David Jankowsky and Francis Solar:
Building A Better Solar Home
This month, we have decided to profile a new member, Francis Solar, and its president, David Jankowsky. Jankowsky has enjoyed a wide-ranging career as a lawyer and project developer that has taken him across the planet. Over the course of that professional trajectory, he has worked on energy project development and project finance across multiple asset classes – including an LNG regasification facility in Peru and a wind project in California (we won’t talk about the coal plant). Following his stint as a lawyer, Jankowsky joined SunEdison, then one of the world’s largest solar developers, to lead their business development efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.
Following that assignment, Jankowsky moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his family is originally from, to start a renewable energy company. In 2015 he started Francis Solar (named after his great grandmother) to address opportunities in Oklahoma’s under-served solar market. Jankowsky had considered other markets such as California, but he wanted to find one that was still very nascent presenting an opportunity to drive the development of solar from a regulatory and transactional perspective.
“Oklahoma was a pretty easy decision to plant the flag because my family was originally from here (I grew up in DC). The problem with the state’s energy economy, he commented, was that “Other than wind, Oklahoma is five years behind (in renewables). We knew we would starve just trying to do business in Oklahoma, which is how we ended up in Texas, a much more favorable solar market and one with mind-bending potential.”
Building a solid business foundation in residential developments
The company’s strategy was to develop a solid anchor project in Texas that would serve as a foundation for the growth of the business while it “primed the pump” in Oklahoma. Jankowsky and Francis Solar initially focused on geothermal HVAC projects, but it didn’t provide the expected and necessary growth, especially when tax credits expired in 2016 (they are now back in play).
Envisioning a future in which every home and business operates as its own “mini” power plant, the company started focusing exclusively on solar, battery storage and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Jankowsky became aware of a new housing project in Whisper Valley that spanned over 2,000 acres, with a plan for 7,500 homes and two million square feet of commercial space near Austin. The developers were envisioning a leading-edge community that would enjoy dedicated Google fiber internet and include net-zero capable homes. And since the developers were also considering geothermal systems, this created an opportunity for an initial conversation between the two parties. That eventually led to a contract to develop a total of over 7,500 residential rooftops. When completed, the entire project will have as much as 35 megawatts of residential and/or community solar installations.
Fostering an integrated and comprehensive planning approach
The critical key to success, according to Jankowsky, has been to understand the needs of the homebuilder, particularly production homebuilders.
“The reason solar (and other renewable technologies) have not been widely adopted by the builder community is because of the very real concern that adding these technologies will both delay construction and price the home out of the market.”
According to Jankowsky, these issues can be mitigated through a careful and integrated planning process well ahead of putting a shovel into the ground, a process implemented and perfected at the Whisper Valley project.
For master planned communities in development, we get involved at the architectural stage of the home design process. Using Francis Solar software, the homebuilder can upload floor plans and the mechanical engineering and plumbing design plans. Based on this information, we generate our solar design, construction schedule and a “cheat sheet” for the other trades so that they know exactly where our solar panels, equipment and wires will be located. This ensures no conflicts amongst the various trades on site and ensures the project is completed on schedule.”
This matters, because housing construction is complex, involving various trades and multiple interdependencies. Jankowsky noted that sweating the details is critical in keeping costs down and doing it right the first time. One has to know ahead of time where conduits will go in the walls, where holes have to be cut, where non-solar roof penetrations, such as washer/dryer vents, will be located, among many other potential impediments.
Once the system design and specifications are approved, we put the home into a cloud-based database the homebuilder has access to. Every task performed by Francis Solar is in that spreadsheet and the homebuilder’s project manager receives a daily update on status of the installation..”
Says Jankowsky, “We have found this to be an ideal tool to coordinate and communicate with the project manager, who is generally managing 50 different scopes of work in any given day. Our goal has been to make the solar component of the construction process as painless on the project manager, as possible. All the feedback we have received is that they absolutely love this tool.”
In addition, according to Jankowsky, the integration of solar into the construction process drives down significantly the cost to install solar by eliminating the costly burden of retrofitting solar onto an existing or finished home.
Jankowsky observed that this model has tremendous potential for homebuilders building projects at scale across the U.S., and the company is developing a white paper to spread the word.
“We are focusing on taking that model, perfected at Whisper Valley, and bringing it to other developers and homebuilders.”
Where TREIA is helpful
Jankowsky was introduced to TREIA board member Reina Hornaday by a colleague who was helping him make connections in Texas. He immediately recognized that TREIA could help him make important connections, with the ability to cross reference along the entire breadth of the renewables industry.
“What makes TREIA special is it enables us to go to manufacturers and to potential customers that are members and say ‘have you thought about solar?’ There is a robust homebuilder community within TREIA, that’s an excellent entre for us…”
We are grateful that David has seen the value TREIA and our members bring to the table and look forward to his continued success.