Sundance Solar Systems

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A conversation with Henry Dykema

Henry Dykema, owner of Sundance Solar Systems

In April 2016, MREA talked with Henry Dykema, owner of Sundance Solar Systems, about how he’s seen Montana’s solar industry change over the past 25 years.

How did you get into solar?
It had always been an interest of mine. I grew up back East, and one of my neighbors was solar pioneer Jeffrey Fowler, author of “The Evolution of an Independent Home.” I ended up getting a master’s degree in wildlife biology, but took several solar courses on the side. When my wife Barbara and I decided to move to Montana in 1992, we jumped into solar with both feet. We built our own off-grid solar home in Luther (near Red Lodge), where we’ve lived for 25 year now and raised two children. In 1994, we put out our shingle, and that was the beginning of Sundance Solar Systems.

An 80 kilowatt solar parking structure installed by Sundance Solar Systems

How has Montana’s solar industry changed since the 1990s?
In the ‘90s, there was no market yet for grid-tied solar, so we worked on a lot of off-grid projects. Since 1999, the year Montana’s net metering law was passed, the grid-tied market has grown year by year and now it dwarfs the off-grid market. The size of projects has increased too. At first, a 2 kilowatt project seemed big to me. Now I just finished installing an 80 kilowatt project in Fishtail, Montana. Altogether I’ve installed more than 1 megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) of solar over the years.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
First of all, I love the technology. It’s pretty cool that we’ve reached a point in my lifetime where we can generate energy directly from the sun and not have to wait millions of years for the dinosaurs to decompose into carbon-based fuel. Another thing I like is the opportunity to meet a wide range people that I would otherwise never meet. For instance, I’m working with a guy now who lives in a very remote part of Montana and has lived all his life without electricity. A lot of people have told me I should write a book about all the characters I meet doing this work. Maybe I will someday.

Why did you sign up as a Penny Per Watt Champion?
Because MREA is critically important. Having a venue where all of us in the renewable energy field can gather and put our heads together on all the various topics from policy to technology is absolutely critical, especially in a state like Montana where we’re all so spread out. And as a side note, it’s such an awesome group of people. I really like and respect all of the individuals. [Aw shucks, Henry, we like you too.]