Young grad forecasts sunny future for tech company

feature1Arguably, there has never been a better time to own a business in green technology.

New tax incentives for buyers are rising, as is fuel-supply uncertainty. The non-profit organization Focus on Energy reported a 40 percent increase last year for renewable energy projects for residential and corporate customers.

For green entrepreneur Andy Williams, co-founder and co-owner of GreenSky Energetics, Inc., of Manitowoc, that means business. His company promotes “nature’s energy solutions.” They harness energy from the sun, wind and organic materials to help clients become more energy independent through design and installation of photovoltaic solar panels, small-scale wind turbines and anaerobic digesters.

(Editor’s note: This story is an expanded version of a story that appeared in the April 2009 print edition of the Inside UW-Green Bay alumni magazine.)

One client is Rapid Car Wash of Manitowoc. GreenSky created a 10-panel solar hot water system that will save the business more than 850 therms (each therm is the energy equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas) and prevent more than five tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. The water heated by the system is enough to supply 60 percent of the business’s annual hot water needs. And, in the winter, when less hot water is required for washing cars, it will be used in the radiant floor heating system.

solarguy-02Williams also designed and installed the largest solar forced-air heating system (by measure of thermal output) in Wisconsin. Eland Electric Corporation of Green Bay now heats the company office and warehouse at an energy savings of nearly 50 percent from a year ago.

A 2003 UW-Green Bay environmental science grad, Williams came by his interest in solar energy and conservation through his college studies and work with his faculty mentor, Prof. John Katers. Classes like Pollution Control, Energy and Society and Alternative Energy piqued Williams interest in “renewables.”

“I was actually more interested in anaerobic digestion at the time but thought solar was great too, I just didn’t know enough,” Williams said. “Then Richard Larson (the company’s co-founder) and I went to a conference that included solar thermal discussions. On that day, GreenSky pretty much had its beginnings.”

Williams estimates that rebates and tax incentives are covering 40 to 85 percent of his clients’ costs on many new “green” systems. Still, he says, many potential customers need convincing that renewable energy is affordable.

“We try to convince people that they can’t look at this investment as something that is going to pay you back immediately,” he says, pushing a longer-term view. “I can tell you that I believe investing in solar will gain you a better rate of return than investing in CDs and mutual funds right now. Think of it as buying your energy in bulk for 40 years.”

Williams, who created a solar system for his own residence, has found his niche as designer and installer for the company. His business partner, Larson, takes care of the sales and administrative. Their business has grown from a simple partnership to eight employees — five of them full-time.

It’s enough to make his alma mater, and mentor, proud.