What is a SmartSolar™ Company?


This is part of our series called “Solar Insiders” where we are interviewing the team that founded Golden Bear Solar, Northern California’s leading SmartSolar™  providers.

A Solar Industry Veteran – Mike Thompson

Though a lawyer by education, Mike has been involved in the solar industry for the last decade and been in a great position to see trends as they were emerging.   “I’d been doing work at a company where we saw a huge opportunity for growth if we could develop the right financing product for our customers. This led to the development of a residential lease and loan financing program.   Since then I’ve helped develop home improvement financing programs for customers around the country.”

Using legal and financial skills to support the growth of this market lit an entrepreneurial passion in Mike; and when he began to see the concept of  SmartSolar emerging – the timing was right to offer an alternative solar solution for customers.

A Long History in the Golden State

“I was born in California and had a very interesting upbringing; getting to live in Southeast Asia with my dad – a early semiconductor pioneer for Intel.  But I returned to California for college in San Diego, and a law degree in San Francisco. This state really is an amazing place to live and raise a family.”

Golden Bear Solar - Founder Mike Thompson's family
Mike started Golden Bear Solar to offer the kind of system and service he’d want for his own family.

Why SmartSolar

“Most companies offer a simple transaction – put on the panels and harvest sunlight, save money.  Simple and great. But it could be more.”  As Mike saw smart home technology becoming a ubiquitous multi-billion dollar industry, he knew there was something missing in most residential solar interactions.  “Giving people the ability to understand – the smarts – of their energy consumption was just as valuable as providing an offset to dirty power.”

“People have gotten a taste – with smart thermostats like Nest – of being able to easily control their home heating and cooling to save energy.  And it’s no small thing – the HVAC system is typically the biggest consumer of electricity in a house.”

And so, the logical extension; households will be controlling more appliances, lights, etc.  But controlling the big electricity appliances is only one part; it makes sense that people know exactly how much each system consumes – then they can make different; better decisions.

Here is an example:  Many folks end up putting an old fridge in the garage when they replace it with a new one without really thinking about just how much energy it consumes.   These people pay their electricity bill every month, but the bill doesn’t tell them how much that old fridge consumes each month. This can be a real wake-up call to learn that the fridge can be costing upwards of $100/month, which adds up to thousands over years. Maybe getting a new refrigerator is a better call… or just getting rid of it. You can’t make that kind of decision without knowing exactly what that fridge is costing you. We give you that level of insight and it is very empowering for our customers.

What if you could see, on a system by system basis, which dedicated load was consuming what power?  Mike saw figures showing that people who could see this data made changes – saving 10-15% – just because they knew the impact of specific actions. Having solar is helpful, having SmartSolar is powerful.

The Spark – Empowering Energy Consumers 

“I began to hear leaders in the industry, people I really respected, saying that if you’re just putting in the solar generation part of the equation; you’re doing people a disservice.  They’ve made the move to change where they get their power from; it’s the perfect inflection point to help them learn how to better use the energy they are generating. And that takes you from being more than just a solar installer… to becoming that family’s energy advisor.”

Curb App in Action
Golden Bear’s Smart Solar App to show you in detail where your power is getting used.

Mike had also been working with the very innovative team at Curb Energy.  They developed consumption monitoring technology from the ground up to help people get the most accurate picture of what goes on, circuit by circuit, within their home.   Mike added, “Other consumption monitoring systems may say that they provide real time information, but essentially they are providing a monitor to the house’s overall power usage and using software disaggregation to try to decipher what is actually being used. Our system utilizes hardware disaggregation which is much more accurate. If your consumption monitor is not accurately reporting your usage, you can not effectively manage your energy.”

What is the Vision for Golden Bear Solar

“Our entire team is singularly focused on one mission: transitioning Americans to an energy system that saves money and doesn’t harm our planet. We wake up everyday with that objective”.

Beyond that, I wanted to offer the sort of system I would recommend to my mom, to my family and friends – without ever having to worry about the equipment or the workmanship. Having seen many of the top companies in the solar space either fail or go out of business, we decided to partner with a 110 year old roofing company to provide the best warranty in the business to our customers.  Given the history of solar, it makes more sense to a consumer to have a warranty from a company outside of the industry. So we offer our customers the best warranty in the business, but it doesn’t come from a solar manufacturer.

As solar advocates, we need to educate people on the huge savings that they can achieved by going solar. Many of our customers save upwards of 30% on their utility bill without having to incur any upfront costs. How do you measure return on investment, when you generate immediate savings and there is no upfront cost?

Finally, we knew that giving people the best service was something that would be valued. The industry is great at selling, but the actual installation is where there is room to improve. We feel that the process of getting solar installed is exciting and try to engage our customers to make them part of that process. That’s the passion we bring to the company and it shows in our customer experience.

We will continue to grow and expand – but we think our model of working with the best partners can expand beyond the Bay Area and into other parts of the Golden State…  and even Hawaii. With only a small percentage of roofs that could have SmartSolar actually having solar, saving money, and generating their own power, the sky’s the limit.”