This month’s Green Report in the Greater Knoxville Business Journal focused on financing issues related to large solar installations. But FLS Energy, an Asheville company that’s recently set up shop in Tennessee, sells photovoltaic systems and has a particular emphasis on solar water heating systems. The company offers financing as well. FLS Energy has 38 employees.
Here’s an email interview with Evelyn Winther, who operates the company’s Knoxville office.Tell me about FLS Energy.
FLS Energy is a solar energy generation company. We design, finance, and install commercial solar hot water (thermal) and solar electric (photovoltaic or PV) systems. FLS Energy’s mission is to make solar mainstream. We are committed to the highest standards of craftsmanship, customer satisfaction, and service warranty. And we are NABCEP certified (NABCEP stands for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners).
I am a UT Knoxville Ecology graduate and the E TN Business Development Representative for FLS Energy – my focus is on how solar technology can help address energy issues cost-effectively. Our team include engineers, system designers, ISO 14000 auditors, energy planners, master electricians, and general contractors. We’re also partnering with local energy service companies, which help businesses reduce their energy usage through efficiency upgrades.
What type of projects do you target?
Commercial-scale solar projects.
Why was Knoxvillle an attractive market?
Knoxville is a Solar City, and there is a lot of support from municipal and State Energy Office leadership for solar projects. Governor Bredeson’s Volunteer State Solar Initiative is creating many opportunities for growth in the industry, and TVA’s Generation Partners Program also makes projects financially viable for local customers.
Do you have any local projects currently in the works?
We have announced large scale solar thermal projects at the Knoxville Airport Hilton and the Oak Ridge Double Tree hotel. Construction on these projects will begin later this fall. We have a number of other projects in negotiation.
Any installations currently underway?
Yes, the Kingsport Center for Higher Education 30 Kilowatt (kW) project was recently completed as part of the center’s energy efficient building design (LEED building).
Who are your customers?
Anyone that uses lots of hot water. Hotels, restaurants, dormitories, car washes, and hospitals are examples of companies that can improve the bottom line significantly with solar hot water. Office buildings are good candidates for solar electric applications.
I understand that you are offering financing for solar installations. Tell me how that works.
FLS Energy has a Solar Energy Purchase Agreement (SEPA) model whereby clients can offset a large percentage of solar project start-up costs. FLS Energy owns, operates, maintains, and insures the system for a ten-year period. During the SEPA term, the client saves money on energy costs and overhead for the facility.
The SEPA arrangement is for any PV project sized at 5 kW or higher, or for thermal systems of 500 gallons or more per day. This program is especially helpful for entities like non-profits and municipalities, which would not qualify for other incentives – like commercial grants through the state, or federal tax credits. But it is also good for companies that want to reduce the upfront cost of solar projects.
Who provides the financial backing for your financing offering?
FLS Energy has investor partners who provide the upfront financing.
Has it been difficult to get financing given the condition of the market?
Financing earlier in the heart of the recession was very challenging. However, this has been a strong year for solar already, and hopefully improvements in the general market will continue.
Anything available for residential customers?
Not currently through my company. However, there may be future opportunities through solar co-ops, etc.
What response are you getting from potential customers? Is there a lot of interest?
The business case for solar is so strong in Tennessee that interest has been very high. I have been busy explaining this program to a lot of folks – a great year for solar but not for sleep if you are a solar rep.!
Evelyn Winther may be reached at (865) 705-4049. For more information on the company see www.flsenergy.com.