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Brennan Mulcahy and the growth at American Solar Direct

Brennan MulcahyBrennan Mulcahy likes to keep it both simple and smart when he thinks about his growth strategy at American Solar Direct.

“It’s about providing high-quality, photovoltaic rooftop solar systems for residential customers in California,” says Mulcahy, the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO.

“That’s it. So we’re focused clearly on that. There is a lot of opportunity for our business in other states and other jurisdictions, but we’re very focused on getting that part of our business right. I’ve seen too many companies try to be everything to everybody.”

The measured approach that Mulcahy takes toward growth at his 170-employee company is an effort to get it right the first time and prevent unnecessary mistakes.

He wants to get the right people in place, build a strong culture of empowerment and have an operational process that everyone understands. That way, when the business does take off, there will be far less uncertainty about what needs to happen.

“You’ve got to grow in a prudent manner,” Mulcahy says. “Companies that try to do too much, too fast risk destabilizing the business. So it’s finding a balance between high growth and controlled growth. We strive for high growth, but we also want to achieve controlled growth so that we’re managing the business and our resources responsibly.”

Develop your team

As you seek to prepare your company for a higher volume of business, you need to take a good, hard look at the team you’ve got in place and see how it matches up with your vision and company goals.

“You need to take a formulated approach so you understand not only where your weaknesses are in the organization, but also your opportunities,” Mulcahy says. “Identify those high-performers who are likely going to advance in their career.”

Mulcahy holds a weekly executive committee meeting where his department heads talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization from many points of view, including personnel.

“We look at how we’re performing across the organization on a regular basis,” Mulcahy says. “You have to identify, as you’re growing, the key positions you are going to want to fill six months, 12 months, even two years down the road. You can’t just go out and hire everybody you want on day one. So we work together to create that prioritization based on what we need in order to hit the goals and objectives of the organization.”

You need to keep your team engaged in this discussion so that everybody is moving forward with the same information and the same goals in mind.

“You work together to set those goals and everybody on your executive team has bought in to them,” Mulcahy says. “You want to create an environment that allows them to contribute and feel that they really can contribute meaningfully.”

One of Mulcahy’s priorities with regard to personnel decisions is to see if a need can be filled internally. Just as you want your leadership team to feel part of the high-level decisions, you want your employees to feel connected to the growth plan at their level.

“I’m a big believer in growing organically and offering opportunity for advancement in the organization to the extent that you can,” Mulcahy says.

Keep the makeup of your company’s work force in mind on a regular basis and think about how the players could be moved as your company grows.

“Identify who your superstars are, those folks who are going to advance in their career in the short term,” Mulcahy says. “Understand each department and who you have coming up in that department. The way I look at it is very formulated. I look at each department and who the critical senior positions are and then I look at who in the organization is below that could fill it at some point. Who may need additional training or support to continue to advance? Where do you have gaps in the organization?”

When you have a clear understanding of what you’ve got, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions when you have to reach outside your own walls to make new hires.

Be a good listener

As you build your talent level or do a better job of maximizing the talent you already have, you have to make sure you keep your ears open to the ideas your people bring to the table.

“You have to listen to people,” Mulcahy says. “That is something that is hard for a lot of leaders who have their idea and just do it. If you bring high-performing people onto your team, you have to listen to their ideas. You may not always agree with them, but you have to listen and weigh and consider their perspective. Engage as a team and allow people to feel comfortable challenging and debating ideas.”

This kind of engagement makes people feel like they are part of the plan to make the business grow. It also gives them comfort that there is a plan and that the work they are doing is building toward bigger goals.

“If you respect peoples’ perspective and you respect their point of view, you make them feel valued,” Mulcahy says. “Then as a team, you come together and draw conclusions. At the end of the day, once you’ve had the discussion and the debate, it’s important that everybody gets on the same page to execute a decision. But again, you have to allow for that opportunity to be heard.”

It starts with you. If you openly demonstrate that you value the perspective of the people on your leadership team, they will be more likely to do the same with their direct reports. The result is a group of people that don’t just view your business as the place where they come to work and collect a paycheck.

“I want to have a culture at American Solar Direct where people feel like they helped build it, not just that they work there,” Mulcahy says.

This willingness to listen and consider other opinions is another opportunity for you to show that you want the company to be successful, but you want it to be done the right way.

