In a converted warehouse at the Solar Source company headquarters in Largo, president and solar technology contractor Wayne Wallace is training his competition.
He calls his endeavor the Solar Source University.
And while dozens of electricians, building inspectors and contractors have signed up for classes at this 7-month-old institution to learn about all things solar, like how to market sunshine, Wallace said the more competitors in the field, the merrier. These days, there's plenty of business to go around.
"It's almost unfathomable, really," Wallace said. "We're having a hard time keeping up with orders. Our phones are ringing off the hook."
For Wallace and Solar Source, the market for solar tech, such as electricity-generating photovoltaic panels and sun-powered water heaters, has been shining. The company expects sales to more than double this year from $4.5-million to $10-million, and the employee count to swell from about 40 to 80.
And Wallace, who has been in the industry since 1984, said the solar future in Florida is just beginning to rise.
"We've been fueling a rocket ship," Wallace said. "And it's about to take off."
While the solar power industry in the state and across the country is tiny as a percentage of total electricity generation — less than 1 percent — its growth has skyrocketed in recent years, spurred on by high energy prices and changing attitudes toward the environment.
Nationwide, investment in the solar industry has grown more than 40 percent every year since 2000, and venture capital investment, a telltale sign of a potentially hot product, tripled to more than $1-billion between 2006 and 2007, according to a report released this month by researcher Clean-Edge.
"I think that Florida is the next big solar market," said Bob Reedy, director of the Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida. "It's a sleeping lion that is just waking."
Dominick Tao can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8751.