Meet Matt Harvey – Captain at the Helm

shipswheel

Navigating the marine industry has brought its challenges, but Matt Harvey has never looked back. Born and raised a stone’s throw from Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) in Port Huron, Mich., he didn’t expect life would bring him full circle 33 years later.

It all began in high school auto shop where he started working on cars. His first inclination was toward automotive, but his dad and his dad’s friends owned boats. So he started working on those.

He found that marine engines were a lot cleaner than car engines. Plus, “it was a whole lot more fun being around boats,” Matt said, so he decided to pursue the marine industry.

To that end, he stopped by a local marina where his dad stored his boat, asking if they had any openings. “I would have been happy scrubbing boat bottoms to get my foot in the door,” he said. After months of coming in, the marina owner said, “If you’re serious about going into this business, here’s what you need to do.

“There’s this guy who works for me. He went to this school in northern Minnesota. He can tell you about it.”

In walks Brian Hunter. For those of you who don’t know Brian, he’s been the Branch Manager of our Wisconsin location since 1998 and a Marysville Marine employee since 1984.

Brian was working at the marina where Matt so desperately wanted to work. “You should go to this school. Here’s the number,” Brian said. (Matt rattled off the actual number like it was yesterday!)

Matt wrote to the school. They sent him a catalog. The application was on the back cover of the catalog; you filled it out, tore it off and sent it in. (Boy, those were pre-Internet days!) Matt’s parents drove him to Detroit Lakes, Minn. where he attended the one-year tech program for marine technology. That was spring 1983.

“Brian has been one of those constants in my life. If it weren’t for Brian Hunter, I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing,” Matt said.

The technical school was one of the few schools graduating trained technicians. Marinas around the United States knew about it. When he graduated a year later, there were over 85 job postings for 12 graduates. Matt always wanted to live out west. So when the opportunity presented itself, he followed his desire.

To Reno and Back

His first job was in Reno, Nev. where he worked for a season on Lake Tahoe. It was a fun time in his life. He moved back to the Midwest and worked for a big marine dealership in Illinois as service manager. After three years, Matt yearned to come back to Port Huron and start his own marine repair business.

He partnered with a guy who worked with him at the Illinois dealership. Thirty-one (31) years later, Pro Marine, the business they started is still thriving, but life for Matt had other plans.

Rod Smith, founder and Mark Knust, his son-in-law, reached out to Matt about coming to work for MMD.

As an owner of a marine repair business, Matt bought parts from MMD regularly. They wanted to open a branch in Nashville. The luxury houseboat industry in southern Kentucky was growing and, as a Westerbeke generator distributor, expanding into the South represented a growth opportunity. With inventory close by, they could better serve the majority of their houseboat customers.

Inverter Service Center Evolves

Inverter-Service-Center-Repair-Technicians
The Inverter Service Tech Crew – PJ Gonzalez, Jordan Hall & Ray Barbee in White House.

Inverter Service Center (ISC) evolved out of the Nashville location. MMD served the marine customer, but word got around to the bus and coachbuilders. Bus builders knew MMD had the switchgear and electrical components they needed. They came to rely on them for parts and, over time, inverter sales and support.

In 1991, Trace Engineering reached out to MMD because they represented the Westerbeke product to the houseboat manufacturers. It made sense seeing how generators and inverters complement each other on larger houseboats. Once MMD had their foot in the door, the bus builders started coming to them because they use inverters on luxury entertainer coaches.

Because inverters are electrical, it was easy to blame them for electrical issues on the coaches. Customers would return new inverters saying they were defective. MMD would box up the product and ship it back to Trace in Washington State. Trace would then test the inverter and find nothing wrong.

“We decided to test the inverters ourselves before shipping them off,” Matt said. “We were able to help the customer understand the problem and save a lot of time and money wasted on freight.” This is about the time PJ Gonzalez stepped up.

He’s like our own Curious George,” said Matt.

