By Ray Penner
Photograph by Bob Holtsman Photography
MiEnergy is on a mission to transform consumers of energy into independent producers of their own energy, using – in their words – “the right technology for the right reasons.”
Numerous business gurus – notably Simon Sinek with his Golden Circle concept – point out the importance of motivation to the success of a company. Business owners and their employees can easily tell you what they do or make and how they do it, but many have a harder time answering the question, “Why do you do it?”
OUT TO CHANGE THE WORLD
What MiEnergy does is design, sell, and install solar power systems. How they do it is by engaging some 30 employees to offer a complete service, from initial consultation right through to design, installation, and follow-up monitoring. But it is the “why” that drives their venture. MiEnergy is on a mission to transform consumers of energy into independent producers of their own energy, using – in their words – “the right technology for the right reasons.”
The genesis of MiEnergy was with a company called Dwight’s NextEnergy, which sold geothermal solutions to rural Saskatchewan customers. In 2011, Dwight’s owner approached Brennan Kilmister, the company’s Western Canadian business development manager, about becoming a partner. Brennan replied that he was not interested in a partnership, but would consider buying the business outright. He then phoned his good friend Kevin Bergeron, and with other partners they acquired Dwight’s NextEnergy in 2012. The pair quickly realized that the geothermal market was far too limited for their youthful business ambitions, so they rebranded the company as MiEnergy in 2014 and changed their focus to solar energy systems.
SELLING MEANS EDUCATING
Marketing a disruptive technology like solar energy has its challenges, because you must first educate your potential customers about that technology. Think of how selling microwave ovens today compares with how the very first microwave ovens were sold in the early 1980s. Although the market for solar power is growing, a solar-powered home is still a novelty that very few people truly understand. Many consumers still think of a solar-powered home as a luxury item for “tree-huggers” rather than a practical and affordable alternative to growing energy bills from large corporations.
That perception is changing, spurred by government rebate programs, which have been essential to MiEnergy’s sales. Rebates, however, make it difficult to predict where the market will be in the short term because the rebate programs continually fluctuate from one jurisdiction to another. MiEnergy’s partners are confident, though, that the time is soon coming when the rebates will no longer be needed – that we are about to reach the tipping point in consumer demand. In fact, in some regions this is already occurring. “Decentralization of energy systems is not a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” says Kevin, MiEnergy’s president and CEO.
Another challenge with offering a new technology is that anyone can enter the market and present themselves as experts and make unrealistic claims. This hurts not only the unfortunate customers, but also the industry as a whole. MiEnergy’s competitive response is to guarantee the performance of their systems. Their written contracts specify the amount of energy the system is designed to produce; if there is any shortfall, MiEnergy will reimburse the customer for the difference.
WE HAVE A LOT OF FUN, AND WE HAVE EACH OTHER’S BACKS.
SPREADING THE WORD
Customer satisfaction is the company’s principal form of advertising. A solar system is highly visible, which generates inquiries from neighbours, friends, and relatives. This visibility also generates pride and “the zealousness of the converted”: early adopters of a new technology typically love to convince others of the benefits.
“Many of MiEnergy’s customers are medium to large agriculture operations,” says Brennan, the vice-president and COO. “Ag people are innovative by nature and they’re stewards of the land. They see solar energy as a legitimate investment with a good ROI, but also, as one farmer put it, ‘We want to leave the world a better place.’” While Kevin and Brennan are inspired by a bright future in solar energy, they are not blinded by it. Their pragmatic strategy is to offer an entire ecosystem of energy supply – a complete portfolio of solutions – rather than just trying to sell one product. They recently acquired Polar Refrigeration Service Ltd. to ensure an effective, economical, and environmentally friendly solution to customers’ HVAC and refrigeration needs.
A BRIGHT FUTURE
One of MiEnergy’s biggest successes to date was an award from SaskPower for two of the largest solar projects in Saskatchewan. While one of the projects is entirely MiEnergy’s, the other is a partnership with a First Nations company in which MiEnergy designed and engineered the project and hopes to also build it.
Those successes, even the smallest sales, are celebrated as they happen by the entire MiEnergy team. “We have a lot of fun,” notes Brennan, “and we have each other’s backs.”
This partnership, with complementary skills and a motivated team, means “the sky’s the limit,” according to Kevin. As long the sun stays in the sky, they just might be right.
First published in the June 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.