CHOCTAW — Jim Stober got interested in the possibilities of solar energy a couple of years ago because his wife didn't want to swim in a cold pool.
Stober quickly settled on a solar-powered heat exchanger, which harnesses the sun's energy to regulate the water temperature in the pool.
“It's free to use,” he said. “Once you pay for the system, it doesn't cost you anything.”
Stober didn't stop there, putting 30 photovoltaic panels on his roof to help cut his electricity costs. He also uses solar panels to run a hot water heater and attic vent. He even put up a wind turbine in his backyard, although the wind potential east of Interstate 35 is minimal.
Along the way, Stober started selling solar and wind systems on the side. He made Advanced Solar and Wind Technologies LLC a full-time venture when he retired as a district manager with truck stop company Pilot Flying J.
Stober opened his Choctaw home Saturday as part of the National Solar Tour, an annual event hosted by the American Solar Energy Society to demonstrate the benefits of solar technology. The tour included more than 500 locations nationwide. Stober said he had about a half-dozen people stop by, about the same as last year.
Stober said solar is not a big deal in Oklahoma, which has long been an oil and natural gas state, but he is doing his best to raise its profile.
He set up a booth last month at the Oklahoma State Fair, where he passed out hundreds of brochures and business cards. Most people were put off by the price of solar panels, which can cost $20,000 or more — even with a federal tax credit.
“The cost is what really gets everybody,” he said.
Stober expects to drum up more business in January at the Oklahoma City Home and Garden Show.
He said solar customers are people who can afford to spend money to cut down on their utility costs, but solar panels will not provide them with free electricity.
“If that was true, everybody would be doing it,” Stober said.
Still, solar and other renewable energy sources can help stave off rising electricity prices. Stober said prices typically go up about 5 percent a year.
Solar panels have a 30-year warranty, so they are a long-term investment to offset higher energy prices.
Solar is a simple technology, he said. “The beauty of solar is there's no moving parts,” he said, unlike mechanical devices such as wind turbines.