Kat Hitchcock's Interview with Brighten Solar Co-Founder, Marine Schumann.
How long has Brighten Solar been in Santa Barbara?
The company started in early 2015 so we have been around for a little over two years now. It seems like it has been a long time but it is quite fresh actually. We started right away with big commercial contracts and it’s been great. We have enjoyed all of the trainings and information that we got from our French company to start the team here. The French company started in 2007.
What is the most important reason someone would switch to solar energy?
We’re working with a lot of real estate agents to help their clients understand why they would want to go solar. I like to think the main reason would be for eco conservation reasons. Solar is a wonderful source of energy and it is unlimited. The technology has come so far that there is no reason why someone who has a solar friendly roof wouldn't want to just enjoy the technology it is super steady - low maintenance technology. In addition to the eco-conscious reasons the main factor is financial. One would want to go solar if they are tired of spending money on high electricity bills. They can recoup their investment in usually six years, after six years it is pretty much free energy. Also because there has been studies focusing especially on Southern California Edison that shows adding Solar to your property actually increases the value of your property. If you want to build your assets and save money solar is a great investment.
You do both residential and commercial projects correct?
Yes, for us it is important to have a mixed portfolio. When we work on residential our niche market is really those people who don’t like to see their solar panels and want everything to be neat and optimized. So we happen to work a lot with architects and new construction because we understand when you have a multi-million dollar home or just considering the price of real estate in general in Santa Barbara it is important you make sure everything looks beautiful and adding value to your assets.
What is the biggest project you have worked on recently?
Right now we are working on Deckers headquarters on Hollister in Goleta. Definitely a big project I can’t say it is the biggest project for Goleta but it’s really exciting we just submitted permits so we are starting construction soon!
Is Solar affordable?
Solar has become affordable, for two reasons. First, if you decide to go cash you can recoup your investment super quickly. We are not talking about 20 year return on investment we are talking, as I said earlier, more like six years. With return rates averaging 15%. It is something I believe most people, at least in Santa Barbara, can afford to do. If you’re looking to invest it is definitely something you would want to look into doing. Really what is making solar affordable right now is all the different financing opportunities that are available to our clients. We don't recommend leasing solar for multiple different reasons. Solar is so profitable in itself it doesn't make sense to enter into a 20 year agreement with a third party financing company. You want to own the system. If you cant afford to pay up front we offer solar loans, we are not a financing company but we direct our clients to the Los Angeles Credit Union, so they usually offer great rates. Most of our clients pay the first monthly payment and it turns out to be lower than their normal electricity bill.
Can you make solar aesthetically pleasing for curb appeal?
Our DNA comes from the French company Brighten Solar. In France, Spanish style architecture is everywhere. Here I have heard “Oh we cant put solar I have a Spanish style roof it will ruin the design.” So we do have different techniques to really blend the system into the roof so from afar you either don’t see it or it looks like a skylight. What differentiates us from our competition is we don't have any ties with any manufacturer we work on a project basis and based on what our clients requirements and preferences are. There’s also solar roofs and now we can have solar tiles, this is something we call building integrated Photovoltaics or BIPV - something we have been doing already for many years.
We saw brighten solar received 2016 Los Angeles Outstanding Small Business award, tell us more about that.
So the small business administration is teaming up with the city of Los Angeles to recognize the performance of small businesses across the central coast. So we have received this award some people may have put in a good word for us but it was a really big surprise! We are the only company from Santa Barbara and the only company in the renewable energy space that has received this award. We have received a couple of great awards, the other one was the Pacific Coast Business Times awards. This is a great publication so it was another wonderful honor.
What is your favorite part of what you do?
I think that I started in this business because I want to make an impact. What I love is getting people excited about being a leader, we need more leaders in this community. There is different ways to lead the way - and with climate change - this is no theory. This is happening. and people need to act on it. When I realized I would have the opportunity to make such a difference in such a beautiful environment with eco friendly people I got very excited about it. I love to see how excited people are about this, and they are super proud of what they are doing. Basically they are going to make more money out of switching to this system than they are going to make and its a genuine, mutually beneficial transaction. It’s a win win for the community, the clients and our company. We are very passionate people!