Harnessing Solar Energy for Maximum Benefit with Michael Allen
Meet Michael Allen, CEO of All Energy Solar, a full-service solar energy company located in St. Paul, MN. Allen discusses the background of his company and its journey in offering clean, green solar energy solutions for residential, commercial, agricultural, and government clients since 2009. Learn how the technology of solar energy works, the benefits of energy efficiency, and the maintenance of a solar system in a simple, comprehensive way. For more information, visit AllEnergySolar.com.
Shownotes:Good morning and welcome to Green Tea Conversation, the radio show that delves into the pages of Natural Awakenings magazine to bring you the local experts who share their progressive ideas in the latest information and insights needed so you can lead your best life. I'm your host Candi Broeffle, publisher of the Twin Cities edition of Natural Awakenings magazine, and I am honored to bring these experts to you. On today's show. We have Michael Allen, CEO of All Energy Solar, a full- service solar energy company located in St. Paul.
[00:00:38.420] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
All Energy Solar has been providing clean, green solar energy solutions for residential, commercial, agricultural and government clients since 2009. Welcome to the show, Michael!
[00:00:51.020] - Michael Allen, Guest
Thanks, Candi. Really happy to be here.
[00:00:53.870] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
To get us started and just going to ask you if you could please just tell us a bit about All Energy Solar in the work that you're doing.
[00:01:00.920] - Michael Allen, Guest
Just yeah, just a little background on our company. My brother and I are the owners of the company. We started the company back in 2009 in his dining room. And it's slowly grown to over 150 employees. We have offices in three states and we are licensed and build projects. In 2020 will we will have built projects in over 25 different states. So it's pretty exciting. Yeah. And it's all grassroots, grown, and organic.
[00:01:41.690] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So what is it that actually got you interested in starting it in the first place? What were you doing before this.
[00:01:48.470] - Michael Allen, Guest
For solar? I was in college, I feel very fortunate to have learned at a very early age, approximately in the 8th or 9th grade of high school, middle school, high school. My parents built the home. The architect would come over and show us the drawings. And I remember one time the architect mentioned, "Hey, you know, this house, your building has a nice big southwest-facing roof. You should put solar on it." That at an early age piqued my interest. When I was in college, I wrote All Energy Solar's business plan and I started writing my freshman and sophomore year, my senior year, I did my senior thesis. So what got me into solar? An architect in 1990 got me interested in solar and then I took off from there.
[00:02:46.190] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
Wow! Isn't it interesting what happens when we watch as a child? I mean, really you were just a kid but watching your parents go through this and then, and then seeing where that can take you...and so you started the business with your brother, who also then must have been very interested in renewable energy as well.
[00:03:04.280] - Michael Allen, Guest
Absolutely. I think it just stems from our upbringing. Our parents always taught us that it was important to be good stewards of the environment. And we spent a lot of time outdoors as a family. And one thing I always remember is being in Boy Scouts, being and being in Cub Cub Scouts, and then being lost. And being in Boy Scouts we'd go camping. And it was always important to leave the campground cleaner than the way that you found it.
And it just seemed like that that same model carried over into my life, into my brother's life. And so from an early age, I think we just we just believed that there was a better way to generate electricity, knowing and having seen solar electricity implemented previously. So it was a natural stepping stone for us to get into the energy industry.
[00:03:58.010] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So help us to understand exactly how solar energy works. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about it. We see the energy or we see the solar panels, but we don't quite understand how it actually works.
[00:04:13.100] - Michael Allen, Guest
Yeah, I could go into a lot of the chemistry behind it. The technology is actually very simple. It dates back to as early as 1950 for Bell Laboratories here in the United States developed the first photovoltaic solar cell. And it's a basic concept where we take photons from the sun. Those photons we're able to turn into direct current or DC energy. So as those photons hit the solar solar panel or solar cell, it starts creating a direct current.
And then our goal is to take that direct current and turn it into usable household electricity, the same type of electricity that we use. We turn on our lights or run our dishwasher or turn on our microwave. Typically in most homes, you're going to be running AC. So and that's alternating current. We take the DC that the solar panels produce. Then we turn and we invert it to AC electricity through an inverter. And then at that point, the electricity flows into our home and it's running through the wires in our home.
