May 2, 2007 10:25 AM PDT

The next chain outlet concept: Energy experts

With biodiesel and solar panels going mainstream, it's only natural that someone would try to build a chain for green technology.

Standard Renewable Energy and Conergy are building a branded network of energy experts across the U.S. to take some of the cost and confusion out of installing things like solar photovoltaic panels. And, of course, the companies are aiming to earn money at the same time.

Right now, most consumers get energy technologies from local installers. While these companies may be highly qualified, they may not have the brand or economies of scale of a chain, said John Berger, CEO of Houston-based Standard Renewable.

"How do you make using renewable energy easy? There is nobody doing that," said Berger, who used to run the East Coast power desk for Enron. "You get a consistent laugh out of that," he said, referring to his prior role.

Standard Renewable, through a division called NewPoint Energy Solutions, sends a representative into a commercial building or home, conducts an audit, and then compiles a list of recommendations--put in new insulation; install a new water heater; and so on--for cutting energy bills. The audit is free, but the company then bids on the contract. Some of the products to be installed are made by third parties and resold by Standard, but other products come from Standard itself.

The average contract price comes to around $33,000 for a residence and $60,000 for a commercial building.

Typically, the company representative won't be an employee with Standard Renewable. It will be an electrician from another company, but the individual will have been trained and qualified through a standardized procedure.

Standard Renewable is also building biodiesel refineries in association with the venture arm of ChevronTexaco.

Conergy, meanwhile, is mostly associated with solar power. It's one of the largest solar installers in Germany and has invested $30 million in a panel manufacturing site in Eastern Germany. The company is now expanding into the U.S. and is broadening its product portfolio to include wind turbines, biogas and other technologies, according to Cameron Moore, Conergy's regional head for North America.

By 2008, Conergy wants to generate half of its revenue from outside of Germany and half from products other than photovoltaic panels. A major segment of the non-solar panel revenue will come from offering financing to customers. Conergy both sells and installs equipment directly and through a dealer network.

Reducing installation costs
Installation and service in many ways is the skunk in the energy efficiency party. Billions have been spent over the past few decades to try to improve the efficiency of solar panels and reduce their costs. Nonetheless, half of the cost of a solar system still involves getting someone with a truck and a ladder to come to a home and put panels on the roof.

By standardizing these services and doing volume buying, these chains say they can reduce the service and installation costs. Although Germany isn't exactly associated with cheap labor, it is cheaper to install a solar system there, Moore said. In part, that's because the overall solar market is eight times larger than in the U.S. Conergy (like Standard Renewable) said it will also navigate the morass of rebates and tax credits for customers.

Right now, the installation market is fairly fragmented, Moore said. In California alone, about 600 companies offer solar services and, in many cases, an installer or service company will be primarily versed in one technology.

Many customers also got burned in the 1970s and 1980s by poorly trained installers, according to some in the industry. The solar water heater market was notorious for shady operators. Many installers were legitimate, well-run businesses, but closed when the owners decided to retire or move into another field.

"When a market takes off, it attracts the good, the bad and the ugly," Moore said. "We have to be careful as an industry. It is important for customers to be able to pick someone who has staying power."

Both Conergy and Standard Renewable, however, will have to face established players who survived the crunch in the alternative energy market in the '80s.

Berger said that the economic gains a building owner or consumer can get from energy efficiency are genuine. In some cases in the South, customers are seeing their utility bills drop by around 60 percent. Typically, the best results come in areas where consumers run their air conditioners for hours a day on high. Replacing old biodiesel boilers for heating systems in commercial buildings also has a pretty strong payback, he said.

"Utility bills are on the forefront of everyone's mind. Some retirees have electric bills that rival their mortgage payments," Berger said.

Standard Renewable's pitch is purely based on economics, not saving the Earth.

"We believe Americans believe they have a God-given right to have their cake and eat it too," he said.

See more CNET content tagged:
biodiesel, chain, renewable energy, audit, Germany

7 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Should Al Gore install Solar Panels in Tennessee?
The answer is no, and our research tells us that a Solar Transfer into the Arizonia, Nevada or a California region would net Mr. Gore 4 times more power. SolarTransfer, it is time we do this renewable energy production the right way. We try to explain this at www.SolarTransfer.com
Posted by Manhattan2 (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Terrible presentation
I went to your website and it sucked.
Take a tech comm class.
start with an overview or give me some idea of what your product is.
I closed the brower by the third font change.
Posted by esteinke (2 comments )
Link Flag
Should Al Gore instal solar panels on his back side?
The way his jaws flap he is sure to run out of energey sooner or later. Maybe a solor panel mounted on his backwould help. or what about all that methane he produces could be used to generate electricity, or power those wfast acting lips.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Non-AC Payback Time
I find just not using the AC at all has a very short payback time.
Until I was about 10 years old we had no AC at all, and that was
in Houston where both the temp and the humidity were
somewhere in the 90s in the summer. After we got central air,
the contrast between indoor and outdoor temp made playing
outside suddenly a lot less appealing. I like it better overall
without AC and have not generally used it since moving from
Houston while still in my teens. The payback time for not using
AC in the first place is about zero months, I suppose. I further
thatsuppose one day the heat will kill me, but it will probably be
like lying down for a nap and not waking up. Could be worse,
and at the same time will lessen my carbon footprint, on
average. What could be greener than that!
Posted by billmosby (536 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There's a sucker born every minute.
As the great showman P. T. Barnum once said "There's a sucker born every minute."

