Apple can do it. Why can’t you?
The tech giant plans to build a $2 billion “solar powered” command center in Arizona. And the move is viewed as part of a larger trend.
More companies are investing in renewable energy (energy derived from natural resources) to fuel their operations.
But you don’t need to be a high tech heavy weight to participate. Smaller businesses can benefit from a renewable energy focus, which doesn’t always require you to spend billions or even millions of dollars, says OutBack Power, which designs renewable energy systems.
In an email interview with Small Business Trends, Matt James, applications engineering manager at OutBack Power, has 20 tips for transitioning to renewable energy.
1. Recognize the Commitment is Worth It
There are numerous reasons to consider renewable energy. It reduces a business’s utility bills and helps save on energy costs. At the same time it allows a company to reduce its “carbon footprint,” meaning it operates in an environmentally friendly way.
“Investing in a renewable energy system can help you boost your company’s reputation and advance your position as a local leader,” James says.
Be sure to look into all the considerations around renewable energy for small business use.
2. Build Support from Within
Adopting renewable energy probably doesn’t top your colleagues’ and stakeholders’ agendas. However, getting their support at the beginning will help ensure that the transition to renewable energy runs smoothly.
“Remind them that renewable energy is an investment. They can expect to see returns in terms of cost, environmental savings and reputation within the first few years,” James notes.
3. Educate Yourself in the Field
Learn everything you can about renewable energy. It can benefit your company in multiple ways. You need to identify precisely how it can, which will save you headaches later.
James advises that you speak to other businesses in your region that have undertaken renewable energy projects, read industry publications, and determine your state’s particular renewable energy policies.
Chances are you can even find a local installer to explain the fundamentals but you’d have to pay for the service, of course.
4. Get an Estimate and Make Sure You Have the Budget
So many variables are involved with renewable energy — regional policies, the infrastructure, project scale and other things — that offering a baseline cost-of-entry estimate is impossible. You definitely need to plan ahead by getting an estimate and then budget accordingly.
“Any budget you allocate toward renewable energy is truly an investment from which you’ll see returns and a payback,” James notes. “But you still need the upfront capital to get started.”
5. Only Hire an Installer You Trust
Renewable energy’s growth as an industry has created a demand for local contractors that install renewable energy systems. But before jumping to hire the first one you meet, talk to them and inquire about whether they’ve worked on similar projects previously. You also need to determine if they’re certified to install the type of system and technology you want. You might also want to speak with some of their previous customers.
“Most of all, make sure the installer is someone you can trust, since he or she will be your partner throughout the entire process,” James says.
A great way to begin the process of finding an installer is to consult The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP). NABCEP-certified installers are highly capable of meeting your needs, James advises.
6. Establish Expectations and Determine Goals
Knowing what to expect from renewable energy will help you set realistic expectations regarding how your system performs, as well as your return on investment.
The installer can help you clearly define your goals, whether it is independence from the grid, cutting your energy costs during peak hours or ensuring consistent power during outages.
7. Understand How Your Business Uses Energy
How your business uses energy will help you and the installer determine the appropriate system for you. You need to assess how many kilowatt hours (KwH) your company uses per year.
You also should determine the critical energy loads (lighting, computer, etc.) for your business.
These factors will assist you in picking the proper system. A good installer will help you perform the necessary “energy audit” to plan ahead.
8. Recognize the Local Climate to Identify Proper Options
Is your small business located in a sunny region or a snowy one?
A solar-energy system thrives in any weather condition, but some important factors need to be considered to find renewable energy systems that make the best sense.
9. Find the Most Appropriate System
Solar energy is the most popular renewable energy format.
Still, even within the “solar” category, there are a number of options to configure a system. Also many different technologies can be incorporated.
Based on your goals, your climate and your business’s energy requirements, work with your installer to choose the best system for you.
10. Capitalize on Incentive Programs
An array of local, utility, state, and federal incentives and tax breaks are available for companies that adopt renewable energy.
Investigate what is accessible and take full advantage.
11. Work with Your Installer to Budget, Find Vendors.
Once you know which system to implement, an installer will work with you to price out the components and service costs. You also need to work with the installer to get cost estimates from the various technology vendors.
The prices range, but you need to focus on quality. The key is to determine which products will deliver a quality system that will perform optimally and endure. This is critical to realizing a return on your investment.
12. Create a Timeline
Once you hire an installer and have established a budget and plan, you next need to create a timeline including key milestones.
Moving swiftly is always preferred, but it’s important to carefully develop a timeline to allow for an effective installation that meets expectations.
13. Secure Required Permits
Depending on your location and the utility companies powering your grid, you may face rules and regulations. You need to find out. These guidelines need to be followed to build, install and connect an alternative energy system.
Talk to your installer and regulatory bodies to ensure you have the necessary permits before you begin.
14. Be Available Throughout the Installation
A snag or issue is inevitable. At certain times, your installer will need answers before they can continue. Make sure you are available throughout the duration of the project.
Don’t let a minor problem blossom into a major issue.
15. Celebrate with an Office Party
Putting your company on a renewable energy footing is something to be proud of. When the system is ready to go live, it’s time to celebrate.
Invite the local press to your office and pop the champagne!
16. Set up a Maintenance Plan
Components sometimes need repair. Talk to your installer about required maintenance. Also get information from other local vendors that can help when problems arise. Be prepared by understanding the range of problems you might face and knowing which solutions are available.
Your installer likely will use monitoring and control software and related devices to monitor your system. The installer may need to perform occasional adjustments. These reduce the likelihood of emergency service calls, but if you ever need to make one, you know what’s entailed.
17. Be Patient
The benefits of renewable energy won’t be obvious in the short term. But they will arrive.
Be patient and give it time.
18. Measure Cost and Energy Savings
Be sure you have a system in place for documenting cost and energy savings. This will help you justify the investment to company stakeholders.
You can also share the data with employees, other businesses and the local media.
19. Discuss Progress
Keep all your employees updated on your progress. Maybe use your monthly newsletter to discuss how much the company saved last month.
Also, share your updates on social media and make sure regional trade organizations, as well as customers and partners, are informed as well.
20. Get Yourself Headlines
You spent a lot of time working on your renewable energy project. And you’ve spent a lot of time and resources implementing the appropriate program for your company in the best possible way.
There’s no shame in self-promotion.
Tell your PR team to get on the phone and call websites and local media. Don’t forget the trade publications that cover your industry.
Tell all of them about your company’s experience and the benefits you accrue. This helps position you as a local leader and inspires other companies to follow the good example you set.
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