PJ started tinkering with things. Then, as the product changed and became more field serviceable, he was a natural fit for that role. From there, the business exploded and ISC was born. The company hit its stride in 2001 when they moved into their current White House, Tenn. location. At that time, ISC had grown to the point it was a three-person operation and was moved to another location due to space constraints.

“The industry’s starting to gain momentum. The big thing that’s going to help drive the inverter business is technology,” Matt said. “They’re so much more efficient now. And the advances in technology allow for many applications.”

Matt explained it this way.

On boats that don’t have a big electrical load, boaters will use an inverter. This allows them to run lights, the refrigerator, the ice maker, and so on. There’s no noise, no fumes, no wear and tear on the generator. An inverter doesn’t take the place of a generator; it’s a great accessory because it works well with a generator.

With advances in technology, inverters are becoming commonplace. You can put them in your car or truck. A lot of new cars come with inverters as standard accessories.

Opening a Florida location (slated for early 2019) lends itself to a lot of growth opportunity. “Boating is a lifestyle there more so than any other region in the country,” Matt said.

Coming Full Circle

Matt left MMD and worked for two different companies. One was Gibson Boats building fiberglass houseboats. The other was Forever Resorts overseeing boat and marine components manufacturing. Those experiences have been invaluable in giving him the tools necessary to stay competitive in a tough industry.

“I look back at my time away and don’t regret the move. If I hadn’t left, I would not have gained experience and knowledge in operations, manufacturing and business administration. Things that prepared me for my role today.

“Leaving equipped me to step into this role and to lead MMD to the next level,” Matt said.

Make no mistake. Matt has faced challenges.

Mark Knust owner and president of MMD approached Matt in the fall of 2015 about returning to MMD and running the company. They planned to continue talking after the first of the year. Matt didn’t expect the role to be thrust upon him.

“When Mark died unexpectedly in early January 2016, that expedited the whole process,” Matt said. When the founder, Rod Smith, died five months later, “it was tough; he was like a father to me.”

With the support and goodwill of the extended family, Matt and his wife, Shelly, moved back to Port Huron to continue the legacy of two great friends.

A Man on a Mission

matt-harvey

Matt’s mission is to harness the company’s technical expertise and its great reputation to reach more people and grow the business.

“I’m committed to reaching new markets with all the things that make Marysville Marine great — our technical expertise, our people and the great line of products we represent,” Matt said. “I want to be that company who cares, who listens and who helps.”

Here’s a parting leadership nugget from Matt:

“Be humble, hungry and smart. Help people find what they need, go above and beyond, always look for the good in people and opportunities.

“Every day is a gift. No one’s guaranteed a tomorrow.”

Well said, Matt!

Connect with Matt Harvey on LinkedIn.

Meet Jeff Sumner – Custom Coachbuilder to the Stars

Jeff Sumner, Custom Coachbuilder, sitting near waterfall

You’ve seen them cruisin’ south on I-65 and east on I-40 heading toward Nashville — those big ‘ol custom coaches with tinted glass carrying miles and miles of stories.

One such story started with J.D. Sumner who sang with Elvis. One day he asked his nephew, who was doing studio work and singing on the road as well, to build him a bus. Back in the 70s, that’s what they were called. They weren’t anything fancy … not like they are today.

Meet Jeff Sumner — custom coachbuilder and J.D.’s nephew. Jeff freely admits he “knew nothin’ about building a bus,” but that was okay because Jack Howell, a pioneer in the custom coach industry (and J.D.’s good friend), agreed to walk him through the process.

Jeff was building houses to shore up his finances, so he figured he could put his carpentry skills to work and build a bus for his uncle. With the help of Jack and his son, Matt, together they built a bus in six months. That was the beginning of his new career.

Jeff started his own business, Integrity Interiors based in White House, Tenn., in 2003 after working for Nashville Coach for 10 years.

He left the road behind and never looked back.

Setting the Bar High in Custom Coach Design

custom coach interiorAs Jeff progressed in his knowledge of buses, he became more involved in design and production. He and his team do everything in-house from framing and cabinetry to tile work and metal fabrication. Jeff serves as project manager and lead designer.

