Paul Spiegel and the team at Practical Energy Solutions, Inc. know something about energy and surviving the growing pains of a small business.  The company, located in West Chester and serving the greater Philadelphia, area is an energy consulting partnership.  Practical Energy Solutions is committed to working with organizations to cut their energy expenses and reduce environmental impacts.  Spiegel, the company’s president, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the company that he started in March 2006.   Today the company has 8 employees and is positioned to ride the growth of the energy industry taking place.  In addition to running Practical Energy Solutions, Paul is a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee for the Smart Energy Initiative of Southeastern PA.

We took some time recently to interview Paul about his company and his 10 years at the helm.

Paul, tell us a bit about your background:  where did you grow up, where did you go to school?

I grew up right here in Chester County, and went through TE School District, including Valley Forge Middle School and Conestoga SHS. I followed that up with getting my college degree at University of Delaware.

How did Practical Energy Solutions get started and what was it like in the early years?

I started the company in March of 2006 with an equal partner, and our sole service was evaluation of building operations and providing technical support for operating buildings more efficiently to save energy. Our goal was to reduce energy consumption 15% – 20% without any capital investment, and we were paid out of the energy cost savings. We received 50% – 80% of the savings for the first 2 years. My partner left in 2007, and I was the only employee until early 2009, and I immediately broadened our service offering to include assessments of capital upgrades, energy audits, and energy strategic planning, all for commercial, municipal and educational facilities. I also added an energy education or behavior change element to our services, because the people managing and occupying the buildings have a huge impact on the energy performance. When the recession hit, many of our clients wanted to be more aggressive about saving energy, because the economy was forcing them to reduce costs, and energy savings helped them improve their financials without cutting staff or programs. We grew significantly during the next several years.

What is your greatest passion related to Energy?

I’ve been concerned about the environment my whole life, especially clean air and clean water. I did my final research project my senior year in college in my Economic Analysis of Law class on the economic benefits to improving air quality, and processes for sharing the costs between polluters and “users” (people that breathe the air…). But I’ve also been responsible for the financial performance of my department at previous employers since 1990, and at my company since we started in 2006, and I understand the fiscal responsibilities of building owners. I really love the fact that by saving energy, there are both economic and environmental benefits from the projects that we identify, design, and/or implement for our clients, and these projects pay for themselves at an excellent rate of return.

What are some of the toughest challenges that Practical Energy Solutions faces in today’s market?

Low energy prices and a stronger economy seem to have combined to soften some of the demand for energy services, although not as much as I had thought they would. We are fortunate to have developed a strong client base that uses our services year after year, so our workload actually increased about 15% from 2014 to 2015, and our backlog increased over 50%.

What is your most visible project?

We have a contract with the City of Philadelphia that was just renewed at the end of 2015, for a maximum of 4 years, after our original 4 year contract ended. Working closely with city employees on identifying opportunities for energy savings that can be scaled up to reduce energy use in their entire portfolio of similar buildings allows us to have a huge impact on energy use in the city. We have also been providing support in developing standards for building renovations, operations, and design of new buildings and systems.

With 10 years of success to build upon, where do you see the company in the next 10 years?

I see us adding to the core of repeat clients that use our services year after year. In our first year of operation, our first four contracts were with a large public school district, a local municipality, a large private K-12 school, and a commercial business that occupies a 5-building office park in Chester County, and ten years later we still do work every year for three of our first four clients. Our goal is to help our clients develop their own energy goals and a long-term strategy for continuous improvement on their energy performance, and then to be their “GPS” to guide them through the implementation process, adjusting the plan as needed based on market opportunities or funding opportunities that arise.  So I see us continuing to add more of these committed organizations and individuals to our growing list of long-term partners, and being excited to come to work every day to help them have a positive economic and environmental impact within their organizations!