Nautilus Solar Energy Celebrates 15 Years at the Forefront of Renewable Energy

December 15, 2021

From solar pioneer to industry leader

Summit, NJ (December 15, 2021) — Nautilus Solar Energy, LLC (“Nautilus”) is proud to announce its 15th anniversary as a leader in the solar energy market. The company began its journey in December 2006 with the vision of becoming one of the first solar-focused independent power producers (IPP) in the US. Since its inception, Nautilus has successfully developed over 800MW of solar projects throughout North America and more than ever, the company remains committed to creating a clean, sustainable future by offering an equitable and affordable renewable energy choice for all.

“An anniversary is a great opportunity to recollect and cherish memories, and fifteen years is a true milestone in the solar power industry,” said Nautilus co-founder and co-CEO Jim Rice. “I am very proud of the groundwork Laura (Stern) and I laid at the beginning and the exceptional people we’ve brought onto the Nautilus team along the way.” Laura Stern, co-founder and co-CEO of Nautilus added, “The growth of the US solar industry and our active involvement in that growth over the past 15 years has been extremely rewarding.”

The company’s remarkable ascent and story is one of innovation, reliability, and tenacity. Capitalizing on improved legislation with federal and state tax incentives, technology advancements, creative new financing models, and a passionate staff of experts contributed to Nautilus’s stellar growth as a leader in the renewable energy sector.

Nautilus reflects on the past 15 years, its early vision, strategic business decisions, and pivotal moments in the solar industry.

 

Early Vision

Nautilus founders, Jim Rice and Laura Stern, started the New Jersey-based company in December 2006 with a business plan sketched out on the back of a Starbucks napkin. With an ambitious vision of becoming one of the first solar-focused independent power producers (IPP) in the US, it was equally important to create a place where people were passionate about coming to work. Equipped with expertise in the power and banking industries building and financing large wind, nuclear, and fossil-fueled powerplants, Jim and Laura were intrigued by the 2006 Investment Tax Credit (ITC) incentives and projected that solar power would become competitive, profitable and the next major source of installed capacity in the US electricity sector.

Location added to Nautilus’s early success. In 2007, the industry drastically changed when New Jersey switched from a rebate program to a Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market, making solar more cost competitive. New Jersey soon became the hottest market in the country for behind-the-meter solar with Nautilus leading the way as one of the first company to apply the IPP business model to distributed generation solar. The company’s strategic decision to stay with distributed generation solar rather than switching into utility-scale projects was unique at the time but would serve as a pivotal move in the company’s future success.

 

Scaling While Serving the Community

Nautilus grew in its early years through founder capital and sweat equity. At the time, the industry was fragmented with few financiers and little liquidity as solar was under the radar in the energy market. Despite this environment, Nautilus closed on one of the first debt and tax equity portfolio financings in the country, a milestone transaction for the industry at the time. Yet the company knew that finding larger financial equity partners was instrumental to achieving scale.

By late 2008, in the depth of the debt crisis, the company had developed, financed, and placed into operation a portfolio of 10 commercial and industrial projects with several more in advanced stages of development. Starwood Energy Infrastructure Fund (SEIF), acquired a majority interest in Nautilus that same year, infusing the company with much-needed capital to expand into commercial, municipal, and industrial rooftop systems. The following year, Nautilus developed a 2.9MW solar project for William Patterson University which, at the time, was the largest project for a university.

Poised for continued growth, Nautilus expanded, hiring experts in the areas of solar origination, development, and finance. It didn’t take long for Nautilus to cement its reputation as a trusted partner in the industry, fostering a resilient, tenacious culture with a passionate, entrepreneurial mindset. In 2015, Jim and Laura led a management buyout supported by the Virgo Investment Group (Virgo), a private equity company. The company also made a core decision to expand into multiple markets to help diversify risk. A year later, with the addition of Jeffrey Cheng (Nautilus’s President), the business strategy shifted to focus on Community Solar. “Our strategic entry into Community Solar, one of the fastest-growing segments of the solar industry, fit well with our goal to expand Nautilus into a company with a broader, national presence,” added Jeffrey Cheng.

Leveraging the company’s strength in distributed generation solar proved to be a natural transition into community solar. Consumers were seeking renewable alternatives. Nautilus viewed community solar as the best of both worlds: combining the physical characteristics of a larger single site developments with the revenue from a wider, distributed base of subscribers.

Plus, community solar represented the democratization of solar, serving customers who couldn’t take advantage of solar on their property, especially low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents who benefit more from energy savings. Community solar also fit well with Nautilus’s mission of being the clean energy of choice within local communities while making solar energy available to a broader marketplace, including LMI households and unrated businesses that wish to reduce their carbon footprint and utility bills. As an example, the White Marsh project in Maryland currently provides over half (54%) of the power generated to the LMI community.

“Our customers appreciate the value of solar on many levels,” said Laura Stern. “Accessibility compounded by affordability makes community solar a no-brainer.”

In 2019, Nautilus was acquired by Power Sustainable, a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Corporation of Canada. By offering institutional-scale permanent capital, Nautilus was able to quickly expand the future of its business by taking a leading role in advancing policy and regulations in new markets, enrolling its own residential customers in emerging markets, and maintaining ownership of projects in existing markets through the entire lifecycle of the solar project. And scale it did. Over the last three years alone, Nautilus expanded into 11 markets, representing ~500 MW of solar in operations and development.

 

Passionate Employee Culture

From its inception, Jim and Laura wanted to create a company culture where people were passionate about their work. Fifteen years later, Nautilus has grown from a staff of 3 to over 70 diverse individuals in 19 locations throughout the United States, effectively tripling its workforce in just the last five years.

“I am most proud of the fact that Laura and I have been able to build a company where so many of our own employees can flourish and grow,” said Jim Rice. “Nautilus has become a place where the next generation is coming and building this extraordinary expertise.” Laura Stern added, “It’s been incredibly rewarding to bring in new people into the industry and create an environment where they are passionate about solar and have agency to execute on their own personal missions.”

 

About Nautilus Solar Energy

Nautilus Solar Energy, LLC is a leading owner-operator of solar projects serving the community solar market and corporate customers throughout the United States. A pioneer in solar energy since 2006, Nautilus is committed to creating a clean, sustainable future by offering an equitable and affordable renewable energy choice. Through its Community Solar initiative, Nautilus is making solar energy available to a broader marketplace, including low to middle income (LMI) households and unrated businesses that wish to reduce their carbon footprint and utility bills.