It would appear that Americans are sick and tired of sitting around in the dark. In mid-August, a massive blackout left an estimated 50 million people in the United States and Canada without power for about a day. Just one month later, Hurricane Isabel rocked the East Coast, knocking out electricity to millions of homes, for more than a week in some cases.
In the wake of these outages, more and more Americans are turning to alternatives that will keep their electricity flowing when the power company can't. Ron Ford of Tampa Armature Works, which distributes Kohler generators, says that he's seen about a 30% jump in business since the blackout, which is larger than the normal spike that comes with hurricane season.
Chris Rhule, president of Premier Power Generation, a Pinehurst, N.C., multiple line generator dealer, says his business is up at least 200% from the summer of 2002. "Honestly, I can't count how many generators I've sold since Hurricane Isabel," he says. Rhule's area was battered by ice storms last December, and many people who hesitated then decided to take the plunge after Isabel. "People were just walking in here with checks."
Some homeowners -- particularly environmentally conscious ones -- are showing interest in more elaborate, more expensive alternatives, such as solar power. Dave Holleran, director of North American sales for AstroPower's SunChoice solar electric power systems, says his company received an "influx" of inquiries after the blackout. He declined, however, to give specific numbers.
There is statistical evidence of growth in the renewable energy industry, and -- with the blackout exposing weaknesses in the nation's utility infrastructure -- there's no reason to believe that growth won't continue. Rhule, for one, is very optimistic about the future of his business. "In five years, I believe that no new house will even be started without at least the option of installing a generator," he says.