Solar panel production comes to Thurston County

Years ago Rich Phillips began his entrepreneurial career by opening and operating two iconic restaurants in downtown Olympia: Old School Pizza and King Solomon’s Reef.

But long before that, Phillips was introduced to a different set of ideas while growing up alongside his mother as she attended The Evergreen State College. Phillips, at a young age, was exposed to the idea of sustainability and it stuck with him. He even considered geothermal heat and solar power when he still owned the Reef.

He wasn’t done: For the last six years, he has been noodling on an idea that finally became PureSolar, a solar panel manufacturer that is underway in 10,000 square feet of space in Tumwater at the New Market Industrial Campus. It also has an executive team, eight employees, a board of directors and a customer advisory board made up of a group of solar panel installers — the same folks PureSolar works with directly as customers, Phillips said.

“It fees like a milestone,” said Phillips, 46, about the business reaching this point. He added, though: “It’s exciting, but I’m not content.”

The company’s flagship product is a 52-pound solar panel with 60 solar cells. It has glass on both sides and produces around 300 watts of power or what is known as kilowatt hours for the downstream residential or commercial customer. The company also has plans for other products, including a 72-cell solar panel, he said.

Having glass on both sides of the panel intrigued Dean Van Vleet, a veteran of the Washington state solar panel industry. He joined PureSolar as its director of engineering. He praised the product for its application options and its durability. Van Vleet also bought into the vision of a company that wants to remain nimble in the solar market, selling to not only residential and commercial customers, but to look for innovative opportunities as well.

Glass on both sides of the panel is also expected to be a significant share of the solar panel market, said Katherine Hansen, PureSolar’s chief operating officer. By 2025, 30 percent of the solar market is expected to be this kind of panel, she said.

“We’re on the cutting edge,” said Hansen, who attended Wellesley College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Originally from Wenatchee, she came to the Olympia area because of an “enduring interest in renewable energy and technology.”

Darin Johnson also was announced as the company’s chief financial officer, who was previously senior vice president and chief financial officer at Tacoma-based Commencement Bank.

The panels are sold as is or with smart electronics that offer real-time monitoring of the panel through a smart phone or computer.

Phillips is already thinking about expansion, possibly in Thurston County or the five-county region.

He also believes in what he calls “co-opetition,” wanting to work with other U.S. manufacturers to improve processes and keep manufacturing here.

“We want Washington to be a major player in solar,” Phillips said.

PureSolar Inc.

▪ President and CEO: Rich Phillips.

▪ Location: 819 78th Ave. SW, Tumwater.

▪ Type of business: Solar panel manufacturer.

▪ Years in business: New, although it has spent six years in the making.

▪ Employees: 8.

▪ Online: You can find PureSolar on Facebook or at

▪ Did you know? PureSolar has teamed with Northwest Electric and Solar to offer workshops on the benefits and facts of going solar. The events are free, but those who plan to attend are encouraged to preregister at The workshops are 6:30-8 p.m. June 6 and 9-10:30 a.m. June 17 at The Coach House, 211 21st Ave. SW Olympia, WA 98501.