UGE is an international renewable energy company that provides customers with instant savings through the low cost of solar energy with the ultimate goal of powering the world with renewable energy. The solar industry can be broken into three categories: residential, utility-scale, and the in-between, which is referred to as commercial and industrial or C&I. UGE has found its sweet spot focusing on solar projects in the C&I space.
UGE is a complete turnkey provider. From conceptualization to construction, UGE can provide everything from educating customers about their property’s solar potential and cost savings to taking the project to the operational stage and generating clean energy. Certain projects only require some solar services; in these cases, UGE will tap into its world-class in-house engineering team for engineering, procurement, and construction services. The expertise of UGE’s employees has driven the company to become a leader in the renewable energy industry.
Nick Blitterswyk founded UGE in 2008 as a result of his deep passion for sustainability, clean technology, and renewable energy. This motivation has been hugely beneficial on the business side of the equation, as solar is the future of energy. Nick positioned the company for growth right from the beginning – one of UGE’s first projects was a substantial twenty-four-kilowatt solar rooftop at a Home Depot in Ontario.
At the time, there was a surge in new solar technology and other clean technology, but UGE found that there was a disconnect between the technology and the clients or businesses that would ultimately use it. This created a need for a solutions-based company that could really focus on bringing projects to life. The cost curve of solar technology since that time has changed drastically; the first time the company purchased solar panels, the price was close to four dollars per watt. In the past decade panels have become increasingly affordable and are now about one-tenth of that price. The ninety percent drop in output costs has transformed the scope of projects which the company is capable. In fact, when UGE completed a 100 kilowatt solar installation at Exhibition Palace in Canada, it was the largest solar project in Canada of its time. Now the company’s average project size is approximately 3 Megawatts!
“Early on, most of our clients were clients not necessarily because it was the most cost-effective source of energy, but because it was something they really wanted to do. They would pay extra to go green,” explains Nick Blitterswyk, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of UGE. As solar energy becomes increasingly affordable, the argument for going solar has found economic footing as well. The majority of clients today are driven by the immediate financial benefit of adopting solar energy.
UGE has developed a long list of clients including BMW, Lincoln Financial Field, Whole Foods, Highroad Estates Inc., and even the Eiffel Tower. By 2016, it was named the second-top solar contractor in New York and the thirteenth-top solar developer nationwide. In 2017, the Global Energy News crowned it the full-service contractor of the year, and surely, in the future, the company will continue to receive recognition for its outstanding work.
UGE has a dual international headquarters in Toronto and New York, and has a third local office in Cebu, Philippines. The Philippines has become a major player in the solar market because it has the highest cost of grid energy in Asia, making it a great candidate for solar energy. UGE provides solar energy at a much lower cost than what the electrical grid is offering, partially due to the quantity of sunlight available and partially due to the Philippines’ regulations, cost of labor, and import taxes.
Another reason that the Philippines has been a successful market for UGE is its relationship to Filipino basketball star Ramon Fernandez, who has become the face of the franchise in the Philippines. “He [Ramon] is very well respected and liked in the market, and that relationship really allowed us to grow some roots there,” says Nick.
UGE is growing rapidly; its revenue increased four times in the past year, and the company is expected to have a very high growth year in 2018 with the objective to spread clean energy to as many areas as possible. Before the end of 2017 the company announced its first projects in Alberta, Boston, Minnesota, and British Columbia. Managing the rapid growth can be a challenge at times, but the company has gained new employees and expanded into a larger office in Toronto to keep up.
Between the company’s three locations, there are over fifty full-time employees who have the advantage of cross-collaborating with each other. The professionals at UGE have extensive industry experience, which sets it apart from most competitors. The company has also been rated very highly by its employees throughout its history.
UGE has expertly developed its ability to engineer projects and build them to completion efficiently. The company is also experienced when it comes to finding ways to finance projects so that clients do not have to pay any upfront costs. Through project economics, the company is able to offer clients a free roof, reduced energy bills, or lease payments depending on the location and the client’s needs.
“From the green perspective, it’s really important for us to spread as many clean kilowatt hours as we can around the world,” says Nick, “and we understand that not everybody is going to want to do that if they need to pay more. It is a matter of how to drive down costs and increase the benefits from solar systems.”
The slogan, “Be Green, Be Great, Have Fun,” was established in the early stages of the company and remains the company motto today. UGE is very proud to be a green company that is recognized as a leader for quality.
The three key factors of sustainability for UGE are environmental protection, economic development, and social responsibility. For social responsibility, the company has internal programs to ensure that it is living sustainably, sharing its knowledge as often as possible, and inspiring others to do the same. The company has implemented an annual ‘Summer of Sustainability’ which promotes a different sustainability challenge each week; one week encouraged eating meat free and the next minimizing waste. The company also makes it a priority to invest in its employees’ futures with various training programs. Meanwhile, the economic development aspect of sustainability begins with creating jobs both internally at UGE and externally. In addition to its fifty-plus employees, it has also hired many subcontractors.
Beyond solar, UGE stores energy in different types of batteries. In 2015, it won a federal grant to create solar battery storage to add resiliency in New York City in case another event like Hurricane Sandy comes through the area. “We’re not a battery technology or even a solar technology company ourselves, but we really specialize in bringing these projects to the market and to clients,” says Nick.
Microgrids, offered by UGE, can operate independently or be connected to a larger grid. The ability to completely disconnect from the grid is essential to energy resilience in the event of another natural disaster. If the grid goes down, microgrids prevent businesses from being disrupted, which is a bonus for the community as well.
For two years running, UGE has been ranked as one of the top solar contractors in the United States by the well-respected Solar Power World magazine, a popular resource for finding leaders in the industry. According to Nick, “Our mission statement is to power the world with renewable energy, and though we will probably never be done with that, at least not in my lifetime, we’re surely looking to make a lot of progress towards that.”
Many would say that the most greatly consumed source of energy in 2018 is either fossil fuels or oil. As the renewable energy industry evolves and quickly increases in cost efficiency, Nick predicts that, by 2030, solar will become the most important source of energy for the entire world.
“What I say to prospective clients is that solar is no longer an expensive technology. I think that’s a secret that a lot of people don’t yet know,” explains Nick. “Depending on where you are, solar costs are either somewhere around what the grid is charging or, in many cases, it is considerably lower than what the grid can offer.”