At SunPeak, Chad Sorenson touts the benefits of solar energy.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Some might call Chad Sorenson a serial entrepreneur. He’s certainly no stranger to startups, having launched several and sold two. His first company, Fluent Systems, solved an agricultural problem so well that Raven Industries Inc., a public company from South Dakota, took notice and acquired the company.
His second venture, Sologear, centered on the FlameDisk, a product for backyard grills that could provide 45-minutes of cooking heat without charcoal or lighter fluid. After seven years and a nationwide retail distribution, Sorenson and his partners, including Design Concepts president and friend Dave Franchino, sold Sologear to BIC Corp. in 2011.
“I’ve wanted to start my own company based on an invention since I was 15 years old,” Sorenson says. “It was always a fascination of mine.” The challenge always was finding that next great idea.
For the first time in his life, Sorenson, president and co-founder of SunPeak, isn’t riding the wave of invention. Rather, he’s touting the benefits of an energy source as old as time — the sun. “All of our energy or electricity, whether natural gas or coal, starts with photosynthesis,” Sorenson relates, “so the Earth is 100% sun-powered already.” He launched SunPeak in 2014 and now employs 15 people in Madison plus a network of contractors “with SunPeak business cards.”
We caught up with him recently about his latest venture.
IB: The idea of solar energy has been around for 100 years. What changed your course?
Sorenson: After selling Sologear, I was looking for a new opportunity and heard the cost of solar was coming down due to better technology and good, old-fashioned economies of scale.
IB: Give us your elevator pitch.
Sorenson: Things are much different now than even 10 years ago when solar might have been perceived as a product for the wealthy or those who invested for emotional reasons. Now there are real sustainable advantages. There’s no carbon footprint, no moving parts, no variable costs in fuel (sunlight is free); and it has become cost competitive with utility rates. Also, generating electricity at the point of use means no power lines.
IB: Who are your customers?
Sorenson: Our first was Ale Asylum in 2014, but we recently completed a project for CSW (Central Storage & Warehouse) and we were involved in the 1.2 megawatt solar project at American Family Insurance, which allows them to generate 1,200 kilowatts of electricity on their own.
IB: Is solar intended as a replacement for gas or electric utilities?
Sorenson. No. These are grid-interactive systems, meaning they are designed to work with a utility, not instead of a utility.
IB: Is SunPeak a residential solar provider?
Sorenson: Our focus has been on the commercial/industrial market. We’re considered a developer and a turnkey provider of photovoltaic solar energy. We’ll also maintain systems for 30 years or more.
IB: Wind farms require a lot of acreage. How do they compare?
Sorenson: Each has their place in the world, but rooftops are typically unused assets. American Family had nothing happening on its roof and now the sun is powering a fourth of its entire data system.
IB: Who’s inspired you the most in your career?
Sorenson: My dad was in the medical device industry and was no stranger to innovation and inventions. He acquired many patents, enough to line a wall in our basement! My cousin, an entrepreneur and farmer, has been very important in my life, and I worked for Dave Franchino at Design Concepts as a young engineer, who has become an extremely good friend and mentor.
IB: What about you, on a personal level?
Sorenson: I’m from just outside Minneapolis. I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UW–Madison in mechanical engineering and an MBA from UW in entrepreneurship. I work a lot, and I’m engaged to the owner of a sushi restaurant downtown who is actually much more interesting than me!
IB: What would you like the business community to know about SunPeak?
Sorenson: That we didn’t start this company to be a small, local player. We intend to be a national leader in solar. This isn’t a trend. It’s here to stay.
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