A Solar Pioneer: How Renewable Energy Leader Ted Walsh Has Helped Keep Marin at the Forefront of the Solar Industry

When Ted Walsh is asked what he does for a living, he modestly replies, ‘I sell sunshine.’ When pressed further, he will eventually say that he’s in the solar industry, which doesn’t even begin to hint at the impact he’s made in the field in Marin County and beyond. 

Solar Craft

Walsh has been one of the driving forces in the solar industry for nearly two decades and was a partner and CEO of Novato-based SolarCraft, the largest locally based solar provider in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties. Before joining SolarCraft in 2017, Walsh led two of the nation’s largest solar companies and has worked with and for many of the largest companies and solar manufactures in the world. 

Quietly leading by example, Walsh lives in an eco-friendly, solar-powered house in Fairfax with his wife and two school-aged children, whose middle names are (appropriately) Sunshine and Wind. Read on to learn how Walsh’s dedication to the solar industry and our local community has helped keep Marin at the forefront of renewable energy and evolve the industry from its grassroots beginning to one that now employs more people in the U.S. than the fossil-fuel power generating industry.

Mickey Nelson (MN): What are your favorite things about living in Marin?

Ted Walsh (TW): The people and the natural beauty are my favorite parts of Marin. I like that some of the most intelligent, creative and competitive people in the world live here, doing everything from farming to high tech to the arts to renewable energy. And of course, I love the California sunshine. 

Marin Country Club in Novato’ SolarCraft client: ground mount and solar parking canopies. Photo by Kim Burnett.

MN: Many of our readers have kids. How does the environmental movement in Marin impact how these kids are raised and what they know?

TW: The children growing up in Marin are being directly impacted by mankind’s devastating effects on the environment — from the wildfires and toxic air quality to emissions from local power stations and oil refineries to pollution making its way all the way from China. They’re experiencing a global problem firsthand. But they’re also living in Marin, one of the most inspiring and environmentally conscious communities in the world. I love that they see solar on so many rooftops, on their homes and on their schools; they see more Electric Vehicles (EV) per capita than anywhere and live in forward-looking communities that were the first to ban the use single-use plastic bags in the entire country! Marin hosts so many important eco-events every year. Our community is also the first to launch local green energy power companies like MCE and is home to the editor of one of the most important books on the environment, Drawdown. So, our kids are seeing it all — the urgent need for change and also positive action and environmental leadership. My hope is certainly that Marin kids come to understand this level of environmental responsibility and action as normal and necessary and go on to be environmental leaders in their communities and the world.  

Charging up from the sun at Marin Country Club in Novato’ SolarCraft client. Photo by Kim Burnett.

MN: Is your primary motivation to fight climate change?

TW: I’ve never liked that term, ‘climate change.’ It’s an oversimplification of what we’re doing to the planet. I know the Guardian and other media outlets are transitioning to the term ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate emergency,’ but whatever it is, it’s not just about the climate. 

MN: You managed to say that without sounding angry.

TW: It’s a reality. It’s frustrating to dwell on it, but anger doesn’t help. Anger only motivates me for very short periods. I think optimism is what keeps people engaged for the long term. We’re making progress — renewable energy, electric vehicles, sustainable buildings and much more. Working in the solar industry now feels like being a key part of a much larger shift in the economy than when I first started — it’s all starting to connect.   

On the solar-covered roof of Hospice-by-the-Bay in Larkspur’ SolarCraft client. Photo by Kim Burnett.

MN: In 2007, you helped Marin gain national recognition for clean energy adoption by executing the GoSolarMarin program. Why was that important?

TW: At the time, GoSolarMarin was the largest community purchase of solar in the country — well over 100 homeowners went solar together. It was a public-private partnership. Homeowners throughout Marin organized to negotiate for the best price and value for solar, and I led the solar industry side, helping our team execute their vision, creating best pricing and custom systems for every home and ultimately installing the systems. It was an exciting project, and I was proud that Marin took such an important and early leadership position in renewable energy. 

MN: In 2014, your work in solar was recognized by the Obama administration, correct? 

TW: Yes. My team had developed some solar projects for Taylor Farms and other leading agricultural firms in California. It was a little surreal to get a call from the White House, and it was great to help my clients receive the recognition they deserved. 

MN: Are there any solar projects that you wish you’d been able to do? 

TW: I proposed to put solar on the White House during the Obama administration. I didn’t win that one, but it was probably for the best. I was once on a roof down the street from the White House and asked a facility manager about a large container-like structure on the roof. Turns out it was a guided missile launcher. I backed up slowly and ‘no bid’ that one. 

MN: So, is it now or never to go solar in Marin?

TW: Never say never. But it’s always been true — people should go solar, as soon as they can, while they can. The utilities and fossil fuel industry have more power and money than anyone and a huge financial interest to keep control of how we use power. So, don’t take it for granted or trust it will always get better or wait for the perfect time. The perfect time to take action is always right now, right where you are. Find a company you trust, meet someone in person, pay for quality, and protect your investment by owning the system. If you’re so inclined, use the money you save from solar to buy an EV or for your next sustainability project!

ted walsh solar power
Photo by Robert Arnold, a SolarCraft employee.

MN: Why is it so important that Marin and the North Bay be environmental leaders? 

TW: Marin, California and the entire country has to lead because we have the most to lose, and the most to gain. Many communities hardest hit by environmental disasters and pollution live in poor conditions and don’t have the means or the power to change their circumstance. We’re fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world, but also in one of the most expensive, competitive communities in the country. Many of the most innovative and successful people and companies in the world are right here, living and working through these wildfires and droughts, breathing toxic air and dealing with other natural disasters. I really believe that Marin and the North Bay have the financial means, the resilient mindset and the life-safety need to solve this and set an example that other communities can follow. 

This interview originally ran in the December 2021 issue of Kentfield & Ross Living.

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Mickey Nelson is a longtime book editor living in the Kentfield/Ross area of Marin County. She has worked in the editorial department of the San Francisco Chronicle, a number of reputable magazines and two book publishing houses. She now edits Kentfield & Ross Living magazine, as well as tutors in writing and reading.