Atlantic Clean Energy Supply LLC
Gene Li knows better than to take a well-lit street for granted. In 2015, his clean energy equipment supplier and engineering consultant company, Atlantic Clean Energy Supply LLC (ACES), was approached by a small coastal city in Long Island, New York, because one of the town’s neighborhoods didn’t have access to the street light power line, and every night was plunged into darkness.
Residents complained, but the city budget didn’t have the funds to connect the area to the main power grid.
So the city decided to try a green approach, and began talking with ACES about the possibility of using solar powered street lights.
Li understood that a town constricted by a tight budget couldn’t afford to take a chance on the wrong product so he gave them one of ACES’ outdoor solar-powered LED fixtures and encouraged the city to test it.
In September 2016, after a year of experimenting with the technology, the city began ordering ACES’ street light fixtures to illuminate its darkest neighborhood, and is expecting to finish installing them all in early 2017.
Li says bringing these kinds of green, cost-saving solutions to small communities has become his company’s biggest source of pride. “Because not only does the city save money on electricity, but the residents don’t feel unsafe going out at night,” he says.
Besides offering solar and LED products, such as solar panels, inverters, rail-less racking systems, modules, energy storage systems and many others, the Somerville, New Jersey, company also provides project development services for its commercial, municipal and residential clients in markets across the United States, Asia and Mexico.
The start of the green age
Li’s interest in alternative energy began after seeing Davis Guggenheim’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” in the early 2000s.
The seminal environmentalism documentary followed Al Gore as the former presidential candidate raised awareness of the dangers of global warming, presenting climate change as one of the most important moral issues of modern times.
Li says this documentary, combined with the efforts of the then recently-elected President Obama to make the environment a national priority, marked a shift in the market of how people perceived energy use.
It was an exciting time and Li wanted to be a part of the change.
“For me, it was about more than just making money because this is part of a long-term goal to support our society and our children. Renewable energy is my passion.”
In 2010, he started ACES, and began trying to find ways to distinguish his company on the LED and solar market.
“The traditional supplier imports product to stock their shelves and then marks it up to make a profit,” Li says. “We try to transfer as much benefit to the customer as we can by having very limited overhead so that the margin markup is very low. Sometimes our clients can even buy directly from the supplier to get the most affordable price.”
ACES does this by maintaining a small work force in New Jersey, manufacturing its own brand of solar and LED products, such as rail-less racking systems and LED fixtures.
“In addition, if a customer switches from using traditional high energy lighting to one of our DLC-certified LED products they won’t need as many KWH [kilowatt-hour], which means their solar system can be smaller, and lower the total cost of the system,” Li says.
The company also provides Energy Storage System (ESS) which harvests solar energy, and then stores it in a battery bank so it can be used during the night. This system allows commercial customers to have access to energy at any time, and even shift their peak demand which lowers overall utility costs.
To ensure quality in all his products, Li has spent the last decade cultivating strong working relationships with the company’s manufacturers in Asia.
“Because for us, quality comes before everything else, and I travel overseas between three to four times a year to inspect the supply lines myself,” Li says.
This personal touch has also built trust between Li and the factory owners, something Li says is very important for the success of his business.
Risk free energy
Li knew that convincing customers to try solar and LED energy alternatives would depend on finding ways to mitigate the cost.
So he decided from the beginning that ACES would offer finance and project brokerage services to help remove some of the risk, and even help customers take advantage of changing industry trends.
In advertising, for instance, many billboard companies are switching from traditional printed advertisements to a changing LED display. But for small- to medium-sized companies, installing an LED electric billboard represents a daunting investment.
ACES works directly with its suppliers to figure out an investment plan for clients, such as offering the billboard company a lease in which they pay a monthly fee and own the system outright in three to five years or sharing in the billboard company’s income from new advertisers.
“This finance package means we can focus on giving our customer the service they need, and the media company can focus on finding more customers to fill their expanded billboard,” Li says.
ACES also provides engineering consulting services, teaching clients how to use the LED or solar products after they are installed. “We can even help customers design a project and do simulations based on what they want to accomplish,” Li says.
For Li, adding services not typically associated with a supply company comes down to offering his customers the most bang for their buck.
“This is the internet age, so it’s not how fast you can build things by yourself, it’s about how you can utilize your resources and lower your overhead to deliver as much benefit to your customer as you possibly can,” Li says. “That’s what’s important.”
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