Alternative Energy Options in Grey-Bruce

Home with solar panels installed by Sunfish Solar.

Home with solar panels installed by Sunfish Solar.

With rising energy costs and looming environmental concerns, the topic of renewable power has been gaining popularity in Grey and Bruce. The construction of wind turbines in the region has been hotly debated, biomass fuels have begun to be utilized, and solar panels are popping up on roofs all across the counties.

Unlike wind turbines, solar panels are widely accepted as a safe and effective method of renewable energy. But, with wind farm projects in the works across the counties, we’re still not seeing the same level of solar development as one does in other Canadian communities.

The Globe and Mail quotes northern British Columbia’s Dawson Creek Mayor Michael Bernier as saying, “Almost every municipal building that we now have in the city is covered in solar panels. That includes solar hot water as well as photovoltaic panels, which are used to generate electricity. Our fire hall, police station, library, city hall, everything – they all have solar panels on them. Right down to the crosswalk lights.”

The government offers many solar panel incentive programs to business and home owners, which can drastically cut the cost of installation. Solar power is a viable option, but why aren’t more people choosing it?

We sat down with Greg Lougheed, owner of local solar panel installation company, Sunfish Solar, to discuss his business.

How would you describe your specific product or service?

People don’t understand what solar can do. People are concerned about the cost of hydro and we offer a solution. Solar panels can reduce the price that a home pays for hydro by one third.

Solar panels can reduce the price that a home pays for hydro by one third.

If you average the power generated by the panels over four years, the cost of a kWh drops from 25 cents to 8 cents. As more time goes by, the savings will accumulate. After ten years of use, the money saved from hydro bills will have paid for the solar system entirely.

Sunfish sells lower hydro prices through solar panels mounted on the ground or on roofs. We sell complete systems and our service can process the government paperwork on your behalf.

Who are the people involved and what is their role?

Sunfish Solar has a team of over 12 employees. Among them are Sunfish’s operational manager, Sherry Webb who processes the paperwork from applications to building permits, and coordinates with the engineer, electrician, and installation crew.

Tim Lagasse is the lead installer and has over 20 years in the manufacturing industry.

I coordinate the logistics of installations and am head of sales. Having the salesman as the owner allows Sunfish to be flexible and binding with the customer.

When did the business get started?

In 2010, the auto industry was receiving millions of dollars in bailouts. In an attempt to also invest in renewable energies, the government of Ontario launched the Mircrofit program. Sunfish Solar took advantage of this program and launched that same year.

It just sits there working for you for generations.How large is your service area?

We could do commercial properties, but we really like dealing with residents. Farms are usually passed down through the family, so they’re usually excited about the service too. It just sits there working for you for generations.

We’ve installed panels on residential properties and farms between Tobermory and Collingwood, as far as Wingham and Stratford.

What motivated you to establish, acquire this business?

I established the business because I saw a need to offer people a way monetizing their roof through clean, quite energy production.

What are some of the challenges you faced in getting started?

I have found the first five years were a fight for survival. Everything needs building up. Branding, marketing, cash flow, training, costing, the list just goes on.

What are some of the lessons you have learned?

I haven’t done everything right, but I learn and change and try to keep doing better. I must look at the positives and keep away from negativity.

Were there people/resources that have helped you along the way?

The funding that was made available through the Mircrofit program encouraged the development of Sunfish Solar. Also, having a core group of colleagues through a business association was great. A business person needs to bounce ideas off people and get feedback.

How do you think you differentiate from other similar businesses?

Sunfish Solar offers systems that private homes can use. Also, being a local company makes the customer feel secure. We have the knowledge of the systems we install and people don’t like their money to go out of the area.

Are there challenges to being located in the region?

Being located in Owen Sound is great. There is a lot of opportunity because we are under serviced here.

Do you see specific challenges for the future?

A challenge we’ll have will be to continue to make Sunfish efficient in its use of materials, time and energy. We’ll do this so that we can keep internal costs low and pass the savings along to our customers.

What advice would you offer other entrepreneurs?

Look at your idea from other people’s perspective. Negative feedback is very telling and needs to be taken seriously. Also, having a core group of friends through an association is a great idea. A business person needs to bounce ideas off people and get feedback.

Don’t chaise deals. If someone isn’t sure if they would like to, go ahead leave them. If staff is not onboard, let them go and find work that they can enjoy. Pay good wages, and be flexible.

A start up should plan on five years to pull through the survival stage. If it looks like it going to die and it’s because of an outside influence, stop the business and do something else. Business should not enslave the owner.

 

 

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