“It’s a culture you have to embed in the organization,” Mulcahy says. “It’s not a process, not a policy you put up where you say we’re going to listen to our employees. It’s something you actually do and you start by doing it.”

Build customer relationships

Relationships are a key component of any organization, whether it’s between fellow employees, employees and management or a company and its customers.

“For our business, it’s not a one-stop sale,” Mulcahy says. “You can’t walk in, drop off the product and take a check. When we enter into a relationship with a customer, it’s a 20-year relationship because we lease them the solar equipment for 20 years.”

Customers make monthly payments for the equipment that allows solar energy to power their homes. In return, they expect responsive service if anything goes wrong.

“So when they visit for the first time and give them that presentation, it’s not just a quick in and out, see ya later,” Mulcahy says. “We have to come back and inspect the roof. We’re going to send installation teams in and put that system up on the roof. We’re going to have a long-term relationship so the salesperson has to do a good job in order to be successful.”

Whether you’re in the solar business or a different industry, you need to promote the philosophy that happy customers lead to confident salespeople.

“Salespeople who have a happy customer, they feel good about what they have done,” Mulcahy says. “That gives them a lot of confidence and helps them get more business because they feel proud of the job that they are doing. The second thing that happens is if you do a good job for a customer, you get referral business.”

Referrals have been especially strong in the past couple months and Mulcahy says that bodes well for the future.

“It makes their job easier,” Mulcahy says. “Anybody in sales loves a referral because you don’t have to go out and work as hard to get that customer. It indicates to them that we’re doing a good job with our frontline customers.”

Mulcahy wants American Solar to be viewed as a company that is reliable and committed to great customer service.

“It’s easier to get staff excited about doing a good job than it is going and doing a low-cost job or a mediocre job,” Mulcahy says. “We’re not setting out to be a high-volume, low-quality, low-cost provider. We’re setting out to be a high-quality, superior customer service product with a personal touch. We think that is something that makes everybody excited to be part of the team.”

American Solar Direct is expected to hit $60 million in sales this year and Mulcahy is confident that his team is in a strong position to satisfy the demand.

“We can educate the customer, provide the personal touch and make them feel comfortable with what they are getting,” Mulcahy says.

How to reach: American Solar Direct, (855) 765-2755 or www.americansolardirect.com

 

The Mulcahy File

Brennan Mulcahy

co-founder, chairman and CEO

American Solar Direct

What’s the best business lesson you’ve learned?

Communicate openly and honestly.

Why is that an important lesson?

It just saves so much time and energy. So often people spend hours or days beating around the bush and not getting down to the most important issue. I think you’ve got to really drill down to the nitty-gritty of what is important. Just be open and honest.

There is never anything to be gained by beating around the bush because you just confuse other people around you. Be very clear in what you think about something and what you want to do and just really get to the point in a respectful way if you don’t agree with somebody.

What traits are essential for leadership?

No. 1 has got to be the ability to listen. That’s critical. You often hear communicate, communicate, communicate. I agree with that. But I think the first pillar of communication is listening. People often get that backwards. They think communicating means you have to be doing all the talking. To be a good leader, you have to listen to people.

You need to be able to make decisions as well. I’ve often seen people who aren’t good at making decisions; they often spin their wheels around in circles. At a certain point, you have to make a choice and forge ahead. That doesn’t mean you always make the right decision. But you do have to make a choice sometimes and hopefully get it right more often than not.

Who has been a big influence on your life?

My brother, Tim Mulcahy. He got me started in sales when I was very young, and we started many companies together.

Takeaways:

Know what your team can do.

Engage others in decisions.

Get to know customers.

Homeowners Say Solar Energy Better Investment than Home Renovation or Car Purchase

Homeowners Say Solar Energy Better Investment than Home Renovation or Car PurchaseSeven out of 10 Massachusetts solar-owners believe solar energy is a better investment than a major property renovation or buying a car, according to a recent survey by New England Clean Energy. When asked which of the three was the best investment, 70 percent said solar, 29 percent said a property renovation, and 1 percent said buying a car.