Just like recycling and Earth Day. Developing and promoting Alternate energy sources are just a fad that Standard Renewable Energy and Conergy are taking advantage of. And worse yet taking advantage of illiterate people whose only goal is to jump on the current band wagon for the sake of being popular, or with being with the "IN" crowd.

Where was all this concern 20 years ago? Why wait till the oil companies raped every man, woman, and child in this nation? Those who had any influence and could have done something to stop, or at least slowed the oil companies down didn?t give a dam about the middle income, and poverty stricken citizens of this nation because they could afford gasoline.

When Earth Day was conceived there was a great movement across the nation to study and develop alternate energy sources, and to utilize "Earth Friendly" products. It was "COOL" to be part of Earth Day, and recycling. Money was being poured into recycling, and alternate energy research. Parties, expos, people climbing the social ladder, and those once considered out siders now found their selves a way to mingle with the "beautiful people."

"Mandatory" became the favororite word of local and state governments. It was "mandatory" to recycle. It was "mandatory" to use Earth Friendly products. Local and state governments with their tax payer substised programs were laughing all the way to the bank. Not only were they being paid for their services through taxes. They were allowed to keep the profits rather then return them back to the tax payers.

New positions were being developed not because of an actual need, but for a desire to have a ?Title? like in England where if you have enough money, or influence anyone can be a Duke, or an Earl. Positions with huge insane salaries that were not being derived from actual work, or product development, but from the blood, sweat, and tears of the tax payers who for no other reason wanted to be part of the current fad.

Who wouldn't want to own a company where someone else paid your operating expenses, and all your profits went straight into your pocket. A real tragedy which I witnessed and did intense research into was the little known fact, and one that the local and state governments did not want to tell the people about at the time is, the day after mandatory recycling was put into action in all areas across the nation illegal dumping in rivers, forests, and low populated areas increased over 1,000 percent. That?s right, not 10, 20, or even 100 percent. But an increase of over 1,000 percent. Community leaders and mayors of small towns across the nation cried the blues, and attempted to file law suit after law suit to stop mandatory recycling and illegal dumping in favor of education, waste recovery facilities, and volunteer programs. Those who pushed mandatory recycling down the throats of the people could care less, and laughed all the way to the bank. They fought and made ?Mandatory Recycling? LAW!

Then the economy picked up and there was a millionaire born every day, and the price of gasoline was no longer a major concern. The bubble had busted. It was no longer ?cool? or ?in? to recycle, and funding for alternative energy sources dried up all over the nation except for those individuals who had a real concern and motives were....pure. No one gave a dam about alternate energy sources any more because gasoline was fairly affordable. Gas guzzling Hummers and SUVs out sold nearly every other model of vehicle. God it was "cool" to own a Hummer.

Now cities like Ann Arbor Michigan are crying their eyes out because recycling has dropped to levels where it is costing enormous amounts of money to keep their program going, and positions are being eliminated. The people got wise, and instead of GIVING their waste away to someone who was going to take advantage of them. They?re SELLING their waste. Markets opened for paper, cardboard, and other materials. People are starting to learn the wonderful benefits of composting, and growing their own fruits and vegetables.

It seems that the mentality of the American Citizen is to wait until their house or business burns to the ground BEFORE even considering spending one dime toward prevention.

One more thing, don?t think for an instant that the oil companies are not into alternative energy research, and development. The tobacco companies knew years ahead of time that the time was coming when they would be sued, and took enormous steps to protect their selves. That is why RJ Reynolds purchased Nabisco Brands, Inc, and Philip Morris purchased General Foods, and Kraft. If you are like most Americans and hate the oil companies, then you better think twice before you buy that solar panel, or other alternative energy source. You might just be letting the oil industry rape you again, and letting them laugh all the way to the bank.
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Chain Outlet Concept:: Energy Experts--Wouldn't that be great?
Why not have energy experts? For the rich and famous? The only business' interested in energy are those that sell it. Three years ago, I wasted 6 months working with contractors, HVAC Pros and local handy people desperately trying to find the RIGHT way to make my less than 3 yr old house, not more energy efficient, but comfortable while I was paying over $700 a month. My bill dropped slightly after simple items were done..caulking windows, sealing doors and rerouting the HVAC (some doofus ran an extra 20 ft of air duct around a 110 degree attic, instead of cutting it to fit) but it wasn't until I gave a 23 yr old engineering student carte blanche to resolve these issues that my bill dropped to just over $200 a month. My Dad would have laughed at the idea of hiring an Energy Expert, but then again, he could replace his own windshielf wipers. My lesson learned..economics drives both the availability of information and the willingness to try new processes. Insulation and electronic thermostats solved my problem. Innovative? Apparently.
Posted by karenschmidt4 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I use http://www.experthoustonelectrician.com for my electrician needs; they are fast, professional, courteous and know their business well. If you are looking for an electrician then <a href="http://www.ExpertHoustonElectrician.com">Expert Houston Electricians</a> is the way to go!
Posted by kimsmith79 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.