SM: Let’s start where your story begins. Where did you grow up, and what is your background?
DM: I was born in Nebraska and moved around quite a bit. I lived in North Dakota, Illinois and New York, and I ended up going to college in Alabama. I joined the Boy Scouts along the way. My Eagle Scout project was related to renewable energy, which is what got me involved in helping the environment. The outdoor code of ethics that scouts, backpackers and campers abide by is ‘leave no trace’. That applies to hiking or building a fire. It really does not matter what you are doing – you should leave as little trace on the environment as possible. That is where I got my passion for protecting the environment.
I ended up graduating from Auburn and moving to California to work for a solar company called Servamatic Solar. We grew the company to 1,200 employees across the Sunbelt. We had offices from California to Florida. It was a thermal company and its products were for heating hot water to reduce natural gas usage. It was a pre-heating system. It was very basic and simple but would last a long time, well beyond the 10-year warranty we provided with the system.
SM: What did you do there?
DM: I started out in sales and then was director of business development. I was in charge of going from city to city, opening up the new offices. Our systems were low-cost, in the $6,000-$8,000 range. In 2000 we took the same business plan and used it with Premier Power. It has worked very well even though photovoltaic systems cost around $70,000, and the model has kept us cost competitive.
SM: When you were at Servamatic, were you installing systems manufactured by other people?
DM: Yes, that is correct. We did the selling and system integration.
SM: From there you got the genesis of doing it with photovoltaics, which was a different price point but had a similar business model?
SM: What was the genesis of that story? Did you just start buying and installing equipment?
DM: John Stewart and Kevin Yttrup owned a home builder in Sacramento called Premier Homes. We all joined to allow them to set themselves apart as a green home builder. We would go in and do a subdivision with flash water heating, double pane windows, high insulation, and all of the necessities for them to become known as zero-energy homes. They were not actually zero, but they were close.
We started doing photovoltaics on these homes using GE’s integrated Brilliance solar system. It was a system designed for flat tile roofs. On new construction you would tile part of the roof, put on the solar system, and tile up to the solar system. The result was that it was flush with the roof. We started doing that on every third home when we started on a subdivision, and eventually people started calling saying, “My neighbor has the same home as I do and their bill is $25 and my bill is $200; can you help me?” They wanted us to install solar systems on their homes as well, and these calls continued coming in on a regular basis. Premier Homes continued to be a home builder, and I launched off with Premier Power in 2001.