In fact, it’s the CAD design phase that excites him the most putting people’s thoughts down and watching it all come together. There are a lot of moving pieces to a custom coach project which requires a lot of thought. That’s what he likes best.

Jeff credits much of his success to surrounding himself with good people. “I have a good person for every little aspect of this process,” he said. They’re customizing three buses at once right now on site. They’ve also installed CNC machines so they can do more production at their location and are adding another building. The company has customized five coaches in the first six months of 2018.

Integrity Interiors contracts with some of the largest entertainment coach leasing companies in the country, such as

Celebrity Coaches

Star Master Coaches

Taylor Tours

Nitetrain Coach

Musical Coaches

All Access Coach Leasing, LLC

Coach companies purchase the coaches, then lease to entertainers and sports figures primarily. A few still own their coach, but it’s not like it was in the 80s and early 90s. It makes more sense to lease rather than to buy because the entertainer or athlete can lease a new coach every few years rather than spend $1 million and “driving it until the wheels fall off.”

Custom Coach “Wow” Factor

As you might expect with custom coaches, no two are alike. For example, Jeff and his crew recently created the prototype for a mobile workout center. They designed and fabricated the interior of a 40-foot trailer to include everything a luxury home gym might have: weight machines, bicycles, treadmills, the works!

This award-winning country music singer wanted her travelin’ pals to enjoy the luxury of having their workout come to them. Her idea is to have them lease the vehicle wherever they travel. How’s that for custom convenience?

Another client was a “sports nut” so they installed 10 satellite receivers and 15 TVs. “He can watch five football games and seven with picture in picture,” Jeff said. I can only imagine the number of power panel components this vehicle would need with that kind of energy draw.

The “craziest” job they designed was an articulating bar that would rearrange to create an L-shaped bar when the slide out was extended. Their client is a heavy-metal rock star whose band bills itself as The World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.

The “most bizarre” was creating a waterfall in the coach. This popular country music artist wanted a waterfall in her big garden tub. They built it out of solid surface CorianⓇ, added a few baffles to keep the water from splashing too much and voilà. Jeff makes it sound simpler than it is, I’m sure.

reclining bunks in custom coach to comply with Tenn. seat belt law

A new design he’s configured is a way for the bunks in the coach to recline while belted in. His idea initially was a way to help people feel more comfortable. Prior to the 2018 Tennessee state bus seat belt law, vehicles seating 10 passengers or fewer didn’t need seat belts installed. Now they do. So his invention took on a new level of urgency.

According to Jeff, the whole industry worked on designing an effective seatbelt application and can now boast the ability to manufacturer 12 seats with seat belts which are up to spec and meet the law’s requirements for coaches.

He’s only refused one job when a prospective client offered to pay him $200,000 in cash. He wasn’t interested in getting into the “money laundering” business, so declined the leasing company’s referral.

“I try to treat customers like family. If they can’t reciprocate, it’s not worth it,” said Jeff.

Inverter Service Center – Priceless Knowledge & Service

Speaking of family, Jeff calls PJ Gonzalez “his brother.” He thinks PJ, Manager of ISC, and his team are “awesome.” There’s no doubt that PJ along with Randy Seabolt are his “go-to” people when he’s struggling with a complicated design.

Even though his team is well-versed in electrical, PJ, in particular, “takes electrical systems design to a whole new level,” said Jeff.

“That’s priceless!”

He often brings Inverter Service Center a design concept that goes beyond what the industry has done. For example, Jeff wanted to put solar panels on the roof of a motorhome. PJ figured out the load. With this inverter system setup, the runtime was 4x better than even PJ’s original calculation! Without solar, the bus could run 5 ½ hours; with solar, the bus ran for 9 ½ hours with just the sun backing up the batteries.

Many custom coaches today need a lot more power. Laptops, gaming systems, smartphones all draw high amps. Some entertainers want heated floors!

power management dual cord 220 AC 2x2

One custom coach Jeff manufactured required two shore cords due to the size of power demands for all the loads. Normally, a standard coach would have one electrical panel. In this case, he had to add another panel for transferring between the two shore cords and generator.

