You don’t have to go to the cities
for extreme solar expertise.
The industry’s highest certification
Curt, the owner of Solar Connection, has been certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), the solar installer “gold standard” certification.
In addition to passing a grueling technical exam, certificate holders commit to upholding a strict ethical and professional code. All complaints filed against NABCEP-certified solar installers are investigated, and only companies found to have acted ethically and professionally maintain their certifications.
The region’s oldest solar installer
Founded in 2010, Solar Connection is the oldest and most experienced solar installer in Southeastern Minnesota. We have more solar installations in the region than any other solar company.
How did we get here, you ask?
The Solar Connection story begins in the 1980’s when owner Curt Shellum, a Minnesota native developing new blood tests for the Mayo Clinic, decided to go out of state to pursue a graduate degree in analytical chemistry.
“I went to the University of Colorado, which is in Boulder. That’s also where you find the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, so it’s kind of a hub of research on atmospheric chemistry—chemistry of the environment. That’s not specifically what I was studying, but I happened to have a class on atmospheric chemistry that was superb, that was my adviser’s field, and there were a lot of opportunities to hear talks by renowned scientists.”
Curt’s college days in Boulder
“At the time I was there, they were just starting to model some of the concerns of carbon build up and some of those things. We talked about how energy policy could possibly advance to make use of this information, but it turns out that no one really cared. Flash forward 30 years, and there’s more concern now because we are seeing exactly everything that was predicted in the 1970s and 80s happening to a T: pronounced impact in the arctic and Antarctic regions; sea level rising; altered circulation patterns in the ocean; altered circulation patterns on land masses. It’s all inconvenient, unfortunately, because we’re just creatures of habit and we don’t really like to change. But scientists, seeing this trajectory, were concerned. We knew that scientifically we needed to look into this. The atmosphere is not something you want to mess around with.”
Chart from a 1981 paper projecting global warming with uncanny accuracy
After getting his Ph.D., Curt worked for twenty years in the medical field. Then, in the 2000s, he started thinking about striking out on his own.
“I started thinking about whether I could do something in the field of energy. I guess I’ve always been an energy nerd. Everyone has certain things that are part of their DNA, and that has been one of mine. Now, rather than just being interested in things such as solar energy or wind energy as something fun to read about, I could actually make it part of my career as a solar installer. At the time, California was already building up the solar industry, and it was advancing a little on the East coast, too. Some money was starting to flow into manufacturing ideas and technology. It was just starting to become real.
“I read up on the renewable energy sector and pretty rapidly decided to pursue solar. For a couple years I read every issue of ‘Solar Today’ and ‘Home Power’ cover to cover and it got me excited about the field.
“At the time, there weren’t a lot of training opportunities for solar installers. Now you can enroll in a college program, but not then. So I had to piece together a week here and a week there in Wisconsin, Colorado or anywhere I could find it. I’d buy any solar books I could find and spent some time each day reading.
Curt’s collection of Solar Pro and Home Power magazines
“Then I connected with a company in the Twin Cities which, at the time, was one of the bigger of the small solar installers. I proposed, ‘Why don’t we open something in Rochester?’ He liked the idea, so I did sales and managed installations. In 2009 I got the NABCEP certification, the national board for solar, both photovoltaic and thermal.
“I would have been content working with them, but at the time the solar industry wasn’t well enough developed and the communication just wasn’t there. I liked the people, but it wasn’t moving forward like I had hoped, so when I was up for contract renewal, I started working on my own, instead.”
Solar Connection’s first customer was Squash Blossom Farm, known in the region for its wood-fired pizza and live music events each summer. The deal was struck just as the federal solar tax incentives were slated to expire, so Curt and his team of solar installers worked through sub-zero temperatures and freezing rain.
Curt’s first solar installation, which apparently involved a cow
Despite the weather, the project was a success, so Curt took his first step toward building an in-house team, starting with Micah Johnson, whom he knew as a fellow musician in Rochester’s Swing Street jazz band.
“I got some training in electrical engineering while I was in college, and so I had always believed that there are smarter, better ways to get our energy—ways that won’t give our children asthma or pollute our water,” Micah says. “Once, on our way to a gig, Curt and I had talked about how great it would be to start a solar company. He beat me to it, so now I work for him.
“He said he could give me maybe 15 hours a week, and I’ve been full-time-plus ever since.”
Curt at his solar-powered home with his solar-powered car
Solar Connection’s roster of clients and employees has grown steadily ever since with the majority of our business coming through referrals from happy customers. We have had to move offices twice to accommodate our growth, and we are beginning to embark on larger-scale community education outreach so that more people in the region will be able to reap the financial and environmental benefits solar offers.
“I really like the simplicity and robust nature of solar equipment: the sun shines—energy is produced,” Curt says. “So that’s the direction I went. It’s really a commitment to a direction I would like to see our whole country moving—more awareness of energy use, energy efficiency and renewable energy. This is my little part. My dream would be that, in our little piece of the state here, solar energy becomes mainstream thought—part of what we need for our infrastructure, as opposed to an esoteric, off-the-way thing. I hope it all leads to that.”