Pika Energy operated out of Ben Polito’s basement until one year ago. The company’s roots stretch even further back, with its true beginning in 2010, when Polito, company president, and Joshua Kaufman cofounded the company with support from local Maine investors. Now, Pika employs 10 people and is housed in a small commercial facility in Portland, Maine. Pika began to install turbines in the spring of 2014.
“We built a turbine suitable to power an energy-efficient home and we use the wind in combination with solar panels in a microgrid or hybrid energy system, which give you benefits from both the wind and the solar, to give more even power throughout the year and the day,” said Polito. “It’s important to have a steady flow of power, so the hybrid does a better job than either source by itself could do.”
Pika Energy is part of an even bigger movement revolving around the consumer and energy’s future. Until a few years ago, American manufacturing was viewed as a dying industry. Now, it’s still early, but Pika Energy is part of the change to bring jobs not only back to America, but to rural areas. “It’s still challenging, but people are seeing with the right, high-tech product that requires sophisticated manufacturing and top-quality people doing the work, responsive to the market, domestic-based United States manufacturing is in the early stages of what looks like a rebound,” said Polito.
A perfect fit for Maine
Their dream would not have been possible if Polito and Kaufman had not left their hometowns to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both grew up in rural farm country, with Polito’s family working a farm on Georgetown Island, off the coast of Maine, and Kaufman’s family cutting wheat and seeing the possibility for wind energy in Kansas.
Returning to Maine to build the company was an obvious choice for several reasons. Wind energy is a rural technology, and Maine is not only a largely rural state, but offers a supportive local network that provides advice and financial help. Additionally, Polito is aware of the lack of quality jobs in Maine for those interested in technology. Pike Energy hopes to continue to grow, bringing people back to Maine who left because of the lack of technology-based opportunities. And, of course, there was the Polito family to consider. Four generations of the Polito family currently call Maine home.
As a child growing up without electricity, Polito built small wind turbines out of old motors and scrap wood. His experiments were a success and he was able to produce a small amount of electricity. “I was excited [to learn] how to make more. I wanted to learn how to build better wind turbines and make better electricity,” said Polito. “We had kerosene lamps for light and a hand pump for water out of the well and an outhouse instead of indoor plumbing, and you can imagine how cold that is in the middle of winter in Maine to go outside to use the outhouse. Electricity was this magical technology that I knew was out there that other people had that we didn’t have because we were so far outside of the beaten path.”
The end product
When electricity is readily available, appreciation is lost. One person, without electricity, would not be able to drive a car, produce heat for a home, or even shop for groceries. Energy multiplies a single person’s strength and ability. Being aware of the value and finding alternative means of providing energy plans for a future when fossil fuels are depleted. “In general, I think it’s one of the greatest challenges our world faces,” said Polito. “We’ve developed a dependency on having ample supply of cheap and readily available energy in order to do most of the things we all love to do, and right now, the vast majority of that energy comes from unsustainable, polluting sources that are increasingly becoming scarce and cause harm to the planet. For anyone who looks at the data, it’s obvious that we needs to transition to more sustainable sources.”
Polito has found that clients love making their own power and taking responsibility for their future. “It’s just fun and rewarding for people to make their own electricit,” he observes. “People feel dependent on a source of power they can’t control, and they worry that it won’t always be there. Making their own electricity from the wind and the sun helps them feel more independent, doing their part and taking control of their energy future.”
By Elizabeth Silverstein, guest writer for the Distributed Wind Energy Association