SANTA ROSA and BOLINAS ? Bolinas may be an unlikely address for an international test and measurement manufacturing operation, but Solmetric is preparing to put it on the global map.
The nine-employee team, led by former Agilent Technologies engineers Willard McDonald and Mark Galli, has traction in the market and a new round of $400,000 in funding to take its solar-access measurement tool to the overseas market.
?We?ll have shipped over a thousand units in another month or two,? said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Peter Hoberg.
At a base price of $1,395 per unit, it is much more expensive compared with the $440 Solar Pathfinder product previously used by most solar installers to determine how much sun a particular site will receive over a year.
But the Solmetric SunEye is an electronic hand-held gadget that includes a digital camera with a fish-eye lens, a level, a compass, optional GPS, calculation software, data storage and even simulated shade tree trimming all in one compact device, housed in recycled material.
?One touch of a button replaces so many steps and so much time,? said SunEye user John Richau, a Fresno-based certified energy consultant for the California Home Energy Rating System.
?The time I save by pointing and clicking the SunEye makes it more than worth the price,? said Mr. Richau.
SPG Solar of Novato was an early beta tester for the technology. Now all of its 15 energy consultants use a SunEye, according to SPG consultant Matt Stone.
?It?s light years ahead of any other solar measurement technology. And it?s versatile, capable of a whole range of analyses besides forecasting,? he said.
In California, rebates for solar installations are performance based, and requirements are complex, far beyond the capabilities of residents and small business owners.
That?s why solar installers employ teams of energy consultants to determine how productive a system will be and why third parties like Mr. Richau rate the system before a rebate can be collected.
?What we?ve found is that when a SunEye is used by the installer to determine productivity, [California Home Energy Rating System] raters simply take that data and don?t have to make calculations of their own,? said Mr. Hobart.
The time is right to take the product abroad, Solmetric determined. The 2-year-old company has already lined up Soleg GmbH as a distributor in Germany, where interest in the product is very high. France, Italy and Eastern Europe are high growth areas for solar, and Japan is second only to Germany in its number of installations.
Mr. Hoberg has been working with Steve Schneider of the Santa Rosa Junior College?s Sawyer Center to develop international marketing strategies.
?Steve has connections to consulates. I?m finding consulates are a great source of information about distributors and trade shows,? said Mr. Hoberg.
In the U.S., the SunEye is distributed by Solmetric?s strategic partner DC Power Systems Inc. of Healdsburg.
Solmetric is ready to ramp up production when international orders begin coming in. But the company will have to seek larger quarters than the Bolinas manufacturing operation and its second office near the Charles M Schulz - Sonoma County Airport. ?We?ll locate somewhere between the two, possibly in Rohnert Park,? said Mr. Hoberg.
?We don?t want to grow the company too fast. Like the solar industry, we want Solmetric?s growth to be sustainable,? he said.