And it's just like any other type of electricity that we receive from the utility company. The really neat part about solar is that when you have it on your home, your home naturally uses the solar electricity first as your producing power. The solar is actually feeding the need for any other appliances that are using power at that point. Any extra power that you don't use gets fed back onto the grid.
[00:05:58.640] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So help us to understand how does it get fed back onto the grid?
[00:06:02.710] - Michael Allen, Guest
One way to think about it, everybody's familiar with their breaker panel. It's typically in your garage or your basement. It's in a corner that's all dusty. And it's really gnarly to get to. But it's but we all have to go there at one point or another to go to go turn on a trip breaker. One way to think of solar is it's just another large appliance, just like your dryer or your or your oven.
They all require a special breaker for that. Solar requires a special breaker for it. But the difference is that we actually push power onto your electrical panel instead of drawing power from your electrical panel just like an appliance. But the difference is we push power onto that electrical panel and then the electricity starts chipping away at every single breaker and says, "Well, does breaker number fifty-two, does it need electricity?" No, all the all the lights are off in the bathroom.
OK, it doesn't need electricity. Go to the next breaker and it starts feeding all of the needs for the electricity. And if by the time it gets to the top of your electrical panel, if there's any extra electricity that your home hasn't used, then it goes in the path of least resistance and it's going to then go back out onto the grid and your electrical meter will actually spin backwards.
[00:07:37.600] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
[00:07:38.680] - Michael Allen, Guest
It's a very mechanical type type of process. It's essentially running electricity from left to right instead of right to left.
[00:07:48.160] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
That is really interesting. When, you know, when I was a child, my parents were really into everything organic and farming and renewable energy and solar has come has come such a long way from this fifty-two-year-old person looking back and seeing what you know, what it can do today. I mean, it's really impressive. And it must be I mean, this may sound kind of geeky, but it must be really fun to watch your electricity dial actually go backwards.
[00:08:19.450] - Michael Allen, Guest
It's it's unbelievably fun. You know, when I when got into the industry, the digital meter was not really a thing. It was more of your analog meter, which is kind of you kind of think of it as like a meat slicer. Everybody had that type of meter. And so it was there was one of the coolest aspects of the of the job was being able to turn on a solar system, walk over to the to the meter, watch the spinning dial slow, get slower and slower and slower, and then all of a sudden stop and start spinning backwards.
And one experience, what an exhilarating part of the job! Every consumer, every customer absolutely loved it. So, yeah, it's pretty fun.
[00:09:06.520] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
Yeah. I would really love to watch that happen. That's really interesting. But help us to understand. It seems like in Minnesota we have very long winters. We have lots of cloudy days, sometimes inclement weather or lots of trees around. Is solar really a good option when it comes to renewable energy in Minnesota?
[00:09:30.400] - Michael Allen, Guest
Absolutely. I think most people are surprised by this. But in Minnesota, we receive approximately 4.7 hours of direct sunlight on average every day. Doesn't sound like a lot like if you're looking out the window right now as I am, it's a beautiful sunny day. It's been sunny for hours, but yesterday was pretty cloudy. The day before that was pretty cloudy. To the point of it is, though, is 4.7 hours is actually a pretty reasonable amount of sunlight in comparison to other states within the United States. 4.7 hours is equivalent to Houston, Texas.
[00:10:10.120] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
[00:10:11.560] - Michael Allen, Guest
Yeah. Most people don't recognize that, that when we get sunlight, we don't have a lot of clouds. We have some cloudy, gloomy days in the winter. But we also have really bright, beautiful zero cloud days in the winter as well. And so what we have to do is we have to take all of that into consideration and compare it from state to state to state.
And Minnesota, all in all, is a great state for solar electricity. The difference here is that we have this little thing called snow, and snow can wreak havoc on solar systems. But it also can be a it can be advantageous. There was a study done by a colleague from another company that showed the best way to clean a solar panel was by snow. It was actually better than hand than a human cleaning. The solar panel snow did a better job than than humans actually did.
