Blue Oak Energy CEO, Tobin Booth on Growing a Successful Solar Business in the US

Read any news wires and business pages at the moment and you will hear stories of scale backs and reduced profit margins in the US solar industry.

Whilst many companies continue to tighten their belts other companies, however, are demonstrating success stories and continue to grow in current market conditions.


One such company is Blue Oak Energy, who in 2012 was featured in the top 5000 fastest growing private companies in the US. The company current has a portfolio of 278MW of solar projects in operation; 171MW of utility scale projects, 41MW of commercial and 66MW of public.

On January 15th-16th, Chief Executive Officer, Tobin Booth will join a speaking faculty of 25 solar CEOs and 50+ Vice Presidents & Top Level Directors at the 5th Annual Solar Power Generation USA congress in Newport Beach. We caught up with Tobin to ask him about the company's growth strategy and that of other companies which he admires in the US solar sector.

SPG: Blue Oak Energy featured in the fastest growing 5000 private companies in 2012. With so many solar companies reporting scale backs and bankruptcies, what do you think is the secret to successful growth in today's US solar industry and where have other companies gone wrong?

TB: Our focus on staying lean and focusing on our core strengths as an engineering and construction company has been critical for our success. We are focused on the downstream segment of the solar industry which has largely benefitted from the oversupply of solar modules and materials. The results can be less than optimal when companies expand too fast or branch into sectors which are unrelated to their core skills. In my opinion, the overly aggressive growth and broad expansion in the solar industry is what has created many of the spectacular failures we're seeing.

SPG: Blue Oak Energy is active in commercial, public sector and utility scale solar projects. Which of these markets do you project to provide the most stable and long term growth for the company and why?

TB: We expect the commercial and public sectors to be the most stable long term growth markets for Blue Oak Energy. The distributed generation model, delivering solar energy at the point of consumption, is simple and solves a number of issues for electricity consumers. There is a vast opportunity for small and medium size commercial or public solar projects in the United States to produce their own electricity and create some freedom from energy price volatility. As energy prices continue to increase, consumers will similarly increase enthusiasm for distributed generation. Utility scale solar will continue to be important for delivering electricity to supplement our utility grid. But given increasing regulations and competition, we expect utility scale projects to sustain Blue Oak Energy rather than differentiate us.

SPG: What do you think have been some of the most interesting developments in the US solar industry in 2012 and what trends do you expect to observe in 2013 and beyond?

TB: The single most interesting development in the US solar industry has been the simultaneous explosive growth of solar in residential and utility scale projects. Essentially, we are seeing both ends of the solar scale spectrum growing at astronomical rates. The projects in the middle of the spectrum have been largely overlooked or are on hold because of the economic downturn. I expect we will see a resurgence of commercial scale photovoltaic projects in the 100kW - 1MW size range in 2013.

SPG: Which other companies or projects do you particularly admire in the market at present and why?

TB: We admire our customer ProLogis for their leadership and foresight in identifying their large commercial-industrial rooftops as energy generating assets. We also admire our customer Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI), an outdoor gear retailer with over 125 stores in the US, for implementing a comprehensive stewardship plan across their business which happens to include solar energy. We also admire a number of solar colleagues and competitors for their innovation in solar financing in the United States. This is a tricky market and incremental innovations by a few are paving the way for the success of us all.

Joining Tobin in Newport Beach are experts from across the US solar industry. SolarCity, SunRun and Sungevity will speak on the boom in the residential markets; Hertz and other commercial roof owners join the EPA Green Power Partnership to discuss accelerating growth in the commercial solar space; SCE, PG&E and SDG&E heads of procurement join Municipality General Managers and present utility procurement plans and appetites 2013 and beyond.
Join a packed audience of solar project developers reviewing the most profitable opportunities for growth.

Visit www.solarpowergenerationusa.com for more information and to read further interviews with the 2012 speaking faculty.

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