Our History: How EnergyLink Became a Leading Renewable EPC Firm in the C&I Middle Market | EnergyLink
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Our History: How EnergyLink Became a Leading Renewable EPC Firm in the C&I Middle Market

How EnergyLink Became a Leading Renewable EPC Firm in the C&I Middle Market: Our History

EnergyLink went through multiple evolutionary changes since its founding in 2010 to set it on its course to becoming a leading Energy Service Company (ESCO) in the commercial and industrial middle market. Our history and major milestones in the company’s growth are outlined below.

Our History: Where Everything Started

Christopher Ihler and Scott Schnelle founded Energy Link LLC. in 2010 off the back of Ihler’s previous experience as a real estate developer for Keihler Construction and Development. Ihler noticed a common theme that many homes in the Osage area had poor energy efficiency. Thus, EnergyLink was born, offering services to residents of the Columbia, Missouri area services such as weatherization, ductwork, air sealing, attic insulation, and geothermal heating.

In 2012, EnergyLink branched out into residential solar after seeing promising advancements in solar technology. Ihler and Schnelle project managed individual solar installations together, and through trial and error, learned the ins and outs of solar. The company’s finance-first approach to renewable energy projects formed here, as EnergyLink broke down the economic impact of each install clearly prior to construction. Over time, EnergyLink made a name for itself in the Columbia area and was seen as a strong local leader in residential solar, despite heavy local competition.

Entry into the C&I Market

Following success in the residential solar market, EnergyLink transitioned further to meet a new market demand for energy efficiency and solar in the commercial and industrial (C&I) market. In 2014, EnergyLink completed its first qualifying commercial ESCO project, then moving on to complete its first C&I solar project in 2015. Offering Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) services to simplify the process of undergoing an energy project became a key differentiator for EnergyLink in the market.

From that point, EnergyLink grew market share and expertise in the C&I space through continued work with Missouri businesses and nonprofit organizations, such as True Media and Columbia Independent Schools. The company advanced its finance-first approach to energy projects, developing a proprietary financial model to better forecast energy savings and cash flows anticipated from prospective projects. EnergyLink’s key focus was to lower energy usage in an economically beneficial way.

Beyond Solar: Targeting Demand Management & Efficiency

EnergyLink’s focus organically broadened to target energy demand charges, which were prevalent on most of its clients’ utility bills. For this reason, including building automation systems (demand management), mechanical improvements such as HVAC systems and boiler systems, and energy storage (battery and thermal) became a priority.

Regional Expansion

After years of growth, EnergyLink expanded to the Colorado market in 2018, opening up a new office in Denver. EnergyLink marked the expansion with a significant, complex ESCO project at the Oxford Vista campus in Aurora, Colorado. The project notably included a solar carport + ground mount combo, building automation controls, a complete HVAC demo with new replacement units, a new DOAS system, a geo-loop VRV system, LED lights, new boiler systems, new windows, and a roof replacement. This was EnergyLink’s first near net zero electric project and the most complex ESCO project the company has completed to date. It represents the full picture of EnergyLInk’s versatility and holistic energy solutions.

Nationwide ESCO Market Entry

WIth a sound business model intact and a proven track record of delivering high performance energy projects, EnergyLink expanded further into the MUSH (Municipalities, Universities, Schools, & Hospitals) market in 2020, completing a project for Colorado State University. In 2021, EnergyLink spectacularly was chosen by Buncombe County of North Carolina to undertake its largest multi-site solar project, with 46 separate solar installations required over a period of two years.

This marked EnergyLink’s entry into the national ESCO market, with projects later lined up in California, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, and Ohio. Offices in Kansas City, MO, Asheville, NC, and Austin, TX were opened to meet staffing needs in each market.

Expanded Service Offerings: Performance Contracting & Third Party Owned Energy Projects

As 2021 progressed, EnergyLink established a Master Service Agreement with Evergy Energy Partners to fund and install multiple projects nationwide, and entered into a pipeline partnership with MFA Oil to outfit a portion of its portfolio with solar. A direct focus on reporting on system performance and offering post construction services also came to fruition with the development of a Measurement and Verification department. Suddenly, EnergyLink’s workforce grew from a small, tight-knit group to a staff of over 60+ employees nationwide.

Focusing on Funding

2022 brought even more change for EnergyLink, with efforts doubled down on breaking through barriers with project funding– one of the largest stumbling blocks to commencing energy projects. EnergyLink agreed and completed projects tied to energy service performance contracts, power purchase agreements, managed energy service agreements, and solar service agreements.

Relationships with Climate Commodities International (CCI) and other parties were developed to facilitate a digital marketplace for fintech projects funded through off-taker contracts and provide development capital for utility-sided, behind-the-meter solar + storage installations, as well as front-of-the-meter corporate projects. EnergyLink began its third quarter of 2022 with the establishment of a partnership with the City of Denver for a city-wide solar + EV charging station project similar to Buncombe County in size and scope. It is one of many projects to come.

With a project portfolio showcasing millions of dollars of energy savings and an even larger carbon offset across all work completed, EnergyLink is growing at a rapid pace. Meeting the nationwide demand for the decarbonization of electricity markets has forced the company to scale to new heights. Combining humble beginnings in residential energy efficiency with extensive experience in the C&I and MUSH markets and newly established capital partnerships has positioned EnergyLink uniquely in the commercial ESCO market as a true all-in-one solution to design, build, and fund corporate, municipal and nationwide nonprofit energy projects in 2023 and beyond.

EnergyLink Decarbonization Solutions (ELDS) Funding Platform Launched

In January 2023, EnergyLink announced the launch of EnergyLink Decarbonization Solutions (ELDS), a new arm company and separate LLC. which will operate alongside EnergyLink in achieving its mission, vision and values. ELDS provides a vertically integrated funding platform that will focus on providing a full suite of services and capital from engineering design through operations to the sustainable infrastructure sector.

Thematic focus areas of the platform include but are not limited to solar, battery storage, energy efficiency, hydrogen, renewable natural gas, and industrial decarbonization, specifically for middle market applications of $1 to $50M. The platform aims to benefit the development and capital markets communities by offering turnkey engineering services matched with custom capitalization solutions from a single counterparty.

Looking Forward

Having reflected on our history, EnergyLink CEO Chris Ihler is eager to look to the future, building EnergyLink to reach its vision of catalyzing the decarbonization of electricity markets.

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