Solar panel installation. Photo courtesy of Raycycle.

Though a quick look out of any Western Pennsylvania window might not immediately make you think of solar power, Adam Smith, CEO and co-founder of Raycycle, says the potential is here.

As Pittsburghers know, we get about 160 sunny days per year. Though solar production is higher on sunny days, solar cells work on cloudy days as well. And, because not all UV rays are blocked on cloudy days, people can still get sunburned

“When you think of solar, you think of California and Arizona — the Southwest,” Smith says. “There’s a diminishing return, though. When the temperature gets above 88 degrees, the panels don’t work as effectively.”

The average Pittsburgh temperature in July, the hottest month of the year, is 83.5 degrees, making solar a viable option for the region all year long.

Raycycle, based in McMurray, provides solar energy solutions for residential and commercial clients. The team tackles the entire process, from the design of the solar model through installation. 

Smith spent the last 20 years in risk management and insurance before starting Raycycle with COO Justin Tennant in 2021.

Raycycle prides itself on being a minority-owned, veteran-owned business. Smith is half-Korean and an Iraq combat army veteran.

Tennant has a business management background and has started several companies, including Surgical Product Solutions, which helps customers recover significant budget costs by purchasing unused surplus. 

He grew up in Weirton, a small steel town in West Virginia.

“We’re local,” Smith says. “A lot of these solar companies are from California or South Carolina. We’re kind of late adopters in Pittsburgh because of our latitude and the number of cloudy days we have.”

After an initial consultation, Raycycle completes an assessment of the building’s structure, including roof condition, pitch, style and type as well as electricity costs, usage and energy backup. 

Then comes the sun and shade analysis to help determine the number of panels needed and the design of the array. 

“Solar is not meant for everyone,” Smith says. “If you have a bunch of trees obstructing your roof or have tall buildings beside you, it may not work. We take an individual approach to everybody. You may have strictly money motivations or to be a better steward of the earth. But solar appeals to so many different people.”

Solar panel installation. Photo courtesy of Raycycle.

Raycycle works with manufacturers to ensure efficient systems and to maximize power production. The company will also help with applying for federal and state tax credits, as well as financing.

Once the installation is scheduled, Raycyle applies for construction permits and utility net metering with the client’s utility company.

Raycycle also completes a cost-benefit analysis prior to the installation to ensure solar will perform better than electricity from the grid. The goal is for the system to pay for itself within five to seven years. 

“It’s not just one of those things where we’re going to go in and put a dent in your bill,” Smith says. “We can offset the majority, if not all the customer’s bill, using renewable energy in the power of the sun, something that’s never going away.”

Ethan Woodfill

A Pittsburgh native, Ethan is a freelance journalist interested in telling the stories of people doing great things to build community and sustainability. Ethan served as Editor-in-Chief of Allegheny College's newspaper, The Campus.