In write-in comments, survey-takers expounded on their choices:

+ “Solar yields immediate, no-maintenance dividends, and boosts the home’s value. Renovations can be hit-or-miss.” (Eric Fix, Marlborough)

+ “It is a great investment that reduces your monthly expenses. The other two only raise your monthly expenses.” (Tom Aciukewicz, Harvard)

+ “It’s like putting money away for retirement” (Paul and Patricia Peavey, Pepperell)

The survey found that the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar electric systems is a strong motivator for going solar, seven years after its introduction, with 70 percent of respondents selecting it as one of their reasons for installing solar. And 95 percent of solar-owners are happy they installed solar, with a full 54 percent saying they “couldn’t be happier” with their solar energy systems.

“Not many products or services boast a 95 percent approval rate, especially a relatively new product like solar. I attribute this high favorability to the fact that solar electric systems are reliable and virtually maintenance-free. As one customer told us, she forgets her system is even there until she opens her monthly electric bill,” said Mark Durrenberger, president of New England Clean Energy.

“Plus, solar pays you back. How many purchases do that?”

Shoddy Work – The survey revealed a potential concern about the state of the solar industry, as nearly one in five respondents replied they had heard of or seen shoddy or unethical work by a solar installer.

“This was bound to happen as installers flooded solar-friendly Massachusetts. Our challenge as an industry is to preserve the integrity and professionalism of the solar installation business by raising awareness and educating consumers about what to expect from a solar installer,” said Durrenberger, who was recently appointed to the board of the Solar Energy Business Association of New England (SEBANE) on a platform that included addressing this issue.

Trends – When questioned on industry trends, 96 percent of respondents agreed the solar industry should be subsidized by the government, with 61 percent saying the subsidy should be indefinite since fossil fuels are subsidized, and 35 percent saying until the solar industry is really established.

An even 70 percent said they were aware Massachusetts is one of the most solar-friendly states in the country, and 94 percent said using a local company versus an out-of-state company is important, because buying local supports neighborhood businesses, helps the local economy and creates local jobs.

Savings – Savings on electric bills due to solar were across the board, roughly divided between 10-25 percent, 25-50 percent, 50-75 percent, and 75-100 percent savings.

Lease vs. Buy – When asked about purchasing versus leasing a solar electric system, only 9 percent said they would be interested in a lease-type agreement with no money down if going solar today, although 29 percent were undecided (and 62 percent said they would not be interested). More than half – 51 percent – felt purchasing solar was the better arrangement for the consumer. (New England Clean Energy offers both models for customers, but all survey respondents purchased their solar systems.)

“I want control over my home improvements, and long-term it is a better investment if you can afford the start-up cost,” wrote Joel Barshak of Bolton in support of purchasing.

However, survey-takers including Jim Hogan of Northborough were supportive of leasing’s benefits: “It is usually better to own a product unless it has high maintenance issues. Solar does not. However, if I could not have afforded to purchase, I would have leased. The important thing is to go solar.”

Behaviors and Attitudes – Survey questions about solar-related behaviors and attitudes revealed the following:

+ 20 percent of respondents check their solar production online daily; 27 percent do so weekly, and 23 percent monthly

+ 78 percent know how much energy their system has generated since it was installed (which, in some cases, was years ago)

+ Most people – 63 percent – used money from a savings or other bank account to make their solar investment, followed by 28 percent borrowing money via a bank loan or mortgage re-financing

+ Saving money is the main reason people install solar energy systems on their homes, and helping the planet and increasing the country’s energy independence are the next two most common reasons.

The survey was conducted in January and February 2013 among New England Clean Energy’s solar electric and hot water customers. Exactly 100 people – approximately one-third of the company’s Massachusetts customers – completed the “2013 Customer Insights Survey,” providing a snapshot of current opinions and attitudes toward solar.

“I’ve always known our customers love to talk solar as much as we do. Still, I was surprised and pleased with the high response to the survey. It will be fascinating to track consumer attitudes and behaviors as the industry continues moving from the early-adopter phase to mature commodity,” Durrenberger said.

Selected results of the survey can be found here.

Los Angeles Halts Using Electricity From Coal Plants

Los Angeles Halts Using Electricity From Coal Plants

Los Angeles will become the biggest U.S. city to abandon coal-fueled electricity after the taxpayer- owned utility said it will support renewable sources, boost energy efficiency and build a new natural-gas fired plant.

The city’s Department of Water and Power, the nation’s largest municipal-owned utility, will phase out the electricity it imports from the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and Intermountain Power in Utah, according to a statement yesterday. The two coal plants provide 39 percent of the city’s power.

