My first $250,000 in solar sales.

A few months ago I looked at my income from Balloon Distractions, looked at the amount of debt that I still had to tackle, and decided to (somehow) get into the solar business.

My thinking was to go on offense; the more you earn the faster you can pay off your home and achieve financial freedom. I had been playing financial defense for three years, paying off over $185,000 in debt since 2014.

Even before any of the local solar companies would talk to me I went out and knocked on doors to drum up business. Within a week of doing that I met the owner of Tampa Bay Solar, Steve Rutherford, and he reluctantly agreed to teach me the business.

Since then I’ve sold just over $250,000 in residential solar installations. My goal is to close $1 million in closed deals by the end of 2017. The first $250K in sales in a new industry is always the hardest. I made mistakes, missed deals that I could have closed, and learned a ton about how residential solar works.

During this time I also ran Balloon Distractions as usual, we sold a few new clients in the Tampa region… I filled gigs, trained new artists, etc. Of course, selling solar created more gross revenue in 3 months than Balloon Distractions generates in an entire year.

One of the key metrics in business is this: how much gross revenue can you create by going out and selling your product or service?

It’s always tough to learn a new industry. In my first few months I’ve heard all the usual questions and objections that a typical homeowner will have in regards to solar. I set up a folio with various print-outs that address specific objections; from HOA rules to how the panels are mounted on the roof.

I learned how to prepare proposals for different roof types, different inverters and different types of panels. Tampa Bay Solar also sells solar pool pumps and solar pool heaters, so I had to learn the details and pricing for those products as well.

My next step is to tackle the intricacies of commercial solar.

I’ve yet to land a commercial deal but we have several leads that I’m working. Commercial solar is a longer sales cycle, I can meet a homeowner today and the deal is closed and installed in just a few weeks. Commercial solar is slower to close and more complex.

It makes sense to stay in residential solar for weekly sales while also learning commercial solar for larger commissions, even though I might only close 1 or 2 larger commercial deals every year.

All in all I’m grateful that Steve Rutherford gave me a shot at the solar business.  He has a great team of installers and a solid reputation, I’m proud to sell for Tampa Bay Solar.

Ben Alexander

July . 2017

4 Factors, and the emerging billion.

I’ve been to Honduras several times on mission trips to install water filters with Pure Water for the World. I saw firsthand how people live outside of our “first world” existence; no clean drinking water, few paved roads, no underground sanitation, and no power grid.

There are 7.5 billion people on our planet right now:

In other words MORE of the world lives like the folks in Honduras. There are a billion people who do not have daily access to clean drinking water, for instance.

Technology will help many people transition from poverty to the middle class, and there are 4 main technological forces that will drive this transition.

  1. Smartphones everywhere. Check out this graph: This means that more people will have instant communication with internet access. The most advanced phones sold for $500 right now will be sold as used phones for pennies on the dollar in 2020.
  2. Less expensive solar. Even a small panel can charge up a smartphone for a few hours. In areas without a power grid solar panels can provide electricity for cooking, LED lighting and internet access. Solar panels can power a well pump and a filtration device for clean drinking water. Solar is cheap now:    

Solar panels are robust and last decades, so a family who buys 3 or 4 panels can provide power for their family for many years. This is especially beneficial for communities that are hundreds of miles away from a traditional power grid.

3. Less Expensive battery storage. As the electric car market heats up the global demand for inexpensive battery power will ramp up as well:

It doesn’t really matter where the batteries are made, they will eventually find wide distribution in the developing world. As production increases the price point for battery storage will go down, and there will even be demand for used batteries. The 16kW battery in my Chevy Volt can be used for home energy storage even after it is no longer effective in my car. When you combine cheap solar with cheap energy storage? This gives poor folks LED light at night, phones with internet access, power to cook without burning wood, and power to pump and filter drinking water.

4. Last, but not least…. YouTube. Not for cat videos, but to learn practical solutions to local problems. You don’t need to read or write to learn from a video.

