Local News

Green business trying to grow against slumping economy

Posted March 7, 2009 6:43 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 8:57 a.m. EDT

— As many individuals and businesses look to reduce costs, some fear "green businesses" could struggle. That's not stopping a recently retired New Yorker, though.

Eco-friendly products often cost more, and making structures more energy efficient comes with expenses. However, Markus Wilhelm is pursuing his goal of an economy driven by renewable-energy sources.

"I moved to North Carolina to retire and play golf, which I did for approximately six weeks,” Markus Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm and some other entrepreneurs opened Solar Tech South, 1119 US 15-501 South in Chapel Hill, last month. The company sells solar energy systems for residential and commercial use.

A solar system uses the energy of the sun. There are two basic kinds of solar systems: photovoltaic systems use sunlight to generate electricity, while thermal solar systems use sunlight to heat water. Solar Tech South offers both

Wilhelm says he is often reminded about how risky a new business venture can be during a recession. But he says going green is the right thing to do, in good economic times or bad.

"I had to face that question a few times over the last couple of months. But we believe it's a really good idea,” Wilhelm said.

"Greenness is kind of a luxury thing,” said Dr. Daniel Phaneuf, associate professor of agricultural and resource economics at North Carolina State University.

Phaneuf says demand for green products is slumping.

"It's something you do when you have the money. But when you have to worry about food on your table and a roof over your head, you're unlikely to care that much,” Phaneuf said.

Phaneuf says he believes the green industry will grow as the overall economy improves. However, he warns that environmentally friendly solutions are not always the cheapest.

"Those are discussions we need to have in the open and, as a society, come to some agreement on what the right balance is,” Phaneuf said.

The cost for a solar system varies. There are numerous tax benefits and energy buyback programs to help fray the expense, Wilhelm said.

"The commitment to energy preservation and conservation is still out there," he said. "Nobody can predict the future, but I'm confident that our business model has a really, really good chance of success."