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.