So the other neat thing about snow is that we get light reflecting off of it.
[00:11:17.110] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
[00:11:17.110] - Michael Allen, Guest
So you can actually pick up a little bit extra production due to the snow being next to the mountains.
[00:11:23.610] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
I'm glad you said that. I was just going to ask you about that. Well, when we come back, we're going to continue our conversation with Michael. And for people who want to learn more or if you'd like to schedule a free solar quote visit allenergysolar.com. You can find a podcast of this show on AM950Radio.com on Apple or Google Podcasts, Spotify. And anywhere you get your podcasts, you're listening to Green Tea Conversation, at AM950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. And we will be right back.
[00:12:04.960] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
Welcome back to Green Tea Conversation is where we delve into the pages of Natural Awakenings magazine and talk to the professionals who share their expertise and natural health with you. I'm your host, Candi Broeffle. Today, we're visiting with Michael Allen, CEO of All Energy Solar, a full-service solar energy company located right here in St. Paul.
So, Michael, just before the break, we were starting to get into how solar works and if is it a good choice here for Minnesota. And and just kind of curious, how much energy can we expect to generate from the solar system that's installed in our homes, say, here in the Twin Cities?
[00:12:47.410] - Michael Allen, Guest
That's a great question. And it's difficult to answer with that little amount of information. But I can I can kind of provide some other leading questions to that. So the first question that we look at is how much electricity or how much electricity do you need? And so Candi, you and I actually might live in the exact same-sized home. You have two children and I have six children. I really don't have six children, but if I did, but we could, but theoretically we could still live in the same-sized home.
And so basing it off of home square footage doesn't always make a lot of sense. It really comes down to how much electricity your home uses versus my home versus anyone else's. And so we always have to dig into that. We typically ask for somebody who's 12 months of electric bills so we can really understand what their energy usage profile looks like over the entire year. So we look at that and then we can very clearly decide, "OK, they need 10 panels or 15 pounds or 20 solar panels to cover their electricity usage over the entire year."
And the way that we calculate that is based off of where we would install the solar equipment. The biggest question we look for is unobstructed on shaded areas, typically your roof and ideally your south-facing roof or in the northern hemisphere. We want to point the panels to the south towards the equator. So ideally put on the south. And if we have to put it on the east or the west, that's OK, too. Sometimes that those are good locations for solar equipment as well.
But once we figure out the right mix as to how many we can put on those roof faces or if we have to put it on the ground, once we figure out how it's going to perform, we can tell you exactly what it's going to do. And in some cases, it'll produce more electricity than you need, and in some cases it'll produce less. And there are situations where we're sometimes unable to produce all of the electricity that a homeowner needs.
But more often than not, we can typically get a customer above 80 to 90% of their total consumption. And then typically we see a lot of a lot of customers say, "Well, that extra 10%, I'm going to become a little bit more efficient. I'm going to make sure to go change my light bulbs to LEDs. I'm going to put in some more." And so it is a it is a science. The technology is allowing it to become more and more accurate year after year.
And it's getting really exciting to know that we can be within a percentage or two as to what we say the system's going to do with regards to what it actually does do.
[00:15:36.220] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
One of the things that I'm curious about is how much maintenance is necessary for a homeowner.
[00:15:43.600] - Michael Allen, Guest
It's a good question. And again, it's kind of one of those things where it's situational more often than not. No, there isn't anything that you need to do now. The operation and maintenance of a solar system is is usually very minimal. There's no buttons to push. There's no levers to pull.
You don't have to wake up in the morning before the sun gets up and make sure that your solar system is ready to go anywhere in the solar system just turns on by itself and turns off by itself every day. And something that we like to remind people about is that this equipment is not something that's new and latest and greatest. A lot of this stuff is tried and true technology that's been around for 20, 30, 40 years. So it's meant to last for a long time and it's designed that way.
