A Conversation with BoyarMiller’s Chris Hanslik and Sunnova’s John Berger on the Clean Energy Sector
Houston is the world’s energy capital where fossil fuels traditionally dominated. However, there has been a growing demand for more clean energy, defined as energy derived from renewable, zero-emission sources such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower. As the world’s energy mix evolves, Houston is working to lead the way as the new energy capital of the future. In fact, two citywide initiatives have been created to lead the transition to renewables: the Greater Houston Partnership’s Energy 2.0 Committee and REAL (Renewable Energy Alliance) Houston.
John Berger, Founder and CEO of Houston’s Sunnova Energy International Inc., has more than two decades of experience as a clean energy entrepreneur. He spoke with BoyarMiller Chairman Chris Hanslik about renewable energy and opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Chris: Houston is a city of entrepreneurs embodied with a strong can-do attitude. Not only that, the vast scope of intellectual capital in Houston for the energy industry is the springboard to bring innovation forward for all areas of clean energy. We help entrepreneurs realize a vision for their businesses and there are many opportunities in renewables.
John: Yes, definitely. There is no doubt Houston, and Texas, have a strong future in clean energy. Regarding solar, Texas is one of the top states in the nation and more than 10,000 solar-related jobs already exist.
Overall, sustainability and smart technology are hallmarks of clean energy. The events of recent years have revealed a true and growing need not only for energy independence, but also for reliability. Faced with the impacts of the climate crisis and other social and environmental challenges, it is clear that the traditional energy service model is no longer working—we need a new energy paradigm of distributed solar and solar plus storage. So, entrepreneurs looking for opportunities must consider innovation and solutions for a changing landscape in order for their business to be successful.
Chris: It seems entrepreneurs and investors who are environmentally risk adverse would be attracted to the industry. It is less volatile and perhaps more predictable and stable than dealing with fossil fuels. And the fundamentals to starting a clean energy business are consistent with other industries: business planning, corporate formation, project financing, legal services, human resources – among others.
Would you agree, John?
John: Yes, I agree. Of course, as you know, there is risk with any start-up but more importantly, there is a need to educate consumers on the advantages of renewable energy and its benefits.
Even though the clean energy sector has some unique considerations, the fundamentals of forming a clean energy business are comparable to other industries. You need a strong business plan and partners in finance, legal, and technology, as well as knowledgeable business advisors, among others. There is opportunity and growth. Renewable energy stocks soared in 2020 and Biden’s infrastructure plan, which advocates a climate plan focused on carbon pollution-free power, may spur further growth.
Chris: Have you seen any shifts in the market sector lately?
John: As people spend more time in their homes, our customer proposition has shifted from being solely about saving money to now focusing on reliable and resilient power. In order to achieve our goal of powering energy independence, consumers need to be in control so they can decide whether their power will stay on or off.
Chris: We saw your recent news about your acquisition, tell us a bit more about this.
John: That’s right. On April 1st, we closed our acquisition of SunStreet, Lennar’s residential solar platform. We also entered into a strategic partnership with Lennar, whereby Sunnova will become Lennar’s exclusive residential solar and storage service provider for new home communities across the country. This partnership is a first of its kind in the industry, propelling Sunnova’s customer growth while simultaneously scaling our business and positioning us as a market leader in the homebuilder industry.
Chris: For entrepreneurs, the opportunity in renewable energy is more than electricity generation. There are many support areas and services needed that offer opportunities for businesses.
John: There is storage, conservation, and distribution. I also think there is a big role for software companies for custom platforms, automated systems, monitoring, and more. Most of all, in my opinion, what anyone interested in entering the renewable market really needs is a strong commitment to energy efficiency and independence. That is the driving force for our company; we believe all people should have energy independence.
Chris: Given the freezing weather and extended power outages Texas experienced this winter, how did solar perform, and what do you see as the role of solar for Texans going forward?
John: Once again, the power outages showed us that we can no longer rely on the centralized grid. Solar + storage kept our lights on when the grid was down, on the sunny days systems produced more power than they needed and fed it back to the strained grid. Now more than ever before, Texans are demanding decentralized (and decarbonized) power. What is the value of ensuring your family is safe during an extreme weather event? An increasing number of consumers are thinking about that and deciding that they need their own nanogrid – so that’s solar on your roof, a battery for storage, a home energy management system in the form of an app, and possibly an electric vehicle. Sunnova will manage that energy system for you and become your wireless power company. The technology to do that is already here; now we need to integrate these new technologies into an energy service that is superior to what the centralized monopoly can deliver. The ultimate goal of our industry is microgrids, basically many nanogrids grouped together to form a community, and with the rapid consumer awakening, I believe this will happen a lot sooner than we expected.
Founded in 2012 and headquartered in Houston, Sunnova is a leading U.S. residential solar + battery storage service provider. With customers across the U.S and its territories, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands, Sunnova uniquely provides a 25-year service commitment with every homeowner’s customized solar + storage system. Sunnova’s goal is to provide the choice of affordable, worry-free solar energy and battery storage technology that generates long-term value for customers and facilitates continued business growth for its network of trusted partners. For more information, visit www.sunnova.com
BoyarMiller is a mid-size Houston-based law firm that advances client business goals by bringing new possibilities into focus with confidence and clarity to achieve extraordinary outcomes. Since 1990, we have been providing practical and smart business solutions. Our firm is comprised of two practice groups—business law and litigation—and we serve multinational companies, middle-market businesses and entrepreneurs in need of collaborative and strategic representation. See boyarmiller.com for more information