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Fueled by increased demand Green Convergence’s growth doubles yearly

Posted: June 18, 2013 6:17 p.m.
Updated: June 18, 2013 6:17 p.m.

Project manager Ken Scherer, left, and CEO Mark Figearo of SunPower by Green Convergence pose atop a Stevenson Ranch home which recently had solar panels installed. Photo by Jonathan Pobre

 

California accounted for nearly one-third of the nation’s solar installations last year, according to a national trade association.

A large percentage of those installations occur in desert communities like Santa Clarita where summer temperatures soar above those of the Los Angeles basin.

That market growth has also fueled the growth of privately-held SunPower by Green Convergence, a local solar panel company started in 2008 by two construction professionals Mark Figearo and Donald Schramm.

The Solar Energy Industries Association – or SEIA, a national solar energy trade association – reports that more than 40,000 Californians are currently employed in the solar industry, many in positions related to the installation and maintenance of residential and commercial solar systems.

In just a few years, Green Convergence has grown close to 50 employees. Business has doubled or tripled every year since the two men formed the company, Figearo said.

“We outgrew our current facility and just expanded. We moved into the building next door,” he said. “It’s close to 11,000 square feet.”

In 2012, the city of Santa Clarita reported a 100 percent increase in applications for solar permits. The city issued only 84 permits in 2010, but by 2012 it had issued 581 permits, said Damon Letz, assistant city engineer.

There’s another factor fueling the growth – the falling cost of solar for consumers. The U.S. solar industry grew 34 percent from $8.6 billion in 2011 to $11.5 billion in 2012, SEIA reports. At of the end of 2012, there was enough solar power to power 1.2 million homes.

 

Lower costs

“Electric rates are going to skyrocket, but the price of solar has plummeted. It’s less than half of what it cost a few years ago,” Figearo said. “And the panels have become way more efficient.”

In the early days of the industry, buying solar panels was an all-cash purchase and very expensive, he said.

In 2011, 90 percent of their business involved leases.

But the market shifted again and now the buy-lease ratio at Green Convergence is close to 50/50, he said. That’s because the cost of solar has dropped, and with low interest rates, people can buy the panels and own them sooner.

As a result, Figearo believes solar is within everybody’s reach now, and his company can finance the purchase at 2.99 percent – with no out-of-pocket money – for 12 years, he said.

“I put solar in my own house and went from (paying) $2,000 a year to under $400,” Figearo said. “There’s a freedom in that. Without solar, there’s always tension in the home about using energy. With solar, you’re free from that.”

Figearo likens the investment to the ever-rising price of gasoline. In 1993 – now knowing that gas prices routinely exceed $4 per gallon – if consumers had the chance to buy gas for $1.20 a gallon – price guaranteed – over the next 20 years, they would have taken the deal.

Another benefit is that homes with solar now sell faster, Figearo said. In some cases, the investment is tax deductible. And more often, lenders are now considering solar improvements when appraising the value of a home, experts say.

“Wells Fargo has a great renovation loan,” he said. “And after installation, they will appraise the house at the improved value.”

Down the road, however, the industry may have a bad reputation, Figearo said.

 

Reputation

That poor reputation may come as a result of shoddy installation by some early companies who entered and left the market. But poor workmanship has resulted in call-backs for solar roof leaks. Green Convergence takes pains to ensure panels are installed on the roof correctly, Figearo said.

“We live here. I run into my clients at the market,” he said. “When you work where you live, you make sure you do the job right. We’re trying to be the company that installs it right and treats our clients with respect.”

In 2013, Green Convergence became a SunPower dealer – which guards its reputation. Launched in 1985, the Silicon Valley firm uses a thorough process of screening before a company can be selected to carry its panels and brand name. Over 400 firms applied, but awarding the SunPower brand came down to only five companies, Figearo said.

“SunPower sent out a post card to every one of our customers to rate us. In six months of rating we were 100 percent in every category,” Figearo said. “We’re not perfect. Construction mistakes happen, but we stay with you and always make sure systems are running correctly.”

Becoming a SunPower company helps keep the money in California, he said.

Although residential installations have been the company’s mainstay, and helped the company grow rapidly, the company launched a commercial division this year.

“We think commercial is going to be a much bigger part of our business because we have a well-running foundation under us,” Figearo said. “We’re seeing at least two commercial clients a week.”

By the end of 2013, he expects the company’s commercial sector to account for 40 to 60 percent of the business revenue-wise because the jobs are much larger than for a home.

And Green Convergence has taken one other consumer-friendly approach. The company set up a solar education center so people can educate themselves in a showroom.

“Most people are uncomfortable with a salesperson in their home, but if you can walk into a showroom a customer is more comfortable,” Figearo said.

In the showroom, there isn’t a contractor or salesperson pressuring them to making a big decision at that moment. The center allows people to come in and learn about solar energy on their own terms, he said.

“I know I would be more relaxed walking into a business rather than a business coming to me,” he said.

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