PJ designed the transfer panel to have the ability to run the whole coach from one cord, both cords or the generator. Of course, if you used the one cord option, load management is a must.

“His knowledge of how that stuff works is amazing,” Jeff said.

You sound pretty amazing yourself Jeff. Thanks for talking with us!

PS If you’d like to see the schematic, you can download the PDF.

Meet Nathan Jones – Self-taught Solar Power Dude

Nathan-Jones-Solar-Dock-Power

Inventor. Wanderer. Off-grid Pioneer.

Nathan Jones is one unique individual. He’s been living and working off-grid for 21 years. The energy he uses to power his 50-acre ranch and manufacturing operation is run strictly on solar renewable energy. That’s why we call him The Solar Power Dude.

Like many self-made entrepreneurs, Nathan’s curiosity and self-reliance was a driving force in his life. He wondered, Why do we build all our homes and businesses that require an umbilical cord to be habitable? Why don’t we build structures that are self-sufficient?

While building his own home he didn’t want to be dependent on the local utility, so he started learning how the solar equipment worked and could be integrated into his home. He hooked everything up and it worked!

Nathan was off-grid.

Timing is Everything

Nathan freely admits he was in the right place at the right time. When Y2K became an event, word of mouth led to his first business venture, Missouri-based Power Source Solar, building solar power systems.

For those too young to remember, Y2K was a phenomenal event in the solar renewable energy world. At that time, renewable energy was still in its infancy, so a lot of the technicians and engineers at the factories were the ones who answered the phone when Nathan called.

Many of them took Nathan under their wing and spent time answering his questions, illustrating how things worked and explaining why they built systems the way they did.

“I was a sponge absorbing what I could from people who knew a lot more than me,” said Nathan.

Y2K Event Jumpstarts Solar Power Business

Y2K Time Magazine Cover

Here’s Nathan’s memory of Y2K:

“I live in the Missouri Ozarks which is a pretty rugged part of the country and a huge survivalist mecca. There was a huge influx of people with the ‘end of the world’ mentality or what I refer to as ‘the fanatic fringe.’

“We built a huge amount of solar/renewable systems using the technology and equipment we had at the time. Batteries were much cheaper than they are today and the cost of solar panels was horrifically expensive.

“So those types of systems tended to have very small solar arrays, massive battery banks and they always included a generator. People using these systems operated in a feast or famine mode. When a generator was running and doing a charge on the battery bank, you had a lot of electricity to pump water, do the laundry, run the dishwasher, take a shower, lounge in the Jacuzzi, run the equipment in the shop and do all the things you needed to get done. Then you shut the generator off and you went into survival mode.

“You used all the solar you had and then robbed the shortfall from the battery. Usually, we tried to size our systems out for about 72 hours. Then the cycle would begin again once the generator was fired up for another five or six hour charge time on the battery bank and that gave you five or six hours of a lot of spare capacity of electricity to allow you to take care of heavy loads again and then you go back into survival mode on the battery and solar.

“The Y2K folks weren’t concerned about energy efficiency. They were more interested in a survivalist lifestyle.”

Solar Renewable Industry Evolves

Nathan’s been in the renewable energy industry from the beginning, so he’s seen the industry evolve and change. Batteries have gone up in price tremendously. Solar has come down proportionately. So the battery banks have gotten smaller; the amount of solar has grown larger, and generators, by and large, have moved to an absolute backup scenario instead of being an integral part of the system like they were back in the day.

As the industry grew and evolved, so did Nathan’s business and influence within the industry.

The Personal Becomes Political

 

electricity wire power grid

Nathan harnessed his passion and knowledge to help create a renewable energy industry in Missouri. He and Derek West, his business partner and stepson, went to the voters and asked if they wanted to create a renewable energy industry in the state. In 2008, the voters overwhelmingly said “Yes” by a ⅔ margin. Net metering became law.

Net metering is a way for a consumer to put solar panels on their home and back feed it into the house’s electrical panel while at the same time the utility is back feeding it into that same panel.