But as far as the other maintenance components, we ask our customers to keep an eye on the solar panels, to check them monthly, to see if there's a tree branch on them or some a bunch of leaves that obviously can impede how much sunlight will get to your solar panel. And then as far as snow goes, which we mentioned earlier, is something that we have to deal with here in Minnesota. We typically encourage our customers not to get too involved with removing snow because we don't like people climbing on the roofs in the winter.
[00:17:10.840] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
[00:17:11.680] - Michael Allen, Guest
But but if you are able to do it in a safe way, it only is going to help with how much energy your panels are going to produce if you can clean off a little bit of snow that gets on. That being said, solar panels are also glass. And so as the sun warms up, it starts to create a Wien effect and the snow typically comes off the panels pretty fast. Oh, nice sunny day.
[00:17:34.990] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
No, you don't have to worry about it very much. I was mentioning earlier that when I was a kid, my parents were really always looking at solar. And I know things have changed so greatly since then, but even in the last 10 years, how has the technology changed? How has it improved?
[00:17:53.800] - Michael Allen, Guest
Well, 10 years is is is a pretty long time in the solar energy industry, especially the last 10 years, let's just say that. But some of the biggest improvements have been I would say the first one is that we we have this lovely thing called the Internet and the Internet allows us to now see and visualize things that we. Ever really thought we could? When I first got into solar, we were not monitoring systems, we were we were monitoring them, but we physically have to go out to the equipment and look at it.
And that's not the easiest thing to do in when you live in Minnesota and your solar systems out on your detached garage on the other side of your yard, you don't want to go out there and look at it. So one of the cooler things has been the opportunity or the ability to look at our projects and or our customers' projects on their phone. They can look at it and they can see how well it's producing and how much energy it's producing for the day for the week, for the month, for the year. The monitoring aspect to the solar has really changed things. The other big piece that's I would say is definitely much newer than the 10 years I would say it really hasn't been widely available for consumers up until just the last couple of years. And that storage, energy storage, it's been something that's been available for a very long time. But having it be financially viable really just started taking off within the last couple of years.
And so we're now able to, I had mentioned earlier, if your solar system produces more electricity than you need traditionally, just sell it back to the utility company. Well, now some utility companies don't necessarily want to buy that electricity from you. And so instead of selling it to them, you can just dump that excess power into a battery. And so when you're at work and it's beautiful, sunny day outside and the sun's producing a ton of power and hopefully you've turned off all your lights, you're not using any power in the home.
Your solar system is consistent, typically going to feed back electricity onto the grid instead of feeding it back to the grid, you can dump it into a battery. And then when you come at home at night, you can start using electricity from that battery instead of electricity from the grid. And so it almost makes it a little bit more of a holistic system that the energy that you produce that comes from the solar system is actually the energy that you were going to use to turn on your microwave that evening.
[00:20:35.590] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Michael. If you would like to learn more about all energy solar in the work they do or to schedule a free solar, quote, visit allenergysolar.com. You're listening to Green Tea Conversation on AM950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. And we will be right back.
[00:21:11.140] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
Welcome back to Green Tea Conversation, where we delve into the pages of Natural Awakenings magazine and talk to the professionals who share their expertise on natural health with you. Today we're visiting Michael Allen, who is the CEO of All Energy Solar, a full-service solar energy company located in St. Paul. One of the things that I find really impressive is you really are able to help the client from start to finish throughout the entire journey that you would go through.
[00:21:43.660] - Michael Allen, Guest
Yeah, you know, we've always felt that producing your own electricity at your home is something that a lot of people find exciting, almost exhilarating, and they really appreciate the experience of being able to do that. And we recognize that very early on when we started all energy solar and we wanted to capture that and we wanted people to Candi to keep that that excited momentum that they had when they first were having those ideas of wanting to do the project and then carry that all the way through.
So one of the ways that we feel that we separate ourselves is by providing that exceptional customer experience. Everybody gets their own individual project manager and that project manager. Typically, you don't have to call them. They call you. They're updating you as often as you'd like. And we have customers that want daily weekly updates on every technical aspect of the project. And then we have customers that say, email me when it's ready to go. So you have a wide range of customer base, but we allow our customers to kind of customize their experience to how how they want.
