As California implements historic changes to its solar net metering rules, the renewable energy landscape is shifting quickly.
But according to Stellar Solar CEO Kent Harle, his firm is ready to make the most of these seismic changes and has solutions in place to make it a seamless transition.
“We’ve been riding this ‘solar coaster’ market for nearly 25 years now,” Harle explains, “And our customers have taught us what we needed to know to stay nimble and resilient as renewable energy markets continue to mature and evolve,” he says. “We don’t plan to survive – we plan to thrive. And deploying solar plus batteries for self-consumption is now our primary message.”
Serving Southern California from its Oceanside headquarters, Stellar Solar has seen its share of energy policy revisions and market volatility over its history. But somehow, it has managed to grow from a small “virtual” office to a staff of over 150 professionals and a track record of more than 15,000 residential solar installations in San Diego and Orange Counties, plus a recent expansion to Michigan with other states to follow and an impressive portfolio of commercial clients, including Cedars Sinai Hospital, the Salk Institute, US Foods and the US military and federal government, among others.
To hear Harle and his fellow founding partners Brian Grems and Michael Powers tell it, their customer-centric focus and attention to detail has long dictated the strategic direction of the company.
“Clearly what customers have always been looking for is more control over their energy future – what it costs and where it comes from,” asserts the company’s Director of Operations, Brian Grems. “And customers also want to be less dependent on the electric utility, especially with power outages increasing due to fires and factors like climate change,” Grems explains.
That’s one of the reasons the company started using electric vehicles nine years ago and embraced battery storage technology five years ago, long before its customers started asking for them. This strategy resulted in the company scoring the highest battery attachment rate with solar installations in the region, along with a reputation as battery storage experts.
“Years ago, we saw energy consumers being replaced by the ‘prosumer’ — a home or business that is sometimes a provider and sometimes a consumer of electricity,” Powers says. “And that has helped guide our product offerings.”
“We don’t have any crystal ball,” continues Harle. “But our goal has been to continue to build on our company’s strengths to make sure our customers have what they need, so they can harvest the maximum value of the solar electricity they produce, store and use.”
Most recently, this has Stellar Solar working with customers to help them “electrify their lives,” which includes planning to electrify transportation, cooking, heating and cooling and so on.
And to help get that message out, they enlisted the stellar star power of a long-time solar advocate with an equally innovative track record: ESPN/Pac-12 broadcaster, Basketball Hall of Famer, NBA All-Time Team member, and San Diego-native, Bill Walton.
Walton says that from the start, he was impressed by Stellar Solar’s reputation for quality. “When I learned that over 60% of their business comes from word-of-mouth customer referrals, I knew immediately this was the perfect team for me,” Walton says.
Now in its third year, Walton’s partnership with Stellar Solar has been a win-win for both parties. “I’m honored, privileged, and fortunate to be teamed up with as knowledgeable and forward-thinking a solar company as there is in Southern California,” Walton states emphatically.
In partnering with Stellar Solar, Walton is not just talking – he’s walking the walk. By recently adding battery storage to his sizeable home solar energy system, he can now share his own personal experience on how the combination of solar and battery storage can practically eliminate the negative impact of NEM 3.0 and actually maximizes homeowner ROI.
Harle explains the shift in strategy this way: “Up to now, we were helping homeowners maximize value by selling excess energy back to the utility at close to retail rates. But under the new NEM 3.0 rules, ‘exported’ solar power loses up to 75% of its value when delivered to the utility. So now, we’re focused on helping homeowners maximize their returns by off-setting peak and off-peak rates, when the sun doesn’t shine, through a combination of solar and battery storage. Why would anyone sell their excess energy back to the utility at $.05/kWh when they can offset $.81/kWh peak rates?
We want customers to see solar energy and storage as any other type of investment they would make: you want to buy when prices are low and sell when prices are high,” Harle explains. “We’re giving customers the tools they need to maximize their investments and help control their energy future,” he says.
“I heard somewhere that customers don’t actually buy products or services,” Harle concludes. “What they buy is solutions to problems. And we think home solar plus battery storage represents a powerful package for homeowners looking for ways to manage their home energy problems, now and for many years to come.”