The Ten Year Solar Coaster

Better Together Solar

7. Affordable and Clean Energy 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

Overview

Fresh off the merger of two smaller solar companies, Better Together Solar knew that solar cells were not a new innovation. So they also knew that they needed to crack the market in a new and innovative way. Through a change in their business model, Better Together Solar was able to reposition itself as a company that provides added value to companies by increasing the robustness and resiliency of a company’s existing systems. For Myles Murray, Director of Communications, the last ten years have been a 'solar coaster': but the ride has been moving Ohio toward a more sustainable energy future.

Author

Nick Kuzma

Nick Kuzma

School

Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management

Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management

Professor

Chris Laszlo

Chris Laszlo

Innovation

To continue expanding in Northeast Ohio, Better Together Solar needed to broaden their customer base. To get there, they had to change the way business was completed. By analyzing the variables at installation sites, Better Together Solar is able to design systems that generate the maximum amount of electricity, while also ensuring smooth operations through monitoring and periodic inspections.

In addition to design and installation, they work with clients to create custom financial solutions to make the transition to solar as affordable as possible. This often involves a discussion concerning the federal solar tax credit. Finally, for every 1000 kiloWatt-hours of electricity produced by a solar array, one Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) is earned. SRECs have monetary value that varies based on supply and demand of the open market. Better Together Solar offers representation in selling any SRECs generated on the market for its customers.

The Ten Year Solar Coaster

Inspiration

Myles Murray, the Director of Communications, started Appropriately Applied Technologies as a solar company after leaving graduate school at Case Western Reserve University. After working for several years with Bold Alternatives, a veteran-owned small business, a merger was suggested to combine their forces and expand their footprint in Northeast Ohio. Since the merger in 2007, Better Together Solar has become the largest solar installer in Northeast Ohio, and currently employs three North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner Certified installation professionals and five employee-partners. As the business grew, the company realized that to continue generating solar installations they needed to ultimately change their business model to entice business and home owners to take advantage of the value that solar could provide them. In doing so, they have continued to grow while also continuing to show their love for the environment and, more specifically, Northeast Ohio.

Overall impact

Murray explains that “by building a community through my work and seeing the tangible changes that I can make, I’ve been able to stay true to myself and know that my work is doing good. That is why I’ve stayed here in Ohio all my life.” It is this type of thinking that drives the impact Better Together Solar creates for Northeast Ohio.

A primary form of change comes from more informed citizens, whether they be business leaders or home owners. Half the battle is just having initial discussions with people who are interested in sustainability and want to learn more about ways to promote it. The individuals who have put solar on their homes or the businesses who have incorporated solar into their energy profile are experiencing increased value by not being completely reliant on electric companies. Ultimately, as solar projects become easier to complete, the region can experience a mass transition to solar on the back of the federal solar tax credit.

Business benefit

“At the end of the day, why do we build wind turbines, create solar cells, or advance sustainable initiatives? The answer is to make money. So how do we prove to people that we are ‘making them money’?” (Myles Murray, Director of Communications)

On paper, the main benefit a company receives is in the form of a federal tax credit that allows you to deduct 30% of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes. But is this enough? Oftentimes, a company needs an additional benefit to drive them towards solar, and that is where the value creation aspect of Better Together Solar comes into play.

Some businesses will lose a lot of money if they lose power. Take a hospital for example. A hospital must keep medicine at specific temperatures to ensure it is usable. Without power, a hospital will hemorrhage money in the form of wasted medicine. Myles describes other examples in which a power outage would be disastrous: “If you’ve done a lot of hunting, and have a lot of meat in cold storage and the power goes out, what do you do in the long term? On day two you’ll have a huge cookout, and day 3 you’ll be out of food.” By supplementing backup generators with solar cells in conjunction with batteries that can store solar energy, users can extend the useful life of existing systems.

Institutions that have used Better Together Solar include Baldwin Wallace University, The Cleveland Clinic, Great Lakes Brewing Company, and Vitamix. These companies have found the value in adding solar energy to their energy systems, and have been able to do so in a sustainable and value-saving way.

Social and environmental benefit

From the societal side of the spectrum, the largest hurdle a solar company has comes in the form of policy from all levels of government. States differ on how they handle solar cells, but it also varies by county and sometimes even by city. “Eventually, the process will bottom out and there will become a standardized process for solar energy construction. When that happens, there will be a wave of solar that crashes over Cleveland,” Myles stated. This makes sense given the gradual move to renewable forms of energy, but also in the grand scheme of societal movements. Once it becomes a smooth, simple process for customers to have solar installations, the number of installations will increase dramatically.

The environmental benefits are much more concrete and stem from using a renewable form of energy that has no negative ramification on the environment, either in production or consumption. Solar energy reduces air pollution by not producing any greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, and thus does not contribute to global warming or decreased air quality.

Interview

Myles Murray, Director of Communications

Photo of interviewee

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Better Together Solar

Better Together Solar

Cleveland, OH, US

Business Website: https://www.bettertogether.solar/

Year Founded: 2007

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

The overarching goal of Better Together Solar is to change the consumer mindset that solar energy is purely a luxury item for the wealthy that can benefit from government subsidies, and is instead a value-driven initiative for all to enjoy. By combining both a standardized design and installation process that ensures maximum energy production, with in-house North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioner employees, Better Together Solar is able to reduce supply-chain and labor costs while simultaneously enabling the everyman to make the move to solar and save money. Finally, after the installation is complete, Better Together Solar conducts periodic maintenance and continually monitors each system to secure longlasting solar system uptime, and gives the option for the consumer to sell Solar Renewable Energy Credits based on the energy generation of their system.