The successful evolution of EmPower Solar has been a constant focus for CEO David Schieren. When the company formed in 2003, it planned to install energy storage, but participation in a Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon competition led Schieren and COO Greg Sachs to realize the more dependable effectiveness of solar technology. Solar became the new concentration in 2006, and the company serves a good mix of customers in the downstate New York market but mostly relies on residential sales.
“Commercial is still important to us, and we have a pretty strong pipeline and that market is growing, [but] they tend to be very unique projects that require a customized approach,” Schieren said. “With residential, you can really create an assembly line that you can perfect. This is where we’re struggling a little today: How much resource do we dedicate to each division? We’re very proud of what we’re doing in the residential space. On the commercial side, we’re taking on more targeted accounts and being selective about it.”
EmPower is also proud of its latest evolution: becoming a SunPower Master Dealer. Since entering into the SunPower dealership network in 2008, EmPower has climbed the dealership ladder—from Authorized to Premiere to Elite and now Master—to reach the exclusive top rung. Only about 20 of SunPower’s 1,200 recognized dealers are labeled Master.
“SunPower has been a fantastic partner since the beginning of our relationship,” Schieren said. “They stand behind their product and they honor their word. Those things are vital when it comes to delivering to the end user, which is in our case residential and commercial electricity consumers.”
EmPower Solar has been rebranded as SunPower by EmPower Solar, and Schieren said this new partnership will only lead to good things.
“It also puts more rigorous requirements on us as a dealer,” Schieren said of the Master title. “They’re looking very carefully at our customer satisfaction levels. SunPower carefully reviews those things and we have to maintain a very high level of service to our customers. It raises the bar of delivering a fantastic solution to customers.”
EmPower installs strictly SunPower equipment—including panels and plug-and-play integrated systems—for residential customers.
“It’s a powerful solution. You have one supplier of the entire product that the end user needs,” Schieren said. “It’s seamless from a warrantied perspective. We are a customer-centric company and industry. If we’re going to win and make solar the dominate energy source, we have to make people happy. The relationship with SunPower is centered on that strategy.”
Last year, during the uncertainty of the ITC extension, EmPower began thinking of ways to reduce its cost structure to continue providing the best service to its customers. And while the credit extension has given the industry some breathing room, Schieren said it’s still important to become a lean organization.
“We need to reduce our costs still by 30% to remain competitive and grow the business,” he said. “The industry is going to move in that direction of consolidation and the quest for lean and profitable operations such that you can survive without the tax credit and thrive. It’s a really crucial time right now; we bought ourselves five years, but it’s not that much time, and we have to take action today.”
Schieren said that’s the most important thing for EmPower—evolving with the times and staying successful.
“I think that is probably the biggest challenge, just to continuously build and improve and make a great company that is adaptable and flexible and can succeed no matter what,” Schieren said. “As long as you have the right people, you have the right mission and vision and purpose and passion, and you put in the right systems, you can overcome it all.”