It may seem impossible, but it’s true — your electric meter really can run backwards.
It’s not sorcery, it’s solar power, and it’s available right here in Daviess County, thanks to a Whitesville company called Driven Solar.
Founded by Clint and Brandi Merritt, the company installs ground-mounted and roof-mounted solar panels for both residential and commercial customers. When Clint Merritt puts in a solar system, he ties it directly into the customer’s existing electricity grid. On sunny days when the solar panels are converting lots of sunlight to electricity, the system powers the household and then pushes the excess electricity it produces into the electric grid.
The homeowners can then use this excess when they need electricity during cloudy days and at night, allowing the meter to run backwards. Merritt said most households start seeing reduced electric bills immediately.
Every solar panel installation is different, but with most installations, it takes the customer seven or eight years to fully recover the cost of the installation. Some of the cost can be offset by the Solar Investment Tax Credit that allows citizens to deduct 30 percent of the project total from their federal taxes.
Merritt is a 34-year old Whitesville native who graduated from Western Kentucky University with an electrical engineering degree. After he and his wife moved back to Whitesville, he began working as an engineer making airbag inflators at Daicel in Beaver Dam. About five years ago, he installed solar panels on his own house and also found used equipment to make it more affordable.
He continued doing solar installations on the side, and last year became certified to install solar projects through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). That certification gives him the experience and credibility he needs to build confidence with customers and the energy companies he works with.
This May, Merritt quit his job at Daicel to go full-time with Driven. He and his wife run the business with a few part-time employees, but he plans to hire one or two full-time team members after the first of the year to help design and install the solar systems.
“The strength of our growth has been a happy customer telling the next customer,” he said.
He has done about 30 installations in Daviess County, and the cost averages roughly $10,000 to $20,000 per job.
In addition to residential and commercial applications, Merritt said solar works well for off-grid cabins, pole barns and grain bins where a minimal amount of power is needed for a limited time. On a grain bin, for example, “It (the electric meter) runs backward most of the year,” he said.
Installing a solar system requires a permit, inspection and approval from the Owensboro Metropolitan Planning Commission as well as from the customer’s electric company. Merritt said Driven handles all of the permitting and approval process for the customer.
Driven covers a service area that includes southern Indiana and western Kentucky. Merritt said his location allows him to quote projects lower than companies that come in from out of town because he doesn’t have to add travel fees.
Merritt has always had an interest in solar power – he used to make iPhone chargers from solar cells in college. He also worked in college doing roofing and construction, which prepared him well to install rooftop solar panels. “It all just worked out perfectly,” he said.
He plans to be part of the solar industry long-term, so he will be around to support customers even after their installations. Maintenance is minimal, but he is working on packages to provide that service as well.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar power is booming in the United States. There are now more than 1.8 million solar installations in the U.S., with a new project installed every 100 seconds in 2018. The cost to install solar has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2010, and more than 250,000 Americans work in the solar industry which generates a $17 billion investment in the American economy.
Merritt is betting that investment continues, and he wants everyone to take advantage. “I’m trying to make a full career out of this,” he said, “and make it affordable for everybody.”