Shepherd Chou talks about helping people make the decision to go solar

Shepherd Chou talks about helping people make the decision to go solar
Shepherd Chou, founder of Maverick Green Energy. Photo: Supplied

Shepherd Chou, founder of Maverick Green Energy, is determined to help homeowners make a careful, fully informed choice about switching to solar power. Witnessing the predatory sales tactics of many in the green energy sector, Shepherd wanted to provide a consultancy that protected consumers and only paired them with ethical solar providers.

Shepherd answered some questions about his business and the nature of the solar power industry.

For those thinking of transferring to solar power, what would you advise to them?

Going solar is one of the most significant decisions a homeowner can make in regards to his or her property, it’s both exciting and a little intimidating. For those considering switching to solar, I would recommend doing three things to help save a good amount of cash and headache down the road.

The first is to think about what you want to accomplish with the transition and if a solar system can in fact help you achieve that. Most people choose to go solar to help reduce or eliminate their monthly utility bill, but there are other, less obvious reasons that make solar an attractive option.

It may make financial sense for some people to have a small solar system installed just to claim the 30% federal tax credit to help reduce their annual tax liability, or for homeowners looking to sell their houses, an inexpensive quality system can help with the property value and demands. Having a goal in mind is a great way to keep yourself grounded and avoid information overload during your initial research and various sales pitch from different solar companies.

The second thing I urge people to do when thinking about switching to solar is to have a plan for how to fund the project. A solar system is not an expense, it’s one of the smartest long-term investment. Like traditional stock or real estate, it’s important to consider what you are spending versus return on investment.

Questions like will you be buying or leasing the solar system, do you prefer making the purchase in cash or go through a financing program, what are your debt-to-income ratio and credit scores will all have major impact on your system’s long-term value. Any qualified solar solution provider will be able to provide the insights and choices you need to make an informed decision, but you will save yourself a lot of time later with the knowledge of your finances and budget in the beginning.

The third and most important thing, and I can’t stress this enough, is to thoroughly research the companies that you are considering helping you go solar. This can be challenging as the current solar marketplace is overcrowded and confusing, but necessary nonetheless. As a general rule of thumb, the biggest national-scale installers typically don’t offer the best price due to their outreach and marketing campaigns – and their equipment options are usually limited as well due to strategic partnerships with a handful of manufacturers.

Variables like costs, warranties, installation schedule, equipment and customer support are all things to take into consideration when looking into an installer. Websites like CSLB, BBB and Yelp can help you learn the company reputation and past interactions with customers.

Where do you see your business as well as solar power in the future?

The most profound challenge we face today is no doubt global warming. Finite energy sources like coal, gas, and fracking are no longer viable long-term energy options to support future generations. Renewable energy, and solar in particular, holds massive potential for meeting humanity’s energy needs while drastically reducing our carbon emissions – so solar is definitely not going anywhere.

I think in the next few years we are going to see a titanic transformation of the global energy marketplace with the technological advancement of storage solutions and major shifts in governmental policy. China, for example, is investing $360 billion in large-scale solar energy expansions and decommissioning 85 coal power plants by 2020; and European counties like Denmark is expected to generate more than 60% of its energy from renewable sources by 2022. As of 2017, the US has the second largest growth in solar energy adoption next to China and added jobs at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall US economy in the solar industry. I hope we will continue to lead the world by example in the coming decade.

For my company, we will continue to focus on educating the public on the potential and necessity of solar while helping our clients take advantages of the monetary incentives currently still available on both the federal and state level. One of the more interesting realities of the solar industry is that so much of what we do is directly tied to policies and subsidies that a lack of urgency from the top can mean a sharp decline in market adoption. We will also be dedicating more time working with nonprofits in California like The Solar Foundation and Grid Alternatives to help advance renewable energy initiatives with communities and policymakers.

What made you create a business associated with solar power?

When I first started out in the solar industry, I was working for a large national installer in Southern California. I was told one day by my sales manager that a really good lead just came in and that I needed to do whatever it takes to get the sale.

The lady’s name was Elena. She was in her late sixties, retired and living alone. She was barely surviving with her social security benefits so she decided to convert a portion of her backyard into a daycare for the neighborhood kids to supplement her income. To help reduce her expenses for the daycare, a contractor convinced her to get solar about a year ago.

The first thing I noticed was how shoddy and dangerous the installation was, and the system wasn’t even connected! The contractor that installed the solar for her had gone out of business, but since they had convinced her to finance the system, she was stuck making payments on a solar system that didn’t work while still paying a high electricity bill. She was drowning and needed help, and my sales manager wanted to see if she was willing to spend more money so we can meet our monthly sales quota.

To me, that experience embodied everything that is wrong with the solar industry – the aggressive sales tactics, the toxic corporate cultures, the atrocious installations. When solar companies engage in these kinds of practices, they give the entire industry a bad rep, and it’s leading consumers to reject clean energy solutions entirely – unfairly impacting honest and ethical installers and slow environmental progress.

I talked to a couple of friends who were also working in the solar industry in various positions about Elena’s situation, and the process we went through to help Elena became the basis for Maverick Green Energy.

How can Maverick Green Energy help homeowners save money with their electricity bill?

Every homeowners and houses are unique, but a typical consultation will consist of learning about the client’s energy goals and needs, past energy usage habits and conducting an extensive energy audit of the property.

The truth is, going solar may not make financial sense for some homeowners. For most in California, however, having a properly sized solar system that fits their actual energy needs can mean a drastically reduced or even elimination of their electricity bills. Our long-standing partnerships with some of the biggest names in the industry also mean we can offer a high-end tailored solution at below market cost.

How are you different to other solar companies?

Maverick is unique in that we are not a sales organization. Our mission has always been to educate our clients on the benefit and potential pitfalls of solar as it best applies to their individual situation.

We do one thing and we do it really well, and that is helping families navigate the complexities and making the informed decision to go solar.

Another thing that sets Maverick apart is our impressive network of partners in every arm of the industry. By rigorously researching, vetting, and only partnering with:

Experienced and honest local installers who are unwilling to cut corners and promote aggravating sales campaigns;

Established and reputable panel and inverter manufacturers that offer the latest top-of-the-line equipment with above industry standard warranties; and

Competitive and transparent financing programs with awesome customer service that focus solely on renewable energy upgrades.

We are able to hold ourselves and our partners accountable during every step and provide the best service possible. For a community-driven startup, I am really proud of the values we’ve been able to offer our clients.