YouTube is the cheapest university on the planet, even if you don’t speak the language used in the video. Here is a video that teaches how to set up an off grid solar array:

A cheap smartphone, charged by a solar panel, with battery storage and YouTube access?

In the hands of a billion people who want to lift themselves out of poverty?

There is untapped potential out there. As these 4 factors come together we will see a much larger global middle class, which means more demand for basic services, a larger global economy and more opportunity.

With fully deployed green tech we don’t need to worry about a lack of resources, there is enough sunshine falling on the earth to supply every human being with electricity, food and clean water.

It all comes down to the 4 factors; smartphones, solar, cheap batteries and YouTube.

Ben Alexander

June . 2017

What THEY want.

Short term thinkers will always be at the mercy of long term thinkers.

Many corporate powers seek to influence our lives, what THEY want and what is good for you and your family might be very different.

A few examples…

Your Mortgage company wants you to pay them over the next 30 years, if you pay off your home NOW you’ll save over $100,000 in insurance payments.

ExxonMobil does not want you to buy a plug-in or hybrid car. They want you to get a huge SUV with a big V-8 engine. THEY know that if you buy a gas guzzler you’ll spend over $15,000 in fill ups over the life of that vehicle.

A hybrid car will use about $5,000 in gas, a plug-in vehicle even less. I spend $15 per WEEK to gas up my Volt, I used to spent $60 a week when I drove a V-6 Avalon.

The electric company doesn’t want you to find out the numbers on rooftop solar for your home, THEY do not want you to know that your electric bill could be less than $10 per month. They want you to think there is a huge upfront cost, when there is NOT!

Duke energy wants you to fear solar, even though the technology is proven.

Your credit card company wants you to use plastic for everything, and carry a balance forever. And if you’re late on a payment? They’ll jack up your interest rate to 20%. It’s all there, in the microscopic print on your contract.

Your cable company want you to keep paying $70 or $100 per month for 500 channels that you’ll never watch. They don’t want you to get Netflix for $8 a month.

++++++++++++++++++++

You don’t have to participate in what THEY want. You can chop up your credit cards and pay off the balances forever. You can get more efficient, there are many inexpensive used hybrid and plug-in vehicles for sale in the used car market.

I get over 100 miles per gallon in my Volt…

You can go solar, get your electric bill down to peanuts and pay off your panels in the next 5 or 6 years!

You CAN pay off your home while you are still young! I’m 43 and on the path to pay off my home before I turn 45 years old, WHILE I have 2 kids in college!

You can take control, THEY can go pound sand!

Ben Alexander

June . 2017

Which curve are you on?

Check this out:

Residential / rooftop solar is on the beginning of the same upward curve. It will closely follow the growth curve of electric cars:

This is why I’m in the solar biz. It will start with 1 or 2 homes in every subdivision going solar, then more and more people will follow suit.

The first adopters will pay off their panels by 2022, panels that will generate electricity for decades. Late adopters will waste thousands of dollars, sending funds to an electric company that will never give you any return on your hard-earned money.

Solar costs less than your monthly electric bill, right now. 

When the panels are paid off in a few short years? It can be thousands of dollars per year BACK in your pocket.

How do I know? I sell these systems to homeowners every DAY.

Ben Alexander

June . 2017

A billion dollar idea?

It’s a lovely sunny day in the Spring of 2022.

You drive a full electric Ford with the new lithium silicon battery tech that holds about 1,000 miles of charge. Your car is very fast, almost silent, and it costs about $20 per month to charge at home… but you have solar so all your home charging is free.

You bought your Ford brand new, for $22,000.

Over breakfast you check your MoneyCharge app, it seems that there is a projected shortage of power in Clearwater Beach today! If you park there and give up 500 miles of charge you’ll get paid $16 and your parking for the day is free!

You drive over with some friends and the app directs you to an open upcharge / recharge parking spot near the Hilton. You grab your beach blanket and enjoy the day. When you get back to your car there is still 500 miles of charge left, which you can recharge back up to 1,000 miles when you get home.