It's our job. Providing a strong product and service is kind of just the foundation of who we are. What really kind of puts us apart. I feel like is our customer in project management teams and making sure that customers are really happy and really excited about what they just went through and the new product and service that they have on their own and that they have a company that's going to support them for the next many decades to come.
[00:23:27.670] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So out of curiosity, how long does it usually take from start to finish if you're if you're looking at doing this on your home?
[00:23:34.840] - Michael Allen, Guest
It really depends on utility to utility and then also township or city to city. But if I average it out, we typically see projects from the time that a project decides to move forward by signing a contract to the time that they have PTO that's permission to operate from the utility. That's typically about 3 to 4 months is what we see.
[00:24:00.490] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So now is like the perfect time actually to start planning if if this is something you want to do this year. And one of the things I want to get into first is if you could help us understand what the renewable portfolio standards are for Minnesota.
[00:24:17.620] - Michael Allen, Guest
Yeah, the renewable portfolio standard, the AAPS or another commonly used acronym is are its Renewable Energy Standard Renewable Portfolio Standard. Long story short, they're acronyms that are going to that that have been used for a long time, but they're gaining a lot more popularity right now. There are a lot of states that are on board and saying that they are going to dedicate and commit to generating a certain percentage of the electricity within that state via renewable sources. So for the state of Minnesota, it actually dates back.
I think it dates back to 2004. In Minnesota, though, our current AAPS is 25% of all of our power. We want to come from renewable sources. It doesn't necessarily say where, but it just says from renewables. So the state of Minnesota is actually met that requirement. It's hats off to the state of Minnesota, to Governor Walz, to all of our previous administrations for committing to renewable energy at a very early stage.
Now, that being said, Minnesota at one point was called the Saudi Arabia of wind. And the reason for that is if you go to the southwest Minnesota plains, you can't wear a hat without blowing off. When you get out of the car, it has a constant, consistent wind. And that is a fuel source as a wind, as a wind provider that you just lick your chops for. And so the state of Minnesota has been known across the world as as a place to generate a lot of consistent renewable energy, wind power.
And so the lion's share of renewable energy that comes from Minnesota is via the wind market. But solar is slowly increasing. And the current Minnesota stand is 25% from renewable energy sources, which we've met of that solar energy industry, wanted to get 10% of that power from solar power. And then of that 10%, they wanted one and a half percent to come from small residential and small business sources of energy out of solar which we have met, which is very exciting. But it also then shows that we've got a long way to go and we're already there. And there's still a very small amount of solar energy on the grid. So we've got a long way to go.
[00:26:47.270] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
And so that's something that you're you're looking at trying to increase this year.
[00:26:52.070] - Michael Allen, Guest
Well, I think the appetite for change in the renewable energy standard might not be on that might not be on the table this year or of interest for a lot of legislators. But I think the conversation can be started. And I think that I think more and more people with the new administration on the federal level are...I think a lot of state leaders are going to start asking the questions as to what else can we do and how much more can we do. And now is the right time to be asking that and to start increasing our standards to to to make Minnesota a cleaner, greener place.
[00:27:26.750] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
Now, I know that you're very active when it comes to working in the politics of it all. What are some of the the things that you're working on currently? It must be kind of exciting to see the new administration come in and see that there's perhaps a little light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to renewable energy again.
[00:27:47.310] - Michael Allen, Guest
Yeah, on the federal side of things, I think anybody within the renewable energy industry was pretty excited to see Joe Biden take over and then extend the federal tax credits that we saw. Now, actually, those tax credits were extended under President Trump's firm. But we know that Joe Biden's going to take renewable energy a little bit more seriously and it's going to be at the front of his agenda. So we're excited about that. But tomorrow, on a local level within the state of Minnesota, we're extremely excited about Governor Walls and Senator Zilkha and Representative Portman and their leadership that they've all shown as we move into the year 2021.
It's going to be an interesting session. So far, I don't believe it's going to change, but it's going to be 100% virtual. So it's going to be a little bit more tricky to get things done, to have those conversations with some of the legislators that you normally would have had in office. In-person, Minnesota has has led the Midwest as far as renewable energy adoption.