“The era of coal is over,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement. “By divesting from coal and investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, we reduce our carbon footprint and set a precedent for the national power market.”

Los Angeles, the nation’s second-most populous metropolitan area after New York, has cut greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 28 percent from 1990 levels, which it says is more than any other major U.S. city. Coal releases twice the carbon dioxide as natural gas per megawatt of power produced, and climate advocates have seized on phasing out its use as the necessary first step in addressing global warming.

Coal generation in the U.S. is under mounting pressure from cheap natural gas prices, tougher federal pollution standards, state-level energy efficiency requirements and activist lobbying.

Beyond Coal

Coal accounted for 37 percent of power generation last year, down from 45 percent in 2010 and almost 50 percent in 2005, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The Sierra Club, which has a Beyond Coal campaign, said 142 U.S. coal-fired power plants have closed during its efforts, representing 105 gigawatts of electrical capacity. That puts it more than halfway towards its goal of retiring 30 percent of the U.S. coal fleet by 2020.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $50 million to the Sierra Club 18 months ago to fund anti-coal efforts. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

The Los Angeles utility released a fact sheet that showed it will sell off the stake it has in the Navajo facility, and end using power from that plant by 2015. It doesn’t own a share of the Utah plant, and so it said it worked out a plan to shut the coal plant and construct a smaller natural-gas fueled facility. Construction of that plant should be completed by 2025, the city’s fact sheet said.

The “decision to end Los Angeles’ reliance on dirty coal and guide the city to a more sustainable future is a bold step on the path towards solving the climate crisis,” former vice president Al Gore said in a statement.

Linkback: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-19/los-angeles-halts-using-electricity-from-coal-plants.html

 

American Solar Direct top PV Installers to watch in 2013

Never heard of this company? We at GTM Research underestimated American Solar Direct until a closer examination of historical data revealed that the company is one of the few top-20 installers that has experienced consistent positive quarter-over-quarter growth since it began installing PV systems in 2010. The company, founded in 2009, began in Los Angeles and expanded to San Diego and Northern California in 2012. ASD’s strategy is unique in that the company raised its own project funds rather than partnering with a financier such as Sunrun or SunPower. It received two rounds of equity investment, as well as $50 million to support its lease program from WGL Holdings, parent company of the utility Washington Gas. Co-Founder and CFO Ravi Thuraisingham has said that ASD plans to expand to other states as well as Ontario, Canada. For now, the company will focus on maintaining its status as the top residential installer solely active in California.

American Solar Direct top PV Installers to watch in 2013

Read more at Green Tech Media

Net Energy Metering and Billing by PG&E

The key to getting the most out of your renewable energy system is to understand the process. PG&E’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) Program provides customers the ability to offset the cost of their electricity with energy their generating system exports to the grid. Below is information about how NEM billing works and information on Assembly Bill 920 (AB 920), recently passed legislation that adds a compensation option for net-generating customers.

How It Works

  • PG&E installs a “net meter” on a customer’s property that measures the net energy-the difference between the amount of electricity supplied by PG&E and the amount of electricity exported to the grid over the course of a month. The customer’s account is enrolled in the NEM program and put on an annual 12-month billing cycle.
  • The meter is read monthly and an amount is calculated based on the net energy recorded in kilowatt hours (kWH). If a customer exported more electricity than they drew from PG&E in a given billing cycle, the amount is deemed a surplus. If a customer received more electricity from PG&E than they exported, the amount is deemed a charge.
  • The rate at which the charge or surplus is calculated is based on the customer’s normal rate schedule which is requested in the customer’s Interconnection Agreement. It is the same electric rate schedule that the account would be eligible for without a generating system.
  • If a customer has selected a time-of-use or seasonal electric rate schedule, the account may reflect a surplus, even if the customer is not a net generator. The reason is that on some electric rate schedules, the rate per kWh is higher during certain times of the day and/or certain times of the year (e.g. summer season). If the customer is generating more than they are consuming during these periods, the rates at which they are credited are higher than the rates they may be charged for consuming more than they generate.
  • The charge or surplus and the applicable meter reads are detailed in the customer’s monthly NEM Statement. While this statement is not a bill, it allows a customer to keep track of their accumulating charges and surplus electricity. The customer will also continue to receive their regular PG&E bill for other applicable charges such as minimum charges, meter charges, customer charges, demand based charges and gas charges.
  • After 12 billing cycles, the corresponding charges and surpluses are reconciled, this is called the annual true-up bill. Any remaining charges must be paid and any excess surpluses are typically zeroed out. Excess Energy: Net Surplus Compensation If you generate more electricity than you consume over the 12 month true-up period, you may be eligible to receive payment called Net Surplus Compensation (NSC) for the excess energy.