$16 has already been electronically deposited in your account, bonus!

The MoneyCharge app communicates with the computer in your electric car, you can program it to give up X number of charge miles for X dollars based on your needed range. If your work commute is only 50 miles round trip you can plug your car in at work and sell 800 miles of range at a preset price.

The local electric grid would pull electricity at the lowest prices first, then step up the draw based on the power needs in that area.

A million electric cars each with a 1,000 mile range would become a massive mobile energy storage device for the power grid, your car could sit at work during the day getting charged by rooftop solar, then take that power home with you to power the local grid at night.

Power would flow back and forth, meeting the needs of the market on a minute by minute basis. There would be multiple sources to the grid; traditional gas and coal generation, nuclear, wind turbines, rooftop solar and battery storage from cars and homes.

A sophisticated energy management system using artificial intelligence could manage the ebb and flow if this energy in the most efficient way possible, saving money for the consumer as well as the electric utility.

This AI would track and anticipate patterns of usage over time, making energy management more predictable. Energy AI could also be tied into the weather forecasts, knowing how to anticipate cloudy weather and storms that could diminish the output on rooftop solar.

Of course, this will require the integration of the computer in your car, your home, the app on your phone and the computer powering the grid.

I have the SolarEdge app on my phone (right now in 2017) that shows me the power output, in real time, of all the installed solar Tampa Bay Solar has in operation right now.

Having mobile storage that can communicate with the power grid allows for lower prices all around, if the electric company can get power from a hundred thousand cars they don’t need to fire up the coal gen or natural gas turbine as often.

During high peak usage days (like when the Northeast saw 100 degree temps) this system would draw from rooftop solar and energy stored in electric cars, in addition to coal, natural gas and nuclear.

On hot summer days rooftop solar still produces until 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, at least here in Florida. I can show you on my SolarEdge app!

There will also be energy storage in your home, probably a larger version of the battery in your car. The MoneyCharge app would track all the power stored in your vehicles as well as your home.

Depending on the size of your home battery you might have an entire week (or month) worth of charge. Even in a long term utility blackout your system would recharge with solar everyday, and if enough homes had electric cars and rooftop solar no one would lose power.

Even if a home did NOT have solar they might be willing to pay a premium to keep the power on, especially if it was only for 2 or 3 days.

Some communities in Florida lost power for a week after various hurricanes blew over and knocked down power lines. Hurricane Wilma did this back in 2005:

The old-timey power grid can get really messed up by a CAT 4 hurricane.  

By 2022 volunteers should be able to drive into storm damaged areas and donate 800 miles of charge while they help clean up the area. Organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross might also deploy huge batteries pulled by tractor trailers, along with rapidly deploying high efficiency solar arrays.

Other than the 1,000 mile battery all the technology is possible NOW to make this idea happen, most of this system involves software integration between electric cars, charging stations and the wider power grid.

We need more car chargers, more electric cars, and more rooftop solar… but that is only a matter of time.

Elon Musk probably has a team working on this idea right now.

Ben Alexander

June . 2017

A scientist in church?

My college degree was quantitative economics, which is useful when I’m pitching commercial solar deals and discussing ROI projections, accelerated depreciation, and projected kilowatt output on a 1000 panel solar array.

I’ve also had to develop some basic scientific knowledge about photovoltaics, power inverters and the basic engineering that integrates solar with the power grid.

My Monday through Saturday activity is firmly grounded in math and science, yet every Sunday I find myself at the local Methodist church. I attend an old-timey service where they still sing hymns from the hymn book. My Mom sings in the choir and Dad runs the audio-visual, so I get to see my parents as well. I like the traditional service, even though I’m probably 20 years younger than most of the folks who attend.

For a long time I rejected faith because I felt it contradicted the theories of Darwin, carbon dating, paleontology and many other hard sciences. Modern science states that the soul does not exist, we are just primates responding to chemical stimuli and electronic impulses firing from neuron to neuron.