[00:28:54.560] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So speaking of that, are there currently any rebates and incentives? Are those still continuing or have those kind of wound down now?
[00:29:04.070] - Michael Allen, Guest
Yeah, there's still lots of different programs. The biggest one that everyone knows is the big utility with Xcel Energy. Kudos to Xcel Energy. At the end of the day, you know, a lot of people give them a bad name, a bad rap. But the reality is, is they have a very forward-leaning progressive program to encourage renewables within their within their territories. And we're very proud to work with a utility like Xcel. They've got a great rebate program that can pay upwards of 15 to 20% of the total project over a 10 year period.
That's that's pretty exciting. And then you have other utilities like Texas and Dakota Electric who are also very forward-thinking with their interconnection rules, Dakota with their rebate program. I think anywhere in the state of Minnesota, traditionally, you have a sympathetic utility on your side that wants to allow consumer choice. And that's something that I don't think a lot of a lot of other states have. But it is pretty encouraging within the state of Minnesota that there utilities that are all surrounding the Twin Cities and outstate that that really want to see their their customers have the opportunity to choose the type of electricity that they that they use.
[00:30:19.550] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
So, Michael, I think one of the things people tend to think that any kind of renewable energy is really just so extraordinarily expensive and that they probably can't afford to have it in their own homes. What would somebody expect for it to cost if you wanted to have that put on your home with the help of the rebates and that type of thing, how affordable can it be?
[00:30:44.000] - Michael Allen, Guest
Thanks, Candi for asking that, because I think just naturally, people think that, oh, someday I'll be able to afford that. The reality is, is that most people don't go to the car dealership and cut a check for 35000 dollars for their car. They take out a loan. Most people don't buy a house without taking out a loan. And what we want people to kind of bring back front and center for them is that. You would do the same thing with a solar project. So we have projects that are as inexpensive as 8000 to 10000 dollars on the very small scale side of things.
But then we have projects that are 50, 75, 100,000 dollars. It really just depends on how much electricity you use and how much solar you want to build. But where it really gets exciting is when we compare it to your electric bill and the monthly payments for your electric bill versus the monthly payments for your solar system. We can more often than not on a decent home or a decent property within Minnesota. We can actually get your electric, your loan payment less than what your electric bill would have been.
So you can become cash flow-positive day one that the project gets turned on. So when you think about it, you say, "Well, gosh, it's so expensive." Well, typically you don't pay for really large, expensive things. And with cash, you take a loan out for them. Well, we can provide you that loan. And that loan in many cases can be lower than what you're paying already for your electric. The difference here with us and with the solar system is that you own this, you own the electricity versus renting it from the utility company.
We always encourage people if you have the means or the capability to take on a loan or to pay for it, it's better to own it than to than to rent it.
[00:32:39.400] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
And has quite a long life expectancy. I mean, this is something that you're investing in. You're really investing into your future.
[00:32:46.930] - Michael Allen, Guest
I think it's important. Before I point out the individual technologies and the expected life expectancy for them is that it's only as good as as as the company that designs it and then installs it. You always want to make sure that you're working with a company that's going to stand that that has stood the test of time and it's going to continue and that you feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling if there's ever a problem. The technology that we use is technology that's been around for a long time.
Actually, like I mentioned earlier from 1954, it really hasn't changed too much since then. So they're able to put long-term warranties on these products, the panels to be our warranty for 25 years. Your inverters are warranty for 10 to 25 years. So the reality is that if the project is properly designed and installed, you can feel good and comfortable that you're going to have a solar energy system that's going to be producing clean energy for you for the next 25 to 35 years.
[00:33:47.920] - Candi Broeffle, Guest
One thing that I do want to mention, too, for people who are interested, you have a very robust Facebook page and website with a lot of really great information. You guys have some really great blogs on that. So I want to really encourage people to go and check out your website, which again is allenergysolar.com. Michael, thank you so much for being with us today. You're listening to Green Tea Conversation AM950, the Progressive Voice of Minnesota. And we will be right back.