Greening the Northside: Underwood Solar Future


Each month The Northside Chronicle will feature a profile of a green business. This month: Underwood Solar Future.

Left: Underwood Solar Future employees install solar panels on a roof in Williamsport, Pa. (Photo courtesy Underwood Solar Future)

Northsider Fred Underwood is helping build Pittsburgh’s reputation as a city committed to sustainable energy.

As president and CEO of Underwood Solar Future, Underwood believes in solar energy and strives to provide affordable solar panel installation for his customers.

With utility companies like Duquesne Light raising their monthly rates, the installation of a solar energy system gives the consumer more energy independence as well as helps lower the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Underwood said.

“Solar energy is the future,” he said. “People are sick of getting taken advantage by traditional energy companies, and solar energy is the solution to the problem.

“The government’s 30 percent tax rebate on solar-panel energy systems along with state grants can save the customer up to 65 percent off the cost of installation.”

Before 2008 it was extremely difficult to install a solar-panel energy system in businesses or homes because of the high prices. Without the rebates many businesses and residents that wanted to convert to solar systems were unable to do so because of the expense.

Without government grants and incentives, Underwood said he would have a harder time promoting and installing solar-panel systems.

Underwood constantly travels the country to stay informed about the changes occurring in the solar energy field. While photovoltaics, the scientific term for a solar charged battery, has been around since 1873, a lot has changed since then.

“I go to meetings all over the place to get up to date information. Solar technology is improving daily, and I want my business to be on the forefront of that technology,” Underwood said.

After watching a news conference on television about the importance of sustainable energy in Pennsylvania in 2006, led by then-Governor Ed Rendell, Underwood was certain that solar-panel technology would be a huge part of Pennsylvania’s energy future.

With a background in electronics from his service in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, Underwood saw a bright opportunity in the solar energy business.

In 2007 and 2008, The U.S. Department of Energy named Pittsburgh one of the country’s 25 Solar America Cities after the city pledged to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2023.

This inspired Luke Ravenstahl to make sustainable energy an imperative part of his plan to make Pittsburgh a more environmentally responsible city. Underwood Solar Future is one business that is helping the city achieve its goal to “green” Pittsburgh.

While Pittsburgh may not seem like a great place for solar energy because of its cold, overcast weather during much of the year, Underwood explained that the region’s average 4.5 hours of daily sunshine is more than enough.

This summer Underwood and his team installed a 900-panel solar energy system outside of Pittsburgh for The Yoder Group in Williamsport. The Yoder Group contracted Underwood Solar Future for a $1.4 million system that produces enough electricity to cover the company’s monthly utility bill.

While the installation process for this summer’s project was meant to take a month and a half to complete, Underwood and his team were able to finish the project in three weeks.

“I train my employees like the military trained me, through education and repetition. When we started working on the project this summer, it was no surprise how efficiently we worked as a team,” he said.

Not only is Underwood helping the environment through his solar energy business, he is helping the residents of the Northside community.

In a partnership with Green Jobs — Northside!, an employment service offered by the Northside Leadership Conference, Underwood hires Northsiders who need employment training work for his company.

“They learn something, they do something, that they have never done before. I’m proud to be a part of that process,” he said.

Underwood is currently in negotiations with Edinboro University, located 30 minutes outside the city, to help convert its campus to a solar energy system. He is also planning a project to convert a home in Mount Lebanon to a solar energy system similar to the one he has on his own Northside home.

“I don’t have a monthly utility bill anymore. How can you argue with that?” Underwood said.

Ethan G. Cohen was born and raised in Philadelphia. He is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in English Literature and Philosophy and currently interns with The Northside Chronicle.

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