for the new company because the founders’ diverse backgrounds create the perfect “symbiosis,” as Williams termed it, for selling, installing, and designing solar panel systems. Williams is a Computer Engineering major from the University of Pennsylvania, giving him the engineering expertise necessary for the operation. Matotek, the Chief Operating Officer, and Coyle, the Vice President of Business Development, both share a construction and business background that allows them to handle the business and the physical installation aspects of the new company.

With each person fulfilling a particular niche, and partnerships with local construction companies, the company will remain a three man operation for at least six months.

The store itself also has a specific niche to fill. Although factories can produce solar panels and general contractors can slap them on a roof, Open Sky aims to bridge the gap between the factories and the consumers. “We find a lot of people aren’t really well informed about solar and the different options. One of the biggest questions that people have is the difference between solar thermal and solar photovoltaic,” said Matotek.

The difference? Solar thermal uses the energy from the sun to heat water, allowing consumers to use hot water or hot air directly from heating coils. This reduces the amount of natural gas used in a household. Solar photovoltaic, on the other hand, is a replacement or supplement for electricity use in the household. Open Sky sells both.

The entire store space will be devoted to literature that provides answers to these types of questions. There will also be a flat screen monitor showing the way that panels are installed.

The door to the space has only been open for about a week, but many passers-by have been wandering in and out. “We’ve already had three customers walk in saying ‘I want to do it,” said Coyle. Coyle and Matotek have already done one home assessment for a potential customer.

But some of the other visitors have just been curious members of the community, from Swarthmorean reporters to local business owners. This warm welcome has been gratefully received. “I told these guys that Swarthmore would be a great place to base our business, but I didn’t expect it to be this good,” said Matotek, who is from around this area.

With such a promising beginning, the owners were eager to talk about their future plans. They hope to move on to other types of renewable energy and to work with members of the Swarthmore college community.

“Because we are local here in Swarthmore and right across from the college, I think in the future we would love to work with the college, whether it be helping out with internship opportunities, or if Swarthmore has any ideas about doing solar we’d love to work with the college and help out with that as well,” said Coyle.


  1. That’s really exciting. The prescence of the store should definitely encourage/make people think about using solar panels on their homes and thus, save on their electricity bills! Plus, it would be an example of renewable energy that’s tangible, and Earthlust could use the store’s presence to help raise awareness about using solar energy.

  2. This awesome. The prescence of Open Sky in Swarthmore will hopefully encourage people to learn about and raise awareness about the benefits of solar panels . . . the least of which is saving money on electrical bills!
    Open Sky and Earthlust should get together and create a campaign to educate inhabitants of the College, Swarthmore Borough, and visitors to Swarthmore about the benefits of solar power.

  3. This is great! I’m sure some of the professors, students and staff here at the College are already thinking of ways to collaborate with Open Sky to get some solar panels at Swarthmore!

  4. This sounds intense. I look forward to being able to install this in my room. Hopefully they won’t generate so much heat that they’ll melt something.

    I’d also be interested if they were to design solar panels that gave off a colored, neon-ish light.

    Haha, and BAM! In your FACE winter chill

  5. What the hell was the point of those two identical comments? Are they going to feed my laudanum addiction? Are they going to give me access to trashy Victorian prostitutes? I don’t bloody well think they are.

  6. Directions from Route 76 or PA Turnpike and a telelphone number would be helpful. I heard about you on “Talk of the Nation, Science Friday” on September 26th. I’ve been waiting for folks like you to get into business. Good Luck!

  7. I think people are underestimating how much solar panels cost when they ask for room installment. I guess we’ll find out.

    Also, this is great, but what Swarthmore town really needs is a WaWa within walking distance. Essentially everything that’s wrong with the town and the college, and in my opinion it’s not much, would be remedied by having a place to get fast, medium-quality food at 3:00 am, at any level of intoxication. A WaWa is the one thing Haverford has over us.

  8. Looking at some of the comments, people out there really don’t know much about solar. We’ve been doing it in California for decades; our abundant sunshine and large subsidies make it much more cost effective, but still a large investment – more than most of you will ever spend on a car. Stick with grid-tied, roof mounted PV systems (sometimes ground mount on more rural properties – but remember you need to transmit the electricity to the structure, so the further away the array the more expensive and less efficient the system). Good luck… better vote Obama, look at his record on solar (all renewables) compared with McCain… forget what they say, research how they have voted!

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