An Interview with Anthony Stoppiello, Passive Solar Architect & Former Solar Oregon President
By Winnie Leung
Of his many roles in the green movement, Anthony Stoppiello has not played the part of a silent observer. As a passive solar architect for 40 years working throughout Oregon, Washington, California, and Wyoming, Anthony was one of the founders of the original organization of what is Solar Oregon today, became president of Solar Oregon in the 1990s, and now teaches an accredited 13-week class at a community college on green building. Anthony has made his mark on many Northwest roofs. Here he shares his side of the solar story, including what he sees has triggered the activity in the Northwest solar field and his answer for whether the Northwest states are sunny enough for solar.
How did you get into the green industry?
When I went to Arizona State University’s School of Architecture, I was inspired by professors John Yellot and Jeff Cook to learn about solar energy and passive solar homes. I was licensed in Oregon in 1978, and started a group called Solar Sun with some peers. We held workshops, ran a library, and taught how to build solar green houses. My whole career has been around sun tempering and solar energy.
Green building and solar are obviously very closely tied to each other and you’re in the perfect position to talk about how they are so.
“Green” has become as broad and general a term as “sustainability.” Few people actually think about what it means anymore. In the simplest way of speaking, in order to have a green building, you have to incorporate some form of solar, active or passive. Beyond the energy aspect, it gets more complicated, like reusing onsite building material such as used timber, toxin-free building material, and sourcing material that creates as little waste as possible.
Through the years, what has motivated you to stay in the industry?
There is great satisfaction for those of us who have been doing it for 30 years to see the industry evolve and grow to a point it’s almost mainstream now. Now we need to go even deeper, and find ways to do things more ecologically.
Another draw is the people, those sharing the same ideology connecting and pursuing the same goal.
And then of course it’s my ethics and interest in the subject. The book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” has inspired me greatly. We are all crewmembers of Spaceship Earth and all of us share the task to protect the environment. You can’t design a building and not think about the waste associated with it. If we all think about the environment and our roles, we’ll get somewhere.
Supporting the environment is a personal mission. What is it like to align your career with a personal mission?
It gets very intimate. The construction industry is horribly slow to change. Oftentimes, I find myself shouting: “Come on guys! We were talking about this technology with our clients back in 1975!” You get tired and sometimes energized as well.
What are the biggest milestones that you recall as far as solar in Oregon is concerned?
Oregon has a series of overlay land use laws to minimize urban sprawl. This sort of thinking made it a fertile ground for the whole green movement. When we moved to Oregon in the 1970s, a lot of other small industry associations like ours had no government support. In the early 90s, the green building council started and things came alive. But I think it was really the land use law that set the stage for people to think about ecology, including solar, organic food and recycling.
Some people are concerned that there is not enough sunlight in Oregon or in the Pacific Northwest. I suppose that’s a question that frequently arises in your work too. How do you respond to them?
In Pacific Northwest, we have to deal with cloud cover, even though the sun is always available as an energy resource. Statistics show that there is as much sunshine annually here as Florida. We can’t go completely off-grid with solar in Oregon because the winter weather won’t allow it. But it’s a matter of creating an environment to make solar work for you because it’s good for all of us. Isn’t getting 80% from the sun better than 0%? If you understand the weather, you can make solar work for you.
How do you describe the state of the solar industry in the Northwest today?
It’s great, but it’s come a long way. On the education side, a lot of universities and community colleges offer renewable technology programs and courses to help people get trained and certified. A number of manufacturers are thriving, including makers of inverters and solar water heaters. The industry itself has definitely become more bureaucratic but it’s because it’s grown to become more mainstream, which is a good thing.
Readers of Solar Oregon’s material include people looking for work in the industry. Any advice for the job hunter looking for a career in the solar field?
Figure out what you like to do, then find a way to do it. If you want to learn solar architecture, see Portland Community College or University of Oregon. If you want to work for a utility company or a manufacturer, get educated about their activities. If you want to be an installer of solar systems, there's training at Lane Community College and Oregon Institute of Technology. If money is your motivator, there are opportunities in the solar field. The economy downturn is putting some pressure on finding work but I think the prospects are still there.
Tell us about Solar Energy Association of Oregon, the organization of what is Solar Oregon today.
It all started with a solar industry organization called Portland Sun through which we organized occasional gatherings for solar folks from all around the state to catch up about solar-related topics. When the funding for it went away, some of us decided it was an important mission to keep alive. So that’s when we formed Solar Energy Association of Oregon, which became a chapter of American Solar Energy Society in the 1980s. We hosted educational programs and networking events.
What was the organization like then and can you talk a bit about the differences and similarities?
The groups were smaller but the kinds of work were very similar to Solar Oregon’s today. I think Solar Oregon has become a lot more sophisticated, with a deeper understanding of the industry. What hasn’t changed is the strong emphasis on education and the passion for a shared mission.