October 15, 2012

Fortunat Mueller and Phil Coupe shine light on renewable power

ReVision Energy co-founders Fortunat Mueller, left, and Phil Coupe stand at their electric vehicle recharging station in Portland, part of their plan to reduce Maine's dependence on fossil fuels

VIEW: Phil Coupe and Fortunat Mueller's outlook sunny for solar

ReVision Energy

Address: 142 Presumpscot St., Portland

Managing partners: Phil Coupe and Fortunat Mueller

Founded: 2003

Employees: 45

Revenue, 2011: $7.9 million

Contact: 221-6342

It's not all about business for the leaders of ReVision Energy. Phil Coupe and Fortunat Mueller came together in 2003 to lead an energy revolution in Maine.

And the technology to do so, Coupe says, "is here now, today."

Coupe is referencing solar power technology that is at the heart of ReVision's growth from four employees less than 10 years ago to 45 today. It's the same technology that brought the company $7.9 million in revenues last year and allowed it to expand to three Maine locations and one in New Hampshire.

But those aren't the biggest numbers the alternative energy company is eyeing.

"I saw forming the business and executing the installation of [solar] systems as the quickest path to reducing fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions in Maine," Coupe says.

In 10 years, the company has installed 3,000 solar electricity and hot water systems, spun off ReVision Heat, a company focused on reducing Maine's dependency on heating oil, and installed the state's first solar power charging stations for electric vehicles, an area where Coupe says ReVision hopes to make a big impact.

"If we can convert 50% of [Maine's cars] in the next 10 years, that's a 25% reduction in our CO2 emissions," Coupe says. "And people need to understand that you can do it. The vehicle technology is here today and it is robust and reliable."

Looking to countries like Germany, where around 20% of the energy mix is from renewable sources, Coupe says there's still a lot of room for the United States and Maine, in particular, to grow.

"Maine gets 33% more sunshine per year than Germany," Coupe says. "There's a whole lot of power and energy potential raining down on us every second and every day."

That hasn't changed, but what is new is the cost of capturing that energy.

Ten years ago, Mueller says, the market for home and business installations was mostly limited to people with "a decided environmental streak." In the past three years, the cost of solar energy systems has dropped 50%.

Mueller says the new economics of solar are becoming attractive to customers looking purely at the bottom line as the costs of delivering more conventional sources of power and heat continue to rise.

Natural gas might offer cheap energy in the short term, but Mueller and Coupe say they see the success of their business as evidence that continued reliance on limited amounts of fossil fuels can only be sustained environmentally and economically for so long.

"If oil and natural gas were unlimited, I don't think we'd be experiencing the growth and success that we've had to date," Coupe says.

Coupe and Mueller have set their sights on building ReVision's reputation as the top solar installation company in New England and sparking an energy revolution in Maine. Helping achieve that goal is Bill Behrens, a co-founder of ReVision who now heads up the photovoltaic division of the company and manages its finances. So far, they are making good progress.

The October 2012 edition of the international Photon magazine calls their modest Portland office "the epicenter of Maine's solar market."

But Mueller says they don't plan on leading Maine's energy revolution alone.

"It's not Phil and me against the world. It's Phil and me and our great company with a whole bunch of other great companies," Mueller says. "We're really riding the beginning of a wave that I think is going to change the way we use energy across Maine and hopefully across the country."

At the state level, Coupe and Mueller say, Maine has not yet given a consistent commitment to the solar market, but both are confident that the science and economics winning them customers will win the day in Augusta, too.

"We've found that there's still a fair amount of ignorance about the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy and what it can and cannot do," Coupe says. "We look at our efforts in Augusta as trying to help people understand the opportunity that renewable energy represents for the state. It's not about making ReVision a big or wealthy company, it's about solving the state's energy problems."

Part of that problem, Coupe says, hits almost every person and business in the state: Maine sends an estimated $5 billion out of state every year by buying fossil fuels.

Stitching up that hole, Mueller says, will keep more money in the state and, in the long-term, can spur economic growth beyond just the renewable energy sector. But there are practical, self-preservation interests in Maine making strides to dump fossil fuels, too.

"It's at our own peril that we fail to be a leader [in renewable energy]," Coupe says. "The last time I checked, there wasn't a drop of fossil fuel under our soil in Maine, but we are rich in renewable energy resources."

That means a mix of wind, solar, tidal and biomass.

"Maine has a lot of what it needs in the state to meet its power demands," Coupe says. "But it's going to take a lot of infrastructure build-out to make that happen."

Another part of that need is talent, which Mueller says Maine has in spades.

"We get just the absolute highest caliber of potential employees of any organization that I've ever been a part of," says Mueller, who worked as an engineer at United Technologies previously. "A lot of them are native Mainers or are coming back to Maine, and I think it's a testament to the state."

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