Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Tired of high power bills? Then renewable solar energy just might be what you're looking for.

Joe Thomas, president of Mage Solar USA, one of the country's top manufacturers and distributors of renewable energy products, urged a packed house at the Albany Civic Center Tuesday that now is the time to catch up with Europe and begin moving toward solar power.

"Now is the time to begin thinking about getting off the grid and becoming generators of power rather than just consumers," Thomas said during a solar power discussion group at the arena. "Yes, the upfront costs are steep, and it takes an average of around 10 years to see the return on your investment. But after that, it's free energy."

The German company, whose American arm is based in Dublin, markets its solar equipment on a technology known as "photovoltaics," or PV, which is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity.

"PV is an emerging energy market in the United States," Thomas said. "We've seen a 26 percent growth in the technology from last year. That is a dramatic rise, and solar is becoming more and more mainstream around the country. It's reliable, it works, it's safe and clean, and it saves money in the long run.

"And we have plenty of sunshine in Georgia."

Thomas said Georgia, much like most of the Deep South, lags behind the reset of the nation in regard to renewable energy. The state, he said, currently ranks 31st among the 50 states in renewable energy production.

Most of that energy is used in manufacturing with just a sliver being used in residential.

"As I said earlier, the upfront costs are fairly steep. But it is an investment," Thomas said. "Yet there are funds available through ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) that can make the technology affordable now.

"That's a major reason our company decided to come to America now."

He urged the crowd to become generators, rather than just consumers, of electricity.

"If you decide to go off the grid, you can become a generator of power," Thomas said. "Even if you aren't home, you are still generating power and can get credit for that excess power from the power company. Your power meter will actually run backwards.

"But make sure you understand what you are dealing with in regard to installation, rebates and tax advantages. Solar power is here to stay, and Georgia is moving in that direction."