The Problem With Selling Solar In Florida

May 15, 2015

The state of Florida is known for its great weather -- the state’s official nickname, after all, is the “Sunshine State.” But try selling solar energy in Florida and you’re likely to get a chilly reception, says a Miami-based founder of a solar startup.

Ludovic Roche, co-founder of PWRstation, claims that when it came to keeping his company’s headquarters in Miami, he and business partner, Robert Albertella, were encouraged to take the better offer and leave the U.S.

PWRstation, which designs, manufactures and sells portable solar generators, is headquartered today in Lausanne, Switzerland, though they do have an office at the LAB Miami in Wynwood. Business partner and co-founder Robert Albertella was born in Switzerland and brokered the incentive package to relocate PWRstation’s headquarters. Albertella and Roche would have gladly stayed in Miami, having both been in the area long enough to consider themselves part of the fabric of this community. Roche explains that he is raising his 11-year-old here, a son who attends Miami’s Sunset Elementary.

Solar energy can significantly reduce the bill a customer pays a utility company, which makes it a disruptor for the U.S. electricity business. The technology has already had a profound impact on the relationship between utility companies and customers because no one has found a financially viable answer to how to pay to maintain and operate the grid. Right now, in some states like Hawaii, solar companies install panels for free and sell power to customers at a lower rate than utilities. Third party sales like that are generally illegal in Florida.

Chief Marketing Officer William Berenson and co-founder Ludovic Roche show a PWRstation on the screen while at work at the Lab in Wynwood.
Credit Miami Herald Staff

PWRstation decided to come up with a workaround. Instead of sales, PWRstation offers a leasing plan for the product: You can rent their generator for a period of time and then trade it in for the upgraded design. It’s similar to the way you’d lease a car.

Roche explains the practical application of how a leasing plan could affect your real estate decisions. Instead of re-roofing after a number of years, you could simply have the generator removed and relocated to a new home in a few hours.

PWRStation launched in December 2013. So far, the company has only completed an initial round of financing and can point to revenues but not profits yet. Roche says their customers are global – from the Middle East, North Africa, even Australia.

According to Roche, internationally-minded Miami gave his PWRstation business idea the cold shoulder, which is part of the reason the company is headquartered in Switzerland. He says he was told by local investors and community leaders that if PWRstation received a better offer to go elsewhere, they should take it.

“I was like, really? You guys think you can have a startup community without clean tech?” says Roche in disappointment about the way his company was treated by the South Florida tech community. He is critical of the fact that hardware and renewable energy aren’t embraced in Miami the way medical technology is.

The U.S. solar industry is seeing explosive growth in installations. From the year 2012-2013, the numbers rose 41 percent. Roche is betting on change coming to Florida eventually, but in the meantime, PWRstation is working to grow its position in the global marketplace.

“The sun is free,” says Roche, “It belongs to everyone. That’s so simple.”