Learn more about Net Surplus Compensation >>

How to Read Your NEM Statement
The Net Energy Metering Statement is a useful tool to understand current energy use and see how things are progressing—it provides a monthly and year to date snapshot of your accumulating charges and credits and the total net energy.

See a detailed explanation of your NEM Statement >>

Paperless Billing
You can download and view your Net Energy Metering (NEM) statement online at any time. Plus you can now further your green commitment by going paperless and stopping your paper statements.

Log in to My Energy

  • Click on “Pay & Manage” tab and the “Accounts & Services” sub-tab.
  • Under Services Linked to My Profile section, select the electric Service Agreement associated with your solar account.
  • In the top left hand section, click “View of Detail of Bill” to download your current NEM Statement or select a prior NEM Statement from the drop-down menu.

If your electric Service Agreement (from your NEM Statement) is not displayed in the “Accounts & Services” sub-tab, follow these additional steps:

  • Under Services Linked to My Profile section, click on Link Services.
  • Select the new service agreement and click the Add button.
  • Proceed with Step 3 from above.
  • If you would like to stop receiving the monthly NEM Statements and go paperless, please contact the Solar Customer Service Center at 1-877-743-4112.

California Sets a New Solar Power Record

1,300 megawatts of power over a three-hour period of time. California Sets a New Solar Power Record!

California Sets a New Solar Power Record

Check out California’s new “high-water” mark for solar set yesterday — 1,300 megawatts of power over a three-hour period of time:

For more than six hours, solar was producing more power than any other renewable energy source in California. In August 2012, the state saw a record 1,000 megawatts of power produced. This latest record was spurred by a surge of large-scale installations in the third- and fourth-quarter of 2012. California installed more than 190 MW of solar PV in Q3 and more than 400 MW of PV in Q4, with a majority of the projects at the commercial and utility scale.

(Hat tip to KCET’s Rewire for catching this interesting graph from California’s Independent System Operator.)
STEPHEN LACEY: FEBRUARY 7, 2013

Do you need solar panel insurance coverage?

Protecting your home solar panels with your homeowners insurance coverage is a smart move. Contact Solar Joey 24/7 about getting a solar lease quote. Feel free to get started today with a solar energy quote.

When you invest in solar panels for your house, you can count on these things: You will cut your monthly energy bill, and you will increase the market value of your home.

Count on some other things, too. You will increase the replacement value of your home. One 2011 study found that, on average, a 3.1-kilowatt solar system added about $17,000 to a home’s value. And it also makes it more desirable to prospective buyers if you put it on the market.

What it all means is that you’ll need to talk to your homeowners insurance agent. The premium for your policy is based in part on how much it would cost to rebuild your home if it were destroyed by covered perils including fire and wind. It also protects you in case of break-ins and other specified events.

As for reporting the presence of a solar system, you’d need to do the same if you added a deck or replaced the roof or installed granite countertops. Anytime you do something to increase a home’s value, you’re increasing the amount it would take to rebuild that home.

That means you’ll need more coverage for your home. You’ll need to talk to your agent to determine your next step. While some carriers won’t insure homes with solar panels because they worry about the added liability, most will cover you for the new value of the home.

Even if your carrier has no problems with solar panels, it might be a good time to shop your coverage with multiple providers. You might get a better rate and, even more importantly, better coverage through comparison shopping. While contacting carriers might seem tedious, check out a website such as IRED.com to request multiple quotes from several highly rated carriers, as well as help evaluating them.

While this means that you could wind up paying for coverage, it is important not to hide your system from your insurance carrier. According to some experts, more than a quarter of all denied claims are due to policyholders withholding changes they’ve made to their home or lifestyles.

The extra money you will pay on your premium will be worth it should you have to file a claim. You’ll sleep better knowing that the solar system that’s saving money on your energy bill is fully protected along with the rest of your house.