Walking into the All Energy Solar offices in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, the CEEM team was immediately greeted by a solar panel in the entryway and a warm welcome from the staff. From very humble beginnings in a tiny space in 2009 to the beautiful office, ever-growing staff, and a multi-state footprint, All Energy Solar is truly a Minnesota clean energy business success story.
A space to inspire
All Energy Solar | A story of growth
All Energy Solar (AES) has been a member of CEEM since its founding in 2016 and has grown in leaps and bounds in the past seven years. Founded in 2009, AES started with 5 employees and as of 2023, they now have nearly 300 people working across the country on solar projects.
Based in St. Paul, AES is proud to call Minnesota its home. And it has maintained a large headquarters presence here even as it expanded its footprint across the country. In recent years New Hampshire and Massachusetts have both become strong markets for the company. In addition to residential solar, portfolio commercial clients have become an increasingly attractive customer for the company – most recently they’re working to design a system in Costa Rica for such a client. Michael Thalhimer, Director of Business Development for the company shares that AES has designed, installed and serviced more than 7,000 systems across the country.
AES’s homegrown growth is a Minnesota success story. It’s also an example of how policy can create the right market conditions for a business to thrive. In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature passed the Minnesota Solar Standard as well as created the Community Solar Garden program. The Minnesota Solar Standard required all public utilities in the state to generate or procure 1.5 percent of their Minnesota retail electric sales from solar energy by 2020. As of the end of 2022, Minnesota currently has 1400 megawatts of installed solar across the state – representing a little over a quarter of the state’s total renewable energy generation according to the 2023 Minnesota Energy Factsheet.
State policy has been crucial in developing Minnesota’s solar market, but federal policies, particularly recently, have also played an important role. The Investment Tax Credit or ITC was first implemented in 2005. It has since been renewed many times, most recently in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed in August of 2022. The massive federal spending and incentive bill included a 10-year extension of the ITC, which means homeowners and building owners who install solar will get a 30% tax credit. This move has created certainty for the market, and for businesses like AES.
Touring AES’s recently expanded headquarters
CEEM’s tour this fall started at AES’ recently renovated headquarters in St. Paul. AES is wrapping up on current renovations in the space, while part of the team has been working in the office. At the same location, they have their warehouse space, which is constantly growing to accommodate at least a dozen work crews each day. The warehouse is where all of the Minnesota-based solar projects are staged. The space even includes a roofing section to accommodate customers who need panels removed temporarily as they get a new roof.
AES’s warehouse manager is extremely proud of his crew and their accomplishments, both on the job and beyond. The warehouse team is actively working to train workers in roofing and electrician jobs, and making space for electrician apprentices to work and move into management positions. In fact, there are currently 20 staff members working towards their electrician apprenticeship hours. Job training is a priority for AES, as it helps with employee retention and growth. Within the newly renovated office, there is also a space set aside for a job training classroom that will serve as a training and education room.
While AES has grown so much, they have continued to make it a priority to stay within the Twin Cities Metro. Michael Thalhimer shares, “We serve so many people, the metro is a hotbed for us.” The offices are intentionally centrally located so that their team can serve both commercial and residential solar installations, all across the metro.
Commercial solar install
Next on the tour was a solar installation site in Inver Grove Heights. Kremer Services, a full-service auto repair shop that has been serving the Inver Grove Heights area for over 100 years, hired AES to complete a 160kW project that will help offset their energy usage. The solar panels would be used to power lighting and power tools. While the solar installation will not cover 100% of the electricity used onsite, this is an opportunity to offset costs and for Kremer Services to gain some control over their energy use.
The multi-month installation process was nearing completion when CEEM visited. During the roof visit crew members on site were working to add the wired connections between the individual panels to the inverter. The next step is then working with the utility to make sure that the panels are working properly before turning them on. The installation process can take several months, and once it has been inspected and signed off on by the utility, it can be connected to the grid and the owners can start saving money!
The entire process of designing and installing a solar installation can take several months from start to finish. It begins with the inspection and design of the layout and how to maximize the space, sourcing materials, and preparation. Once the installation ends, there is an inspection, then planning the utility witness test, passing the test, and finally interconnecting with the grid.
The project manager for the construction install site shared that he started with AES as a summer worker while he was still in college, and decided to come on as a full-time employee and has now been with AES for six years! He is currently working towards his electrician license. He is an example of the more than 5,100 Minnesotans employed in the state’s fast-growing solar industry, according to the Clean Jobs Midwest Report.
This visit was a huge learning opportunity for the CEEM team. Interacting directly with members is a great way to see the amazing work being done in the state and learn more about what businesses need to continue their important work.
As the solar industry has grown over the last 15 years, new opportunities and challenges have risen. From combating misinformation, to dealing with interconnection problems, to deciphering the benefits of new policies passed at both the federal and state level – it’s a constantly shifting landscape, but one employees like Sarah Whebbe, AES’s policy analyst is trained for. An AES employee of nearly 8 years and currently finishing her third semester of law school, Whebbe’s thirst for deciphering policy and advising the company has served AES well over her tenure.
In fact, Whebbe’s role at AES is a good illustration of how no matter your skill set, everyone can find a role in the clean energy industry. The fast-growing clean energy sector has a huge growth curve in its future, aided in part by the certainty created by the IRA, as well as favorable state policies like Minnesota’s 100% clean energy by 2040 legislation passed in 2023. From electricians, engineers, sales and marketing – there’s a place for everyone in Minnesota’s clean energy industry.