Based in New Orleans, PosiGen specializes in pairing energy efficiency retrofits and solar power systems to reduce household energy consumption. When Tom Neyhart and his partner Aaron Dirks decided to enter the energy efficiency industry, the partners knew they wanted to approach renewable energy differently than anyone else had ever done.
Dirks says the idea to create a company which focuses on energy efficiency first came to him when he and his wife decided to renovate their home. “It was right after hurricane Katrina and there were a lot of programs in place to help with energy efficiency but the process was so complicated,” notes Dirks. “Tom and I were social friends at the time and I was telling him about my experience. It was unbeknownst to me that he was looking to start a business addressing these issues. It was clear we had a connection with our ideas so we gathered our resources together and in 2011, we formed PosiGen.” The company has grown to become the fourth-largest residential solar panel company in the United States.
With a mission to help families create energy-efficient homes, Dirks notes that the business plan was not an easy sell to investors. “We wanted to form PosiGen with the primary goal of creating equity in a for-profit environment,” states Dirks. “Investors that we spoke with were telling us that it would only work if our target market was households with a six-figure income.” Dirks and Neyhart remained true to their mission. “We said let’s figure out a way to make an impact into the lives of those who need and deserve it the most and see if we can make a profit doing it.”
Currently, 85 percent of PosiGen clients reside in low-income census tracks or areas below the median income. Few, if any, solar companies around the nation would ever focus on this market, but PosiGen’s success proves that solar panels are for all income levels and can benefit all communities, especially disadvantaged ones.
Less than five years into the venture, PosiGen has nine locations throughout Louisiana, New York and Connecticut. Neyhart attributes the growth and success of the company to its unique approach to the energy efficiency market. With a focus on the residential homeowner market, PosiGen has chosen to target lower-income and middle-class households, particularly older homes lacking in energy efficiency. “We decided to market this to the blue-collar families -the people who have a household income of $30,000 to $50,000 a year and have children in school. If you can put $50 or $60 a month back into their pockets that makes a difference.”
With a passion for helping the environment and creating energy-efficient homes, Neyhart and Dirks were faced with the challenge of formulating a successful business incorporating these intentions. “We knew that in order to do this, we were going to have to be able to deploy a lot of solar, and we were going to have to understand the energy-efficient component.”
With many routes to choose from, Neyhart considered a partnership with a few business associates. However, he concluded this venture was not the solution. “We found that they were interested in just getting in and getting out,” Neyhart explains. What we really want to do is build that relationship with the customer, make sure that we fulfill our promise of production and that we are able to get them the savings we have projected through energy efficiency.”
One size fits all
Once the groundwork had been laid for the business plan, it became clear to Neyhart how to utilize the tools at his disposal and realize his vision for the company. “We wondered how we could build a system and install it at the lowest possible cost, so we became the Southwest Airlines of solar companies,” he elaborates. “We decided we would install one system at one size and just do it better than anybody else, and less expensive than anybody else.”
The system design operates with identical materials and dimensions regardless of household size and layout. With efficiency as the primary objective of PosiGen, this template design cuts expenses for the company and the customer. Labor costs are minimal due to the fact that the company does not have to redesign a new system for each household. “By using that uniformity we can drive our installation costs down below that of any of our competitors.”
In addition to creating energy-efficient homes, especially the relatively new households, Neyhart is proud of another service PosiGen performs called Hero Houses. The program is designed to complete a full energy audit of a home, allowing his team to discover any weakness in energy efficiency. The target households are special homes that would be considered “walk aways” in the industry due to the amount of damage it has sustained. The ideal candidate for the Hero Houses project is actually a homeowner who is unable to afford the necessary efficiency modifications.
The process involves an auditor who works directly for PosiGen. “He goes in with an infrared camera and shows the customer where the hot and cold spots are,” Neyhart notes. “He then sits down with the customer and reviews everything that we’re going to do to the house to reduce energy consumption.” Customers have experienced savings of 50 to 60 percent as a result of the program.
A recent success story of the Hero Houses program involves a single-parent customer. “She had a couple of children and had inherited a very old house from her parents.” The 1,200-square-foot house was generating an energy bill of more than $400. “We went in and sealed up her home properly,” Neyhart says. “We reset the window casement, put foam insulation in the attic and replaced every single bulb in the house with a CFL, I mean we really did everything in this house. As a result we were able to lower her bill from more than $400 to about $80 a month.”
Neyhart claims that it is examples like this that remind everyone at PosiGen why they do this type of work. “We really felt like that was great and it made all of our people feel really good,” he elaborates. “Anytime you get to do something like that there’s a lot of excitement within the team.”
Neyhart adds that the driving force to go to work every day is the rewarding aspect of the job. “When you get a note from a customer; when they send you an email, a letter or a card and just talk about what a great impact we’ve had on their lives and how much money they’re saving, that’s what it’s really all about.”
While PosiGen continues to make a difference in the lives of customers, company growth is also a primary objective. “The goal will always be for PosiGen to make a positive difference in the lives of American families, and the world.” states Dirks. Currently serving customers in three states, Dirks says it is reasonable to expect PosiGen to be in 10 states within the next two years.
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