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Sunetric uses technology to harness the sun
<br/> Premium content from Pacific Business News – by Sophie Cocke<br/><br/> Sunetric CEO Alex Tiller, second from right, watches as warehouse employees, from left, Ransen Kaanoi, Jason Crimmings and Kevin Sustello prepare a solar panel. The company does its own installations, financing and service. <br/><br/> More than 2,000 solar panels protrude from the ground in an unused parking lot at Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Lihue, Kauai, generating electricity savings of approximately $200,000 a year. <br/><br/> In Windward Oahu, solar panels are arranged at every angle imaginable to absorb ultimate sunlight from the roof of Honda Windward in cloudy Kaneohe, while a canopy of panels encases a portion of the auto dealer’s parking lot. <br/><br/> This is just a sampling of the more than eight megawatts of solar energy that Kailua-based Sunetric has installed as of 2009, saving customers $3 million in electricity costs a year. <br/><br/> As Sunetric helps Hawaii move toward a clean-energy future, it has employed a high level of ingenuity along the way in terms of engineering, technology, financing and its overall business model. <br/><br/> Rather than use subcontractors to manage different aspects of the business, Sunetric keeps every step of the process in-house — including consultation and design, installation, financing, warranties, repair and customer service.<br/><br/> “I want less finger-pointing in life,” said Sunetric CEO Alex Tiller. “When I have a problem, I want to be able to call someone and have them own the problem. We’re talking about putting a system on a home. I don’t want it to be sold by one person, installed by another and possibly maintained by yet a third because one of the other two went out of business or didn’t want to do business together anymore.” <br/><br/> Tiller says the fully integrated approach enhances customer service and ensures that county permits for the installations are processed and approved in a timely manner — for which they have hired a full-time employee to oversee. <br/><br/> The operation has come far since its 2004 launch from Sean Mullen’s Kailua home. From a staff of three, the company has grown to employ more than 100 workers, and operates warehouses on Maui and the Big Island. By the start of 2010, Sunetric had installed approximately 40 percent of the residential and commercial solar systems connected to Hawaiian Electric Co.’s electric grids on Oahu, the Big Island and Maui, according to a status report filed with the state Public Utilities Commission. <br/><br/> In a market that has seen the rise of dozens of solar startups during the past few years, Sunetric has been an industry leader and is projecting strong growth for many years to come. With the vision of solar panels atop every viable rooftop in the state, much work remains. <br/><br/> Sunetric’s strategic place in the market is due in part to its success in creating attractive financing options. Its Non-Profit Power Plan Agreement allows nonprofits to invest in a solar system with no upfront or maintenance costs when entering into a 15-20-year contract. It also has recently joined with SunRun, a national company that provides financing for residential solar at little to no upfront cost, while locking customers into low electricity rates. <br/><br/> While the economy has hurt companies throughout the state, Sunetric says it has weathered it rather <br/> well. <br/><br/> “When people are worried about a bad economy, they are concerned about their power consumption,” Tiller said. “It was a bit of a perfect storm between that and really high energy prices, where we saw oil approaching $150 a barrel. It definitely woke a few people up.”