Sunny resultESI leverages solar success into a full-service strategy
When Mike Drei started with Lebanon County-based Energy Systems and Installation Inc., the firm's 5,000 square feet of space was more than enough for its four employees.
But just two-and-a-half years later, the company is moving its corporate headquarters to the 12,000-square-foot former Pennsylvania State Police barracks about a mile down the road in Union Township.
The staff has rapidly grown to about 50 employees working on solar and energy-efficiency projects in nine states.
"In another 30 days, it will be just like home," said Drei, the firm's marketing director.
Growth has come from expanding the solar photovoltaic power installation business it began in 2008 to other states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and through diversifying its business lines, CEO Corey Wolff said.
The latter is a crux of ESI's ongoing evolution of offering pretty much every tactic possible to lower a customer's energy bills by focusing on "reduction before production," he said.
Thinking of all its services as a pie, solar is just one slice, he said.
Others might include geothermal heating and cooling, more-efficient lighting and foam insulation. Exactly what pie the firm serves up is determined by a comprehensive energy audit, Wolff said.
The shift in the marketplace will lead to consolidation of both competitors and of complementary firms and services, he said.
"We expect to participate in that consolidation — from the buyer side," Wolff said.
ESI recently closed on its second acquisition toward getting further into the HVAC and plumbing sector, Drei said.
In addition to the recently added Eichelbergers Energy Co., formerly the alternative-energy affiliate of Cumberland County-based Eichelbergers Inc., ESI acquired MJ Barrick Heating & Cooling in Perry County about a year ago, he said.
As a way to facilitate geographic expansion, ESI works with local contractors and consultants already established in a market so that customers are already familiar with people who are helping to do the work, Drei said.
However, corporate employees of ESI directly manage every part of the job; there is no formal subbing out of aspects of a project to outside management, he said.
ESI puts paramount importance on making sure each and every customer comes away happy — even if that ends up meaning a smaller profit margin or even a loss on the job, Drei said.
The tactic pays dividends down the road, he said.
The company also has an ongoing partnership with Syncarpha Capital of New York that provides capital for large projects, Drei said.
Syncarpha will finance a project on a property that agrees to host it and own the installation once it is put in place in exchange for the host paying to use the electricity, Drei said.
The new energy bill will be lower than the host's old one, he said.
Syncarpha can also capitalize on the financial incentives such as selling alternative energy credits, he said. They are complicated transactions, but they are doable and fairly common in certain circumstances, Drei said.
Gary James, with Dauphin County-based law firm James Smith Dietterick & Connelly, said he went with ESI to install 18 solar panels rated to produce about 50 kilowatt hours per year of electricity on his Lebanon County farm.
In the contractor industry, James said, bad stories float around about firms in the market, but he hasn't heard anything bad from fellow ESI customers.
ESI worked with him to determine the best place to put the panels on his property — including maximizing the amount of incentives available — and handled paperwork needed to secure the benefits, he said.
The company also will use his property as an educational experience and while there adjust the panels for optimum tilt toward the sun at different times of the year, James said.
The system went online as scheduled in summer 2011 and has outperformed its rating by about 40 percent, James said.
"It has just worked out really well," he said. "They know what they are doing, and they are very good at it."