Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth: Page 4 of 6
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Utilizing Consistent Communication
We also use the concept of meeting rhythms at Inovateus, something we picked up from one of our mentors, Verne Harnish, who wrote the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. He stresses the importance of maintaining consistent patterns and structure, and of creating a “habit platform” for consistent communications within an organization. In this way, everyone can get in tune with each other. (We also use musical terms and slang in our company, as many of us—myself included—are musicians.)
The meeting rhythms at Inovateus include the weekly POD meetings, daily huddles among the three core internal corporate groups (projects, strategy and capital), weekly 30-minute leadership team meetings and monthly company meetings. The daily huddles each take about 10 minutes and focus on the top five goals for the week and other issues. They offer an opportunity for anyone to ask for help, provide updates on a project and so forth. The huddles take place first thing in the morning so that by 9am everyone has communicated whatever they need to with all the team members who need to know.
We understood that we had to grow efficiently if we were going to meet our goals and fulfill our vision. We realized that not every solar project was right for our company, so we developed another acronymic and biomimicry process we call TREE, which stands for the renewable energy engine. TREE is our mechanism for identifying, vetting and bidding on new projects for our pipeline. After all, project proposals are the seeds for the company’s future, and we want to plant as many healthy seeds as we can while weeding out the unhealthy ones that could hamper our growth.
TREE has five stages or branches, starting with an “RFP machine” concept. From the beginning of project evaluation all the way through the project proposal submission process, we use a “go or no-go” filtering method to continually assess the opportunities at every stage. The first TREE evaluation step identifies potential projects and then adds data inputs in our proprietary software to establish the initial go or no-go status. Then we conduct a preliminary EPC evaluation and go or no-go analysis, followed by a sales step in which senior account executives analyze the vetted projects and initiate conversations with customers. If it’s a go at this point, we take a deeper dive with the customers and complete the preliminary engineering designs and budgets. Finally, if the green light is still shining bright, we put together and deliver our project proposals.
These tactics and strategies may seem simple or perhaps unconventional for your solar business. However, I urge you to examine your own organizational structures and consider adapting these or other creative practices to take your company to the next level.
Cooperative Approach Transforms Energy and Business
By Amanda Bybee, Namasté Solar
Namasté Solar is an employee-owned cooperative (with offices in Colorado, New York and California) that designs, installs and maintains solar electric systems throughout the US for commercial, nonprofit, government and residential customers. Amanda Bybee has worked in the solar industry since 2003, first promoting renewable energy policies at Public Citizen’s Texas office, then with Meridian Solar and now with Namasté Solar. Today, Bybee devotes her energy to strategic planning, corporate governance and incubating new start-up cooperatives.
In 2016, Namasté Solar installed nearly five times the number of megawatts as in 2013. In the same time frame, our revenue tripled and our head count doubled. We have expanded our geographic footprint beyond the borders of Colorado to the Northeastern US and Southern California, and pursued creative solutions to some of the challenges by incubating new cooperative enterprises. Some positive trends have buoyed our progress, including falling equipment prices, state incentive programs, easier access to capital, amazing new team members and the demand generated by the threatened ITC expiration. Other challenging market conditions have hampered us, including increased competition, especially from large national companies; decreasing utility incentives; an unstable legislative and regulatory environment; decreasing average selling prices; and shifting trends in project finance.
Throughout our growth, we have developed strategies around financing, labor, procurement, operational processes and safety.
Financing. We have cultivated partnerships with commercial financiers who have both the capacity and the expertise to make projects run smoothly. We are co-founding a new financial institution, the Clean Energy Federal Credit Union, entirely dedicated to funding clean energy by providing affordable loans to its members on the residential scale for all forms of clean energy and energy efficiency.