Founded in 2010, Circular Energy recently celebrated its fifth anniversary of providing energy solutions to home and businesses throughout Texas. With locations throughout the Lone Star state including Houston, Fort Worth and Austin, Circular Energy helps Texans harness the power of the sun and turn it into a sustainable, money-saving source of renewable energy.
Circular Energy provides both traditional grid-based power solution as well as clean, client-generated solar power with a full slate of solar energy consulting solutions including: site prospecting and power bill analysis, engineering, design and installation, commercial solar development services, energy efficiency solutions, shared solar partnerships and solar renewable energy credit aggregation services.
The company was founded in reaction to what its two founders saw as a major shortcoming in the nascent solar energy market. “The industry as a whole was very concerned with cost and not so much with quality. We knew there was a market of people who are willing to pay more to get a better job done, so we built the business under that premise,” says Walter Rumpf, marketing director at Circular Energy.
Sales started to take off in 2012, and by 2013 Rumpf signed on with the fledgling energy company. “I worked for a couple different solar companies before, but the immediate difference with Circular Energy was that the people who worked there were all highly intelligent and independent. They all knew their role in the team and you could trust that everyone was doing their job,” he says.
Rapid growth soon took hold at Circular Energy, leading the company to open offices in Dallas and Houston in 2014. While the management team was buoyed by the company’s meteoric rise, they knew a bold leap would be required to take Circular Energy to the next level. In the last quarter of 2014, Circular Energy found that opportunity in the form of a merger with Pro Power Providers (PPP).
Teaming up with the Fort Worth-based energy company allowed Circular Energy to quickly capitalize on the lucrative retail power market. “Businesses and homeowners have the choice of who their electricity provider is, but none of these allow you to choose solar,” says Rumpf.
“The industry as a whole was very concerned with cost and not so much with quality. We knew there was a market of people who are willing to pay more to get a better job done, so we built the business under that premise.”
– Walter Rumpf, marketing director at Circular Energy
The partnership with PPP allowed Circular to market their innovative energy solutions to consumers in a number of new ways. Operating as a subsidiary of Circular, PPP directs all retail electric provider-related services, allowing Circular to act as a one-stop shop for all of a customer’s energy needs, solar or otherwise.
Chasing the sun
In early 2015, Circular’s new management team made the difficult decision to shutter the company’s residential solar division — a sector that employed 65 percent of the company’s workers — after a period of overeager development threatened the whole business. “The new CEOs didn’t know a ton about solar and were putting a lot of resources into a section of the business that wasn’t bringing in enough money,” Rumpf says.
This period of uncertainty led the company to invest more heavily in the commercial market. “Since then we’ve really been working to rebuild the commercial solar engine and work really closely with energy brokers in different states to expand their footprint,” he says.
The decision to focus on the commercial market was also driven by a soon-to-expire tax credit program that Circular Energy wanted to leverage on behalf of its customers. “The federal tax credit for solar provides 30 percent off, but it set to expire at the end of 2016. We knew there was a big opportunity available and didn’t feel like it would be possible to get there is we were bogged down with residential work,” says Rumpf.
Circular Energy recently competed a round of Series A funding to help finance the drastic pivot into the commercial market. While such funding sources are usually only used in the first stages of a startup, the funds allowed Circular to expand their presence into northeast Texas by hiring energy brokers and forming relationships with retail energy partners.
The company is trying to set itself apart from the competition by demonstrating their clear value proposition to customers. “We’re one of the first companies to offer a commercial solar buyback program, so if you’re producing more energy than you consume it goes back into the grid and eventually we’ll credit people for selling that power back into the market,” says Rumpf.
Moving forward, Circular Energy has three main strategies for delivering sustainable energy options to its customers. The first is a partner strategy where the company teams up with retail energy brokers and contractors who are looking to help clients offset their energy needs with solar technology. The second is a simple networking and referrals model, but it’s the third that has really led to some of Circular Energy’s highest-profile projects.
In the direct-to-consumer model Circular Energy reaches out to customers itself to collaborate on projects like schools, car dealerships, breweries and distilleries. These types of businesses all share one thing in common: most of their energy needs come during daylight hours, making solar and money-saving option. “Those types of companies use energy at a time when solar is the cheapest and that’s really where people get the greatest benefit: when the power you produce yourself is the power you’ll be using,” says Rumpf.
Circular Energy has worked on such projects with Austin-based Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Lewisville’s Witherspoon Distillery. “That’s a niche we’ve found ourselves in, but it’s more of a product of these industries wanting to move toward sustainability,” says Rumpf.
The company also plans to expand further into the retail solar market, but expects stiff competition from some of the larger players in the industry. Having started on the retail energy side and slowly moving into the solar energy market, Rumpf says Circular’s strength lies precisely in its small size. “We feel that we are more lean, nimble and adaptable to customer’s needs,” he says.
In the next couple of years, Circular Energy plans to expand its product offering beyond simply solar options. “If you need a creative energy solution, that’s what we’re working on,” says Rumpf.
High-profile projects, innovative delivery solutions and a promising tax credit opportunity will allow Circular Energy to continue helping customers throughout Texas bring their energy needs full circle.
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