Solar Research Takes Contractor Across the Globe

Texas-based landscape and irrigation co. owner Kevin Johnson visited a solar energy conference in Spain.

February 11, 2009
Bandera County Courier (Texas)
Green Contractors

Johnson Landscape and Irrigation Company owner Kevin Johnson accepts both commercial and residential landscape projects, but what really excites him is the challenge of integrating solar energy into traditional landscaping.

Johnson, who has spent 25 years building his Pipe Creek-based landscaping company, envisions incorporating solar powered drip irrigation and lighting throughout the Texas Hill Country.

Born in South America, Johnson moved to Texas to start an importing company after traveling the world. However, it was in landscaping that he found his true vocation. Completing challenging jobs to the satisfaction of customers turned him into a high-end professional landscaper.

“I do all my own design work. Whatever the client wants,” Johnson said. “I have never done two landscapes alike. I am open to a lot of ideas and styles.”

As an example, he said, “A woman in the Dominion wanted a French landscape, so I researched French landscapes. The client was thrilled with the authenticity of the design.”

Johnson’s landscape at Helping Hand used ornamental grasses to provide texture and interesting focal points. He hopes future landscaping at Helping Hand will include the addition of a tranquility garden and solar water feature.

Johnson began researching solar lighting for his own project. “When I landscaped my gate entryway, I wanted to provide illumination for it without the necessity and expense of a meter from Bandera Electric Cooperative.”

Johnson’s interest in solar energy quickly expanded into solar powered agricultural drip systems and rainwater collection. He explained, “I enrolled in an intensive photovoltaic course in Austin and received a solar energy certification.”

Johnson’s hobby, which compliments his ideals on a renewable self-sustaining life style, is organic gardening. His organic home garden is so healthy that customers want to purchase his produce.

“I used agricultural drip tape which benefited the plants and saved water at the same time,” he said. “Europe is way ahead of the US in organic growing, with 94 percent organic production there and only 6 percent here. I don’t use any pesticides or chemicals in my garden.”

Researching solar energy proved rewarding. Johnson and wife, Lisa, participated in the 23rd annual photovoltaic’s conference in Spain, which was attended by 760 exhibitors. During their month-long stay, they visited Rome, Switzerland and France and returned home with inspiration for new designs for future projects.

Europe and Spain, the couple discovered, have surpassed the United States in solar energy advances. Johnson noted, “We saw five miles of solar panels along an interstate to decrease traffic noise and provide energy at the same time. Germany plans to eliminate all conventional energy. They are looking at a paint which turns make every square inch of a roof into a solar panel. A company in the United States just signed a $4 million contract to produce solar panels for Germany because Germany can’t make enough.”

Johnson also attended a week of intense schooling at SEI Solar International, learning photovoltaic’s mechanics – converting sunlight into useful energy outputs.

Since taking that course, Johnson’s landscape vision has expanded into renewable energy, including manufacturing solar powered lighting and solar powered agricultural drip irrigation systems. “LEDs conserve so much more energy,” he explained. “When we were in the SCI course, our project was to install a solar lighting system on the professor’s house.

“I envision street lighting, gate entry ways, and parking lot lighting, all powered by solar energy – which is what has happened in Europe. In this country, the San Antonio Independent School District just installed a $1.4 million solar water heating system for their swimming pool. The Pearl Brewery is being converted into an apartment complex and culinary arts institute with the largest solar system in Texas.”

Johnson added, “Along with a solar system, I want to install a wind turbine at my house. Going green makes sense.”

He expects to begin ordering needed inventory for his solar projects next month. “I want to do all kinds of lighting. We will be using natural cedar posts along with steel to make light posts. I don’t want to limit myself. I want to be as creative as possible.”

Whether working with solar lighting or green plants, Johnson believes the key ingredients needed for landscaping are artistic flair and creativity.