Class notes: How-to

How to solarize your house

Adam Rizzo, JD ’03, Co-founder and President/CEO, Solar Liberty

Adam Rizzo became interested in solar energy while studying environmental law at UB’s law school. He graduated in 2003 and founded Solar Liberty with his brother Nathan (also a SUNY grad) that same year.

Five years later, the Williamsville, N.Y.-based firm was named the fastest-growing solar energy company in the U.S. by Inc. magazine. Today it has 50 employees and $25 million in revenues, and is the largest solar electric installer in New York State.

But the Rizzo brothers’ vision extends far beyond the state. Their company donates funding and equipment to the Solar Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to bring renewable energy to developing countries. “Most of us take electricity for granted,” Rizzo says. “But electricity poverty is one of the most devastating and easily solvable problems of our generation.”

We asked Rizzo for advice on harnessing the sun’s energy to power up our homes.

Illustration by Richard Faust

Illustration by Eric Hanson

Look up
Ideally, you want a south-facing roof with a good pitch and no shade obstructions. An east or west roof also will work. Solar panels can even be placed on the ground—if you have enough space.

Count your kilowatts
Look at the graph on your electric bill and find out what your kilowatt-hour (kwh) usage is each month. Add these numbers up to calculate your annual usage. This will help determine the number of panels you’ll need.

Get incentivized
State and federal incentives, including tax credits, are available for those who qualify. There’s also an up-front incentive from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) if you have a NYSERDA-certified installer put in your system.

Contact a reputable installer
You can find a list of certified installers at Most will come to your home and give you a full evaluation and a detailed proposal.

Sit back and relax
Solar systems are basically maintenance free. There are no moving parts. There are also warranties for the equipment and through the installer if anything goes wrong.

Don’t sweat the snow
You aren’t losing much when the panels are snow-covered. We take that into consideration when estimating the system’s production.