I think there is much more than that. 

I can’t hold a baby in my arms and not believe in love, and connectedness, and a wider theory of the universe. Hence the picture above.

I don’t think science is wrong, but I believe that there are far more things that scientists have NOT discovered yet that will show evidence of a (multi-dimensional?) plane that we have no way to measure right now.

In 1850 the best scientists in the world had no clue about the nature of radiation, radio waves, viral infections, or even what was on the other side of the moon. The periodic table was only partially complete! Einstein’s theory of special relativity was 60 years away from being discovered.

I think that our current scientific understanding of the connection between all living things is at 1850 levels right now. Scientists can’t measure the love that a mother has for her child. They can’t measure the connection between a group of friends laughing about a shared experience.

This energy binds us and connects us in a very real way. We are connected to our family, our pets, even the stranger who rings up our order at the grocery store.

This concept of connection, or love, was one of the main teachings of Christ.

I don’t have all the answers here, there are clear conflicts between what is written in scripture and what we have learned in the laboratory, but I know that we are all on this journey together.

And if we can channel MORE love, and MORE compassion for our fellow humans?

That’s not a bad thing at all.

Ben Alexander

June . 2017

It’s just plain Science.

I’ve been excited about green tech since I sold the Prius 15 years ago. Back then I studied hybrid technology, from drive systems to regenerative braking to battery tech.

The first gen Prius was a little dorky, but it got great gas mileage:

The Prius buyers who had a technical background loved me, I could answer all their questions about the science and the technological advances that made the Prius possible.

The technology behind the Prius was new in 2001, but the buyers who bought the first gen Prius loved their hybrid, my wife drove a 2nd generation model, when that wore out she got a 3rd generation (2011) model.

Science is based on quantifiable data, and I get to deal in that data when I’m talking with a client about solar:

  1. We know that the client will use electricity as long as they live in their home. That money will be spent every single month, the money sent to the electric company has ZERO return on investment.
  2. We know that inflation exists, and that the utility will raise electric rates over the next decade.
  3. By looking at their electric bill (daily kilowatt hours usage) I know exactly how many panels (at 330 watts per panel) we will need to replace that usage. This can be figured out on a $3 calculator.
  4. If you divide the price of the system by the energy generated per year we know the Return On Investment averages about 7 years. That’s 2024 folks.
  5. We know the LG brand solar panels we sell have a warranty that runs out to the year 2042 (25 year warranty).
  6. We know that panels and inverters don’t have moving parts, so there is no maintenance. Florida rains will rinse off the panels.
  7. We know the panels are rated to 150 mph winds.

But what about the non-science? The subjective stuff that is less quantifiable?

  1. The client might not know who WE are at Tampa Bay Solar, but they can read about our founder in the newspaper:    http://www.tbo.com/list/military-news/new-venture-helps-tampa-veteran-see-the-light-20141110/
  2. The client doesn’t know me, that I’ve lived in this community since 2003, raised my family in this community and served as the President of the local Rotary club.
  3. The client might not realize that we are not only in the solar business for profit, but also as part of a larger mission. Wars are fought and soldiers die over scarcity of resources, deploying solar all over the planet cleans the air and lessens the need for global conflict.

If I sit down with a client and they decide to go with another solar installer I’m glad that we got them thinking in that direction. I’d rather see my clients implement solar with a competitor than not at all.

I read up on green tech daily, not only about solar, but also about electrical vehicles, wind turbines, geothermal systems and the emerging smart grid. I attend seminars and workshops in my off time in order to deepen my knowledge and become more effective out there in the field.

At the end of the day its the client’s home, and the client’s high electric bill. I can present the facts and answer their questions, but they have to decide to think short term and do nothing or think long term and get a system.

Long term thinkers have a finite payoff date on their panels, but short term thinkers will pay the electric company forever.

Ben Alexander

June . 2017