ITHACA, N.Y. — A solar energy company based in Ithaca says it has achieved rapid growth over the last several years and is poised to expand its share of the local energy market.
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Renovus Energy, founded in 2003, has dramatically increased its size and impact, particularly in the last 12 to 16 months, according to Joe Sliker, president and CEO of the company. The last 30 days alone demonstrate that trend, Sliker said.
“We have sold or gotten commitments for effectively 10 times as much solar as we installed in our first 9 years of business,” Sliker says of the last four weeks. “It’s a crazy story … We’re changing the way people do energy around here.”
Tom Schryver, executive director of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement at Cornell University, said the growth of Renovus made sense as the falling price of solar panels and government subsidies have put the cleaner energy alternative within many consumers’ budgets.
“It’s a fantastic growth story, and great for the local economy,” Schyrver says. “It shows something about the Southern Tier being a hotbed for clean energy — which we expect to grow a lot more with ‘76 West,’ the governor’s $20 million clean energy business competition.”
Still, Schryver cautioned against overstating the impact of Renovus’ success — either on the area’s energy supply or its jobs market.
“It’s not like: We didn’t get fracking, but from a jobs perspective we have Renovus, so it’s even-Steven. That’s not right; that’s probably not realistic purely from the point of view of economic impact in the short term,” Schryver says.
“But it is substantial job growth, and hopefully is an indicator of further jobs to come over the medium and long term as Renovus and companies like it continue to grow with the increase in installed clean and renewable energy technologies.”
How fast is Renovus growing?
Here are some indications of Renovus’ growth, Sliker said:
1 — Recent job growth
In 2011, the company employed eight people. Now, it hires 66 full-time staff members. That’s an increase of 725 percent in four years.
“We are very explosively growing,” Sliker says.
All of the jobs pay above a living wage, Sliker said. Among the positions are an HR manager, a management team and other white collar jobs.
There’s also plenty of blue collar jobs, Sliker says, including electricians, roofers and installers — “they’re the ones who physically put it together. Without them, it doesn’t happen,” Sliker says.
2 — Expected job growth
That job growth is expected to surge again in the coming months, Sliker said.
Renovus is expecting to hire something in the range of three dozen additional positions, potentially bringing the total number of Renovus employees to over 100. (By point of comparison, the city of Ithaca employs about 400 people, according to VisitIthaca.com.)
“On the jobs front, we’re probably going to add another three dozen positions over the next six to eight months,” he said. “These are new, permanent jobs here; they don’t exist now and will very soon.”
3 — Expanded share of market
In 2011, Renovus was installing between 200-300 kilowatts of capacity a year. Now, it is on track to install 12-13 megawatts a year, according to Sliker.
Overall, Renovus’ revenue has increased by six times since last year, according to Sliker.
“Dude,” he says in an interview at Ithaca Coffee Company last week, “It’s been insane.”
4 — Major projects in the pipeline
There are several major Renovus projects on the horizon, Sliker says. Renovus will “completely solarize” Ithaca Beer Company, Gimme! Coffee and GreenStar, and is also working with the Paleontological Research Institution, according to Sliker.
“We are rolling through a veritable who’s who of local businesses going completely solar,” Sliker says.
5 — New facility
In December 2014, Renovus bought a new 7-acre facility in Ulysses. It used to be a chicken farm.
This is where the panels come into the Renovus warehouse, are prebuilt “as much as we can” and then sent out to commercial and residential units around the Southern Tier, Sliker says.
Why is Renovus growing so rapidly?
What has caused Renovus’ rise? Schryver, of Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, listed three principal factors:
1) The drop in solar panel prices globally enabled by the entrance of new Chinese manufacturers in the market;
2) A regulatory environment that supports solar energy with government subsidies, and programs like Solar Tompkins, which encouraged county homeowners to equip their homes with solar panels;
3) The professionalization of the industry, with established companies like Renovus giving solar energy more credibility. “When you have firms like Renovus that can be professional installers, instead of the dude with the truck — that makes a big difference,” Schryver says.
Sliker listed similar factors for Renovus’ growth. He added that the area’s political activism have also pushed consumers toward the Renvous’ product.
“Natural gas has helped us tremendously,” he says, perhaps counterintuitively, “because everyone around here it hates it and wants to do something different. All of the people that were fracktivists and were really pushing the anti-gas thing are all consciously pushing renewables.”
Is Renovus built for the long term? That will in large part depend on factors beyond Ithaca. A New York Times Story published last week noted that 2015 was a record year for major renewable energy sources, including solar.
Still, The Times story also stressed that “while renewables now account for 28 percent of the world’s electricty-generated capacity, they still account for only a tiny share of how we heat and cool buildings and fuel our means of transportation.” Solar power, The Times reported, accounts for just 1 percent of global energy production right now.
Sliker similarly recognized that Renovus still has room to grow. But the company’s recent successes, he stressed, are very encouraging.
“It’s a small piece of a very large planet that has a lot of energy problems,” he says, “but the momentum that’s building, and the kind of impact we’re having, is tremendous.”