Essentially, electricity from the solar panel and the power grid meet in your electrical panel. You use your solar production first and if you’re short, you buy the surplus you need from the utility. If you have surplus generation, then the solar just back feeds into the electrical grid and runs your meter backward. The consumer gets a credit.

When night falls, you run the meter forward until it gets back to where it started. The homeowner still doesn’t owe the utility any money. This cycle continues until at the end of the month, the utility bill is based on the difference between those two meter readings regardless of what happened throughout the month.

Net metering gives customers control over their electricity bills.

During this time, Nathan became a board member of the Missouri Solar Energy Industries Association. They worked with utility companies around the state as well as the Public Utility Commission to establish the rules, regulations, and requirements to address both the political and practical side of making this new law work.

The Association also established the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which required the investor-owned utilities to meet 15% of their generation with renewable energy. In order to meet that requirement, the utility companies created a rebate as an incentive.

“What that did was bring the industry out of its infancy and into maturity and it brought prices down” which sparked the renewable energy market in Missouri, Nathan said.

Solar Dock Power Spins Into Its Own Universe

solar-dock-lighting

According to Nathan, after Y2K became a non-event, the solar industry pretty much “collapsed.” The industry had geared up for volume and “it was over in a day.”

“I really didn’t want to go back into what I’d been doing but neither did I want to be in a business that required a perceived end of the world crisis to motivate someone to do anything,” Nathan said.

He started looking for a business he could create that had a ready market. Two events converged that led him to Solar Dock Power. First, he read a report about an electrocution that happened on Lake of the Ozarks and realized how it had happened and, secondly, a friend of his moved a boat dock onto some property but had no way to get electric power to it.

“Why don’t you run the thing on solar power,” Nathan said.

And so an idea was born.

He realized that eliminating the connection to the earth would have prevented the man on Lake of the Ozarks from getting killed and started zeroing in on the benefits of what solar dock power entailed. His overpowering thought was “We need to do this.”

Nathan started prototyping some systems, doing development work, testing equipment, finding out what it took to make things work. He finally got a system put together, approached an engineer who produced a schematic, then went to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and spoke to one of their electrical engineers.

“After an eventful battle, they acquiesced and allowed me to proceed with what I was doing,” Nathan said.

Eventually, he started speaking at a number of local conferences on the solar dock power concept. From the local arena, he moved on to the regional stage and then was invited to a number of Army Corps of Engineers’ conferences.

Over time, “they [the Corps] have moved to mandating these systems on all new construction on the lakes, and they are pushing very hard to have all electrical power removed and powered only by renewable energy in our region in the Midwest,” said Nathan.

Derek served as the Project Manager, while Nathan kept up with the manufacturing end of the business. “Derek gave me the time to think and design and develop. I set the bar. Derek raised the bar,” Nathan said.

US Army Corps of Engineers Locations map

This all started in the Ozarks with the Army Corps of Engineers when they built a system for powering floating facilities on their lakes. Each lake in the U.S. has a governing jurisdictional authority over what happens on that waterway. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is the governing body in our neck of the woods.

Nathan and Derek knew that once the Corps signed on other authorities would follow. “As the Corps goes, so goes everybody else,” Nathan said.

This success allowed Nathan to transition to that work full time for various U.S. jurisdictions. Derek continues to manage and operate residential/commercial solar systems at Solar Energy Services LLC.

My “Go-To” Guys – Inverter Service Center

Nathan has been doing business with Inverter Service Center since 2000. Here’s what he had to say:

“PJ and his crew have worked really hard to find the equipment we’ve needed to stand behind. They supply equipment but they do more than that. They are able to go to the manufacturers and search out what we need. They’re our mouths to those ears. I don’t have access. So they’ve helped us a lot. When I’m in over my head, they always take the time to listen and think how to fix it and how to address the problem.”

What’s next for Nathan Jones?

“We’ve been doing additional R&D, harnessing current technology differently and evolving into a whole other aspect of what we do,” Nathan said.

We know one thing for sure: Nathan puts his money where his mouth is.

We look forward to following you on your journey. Good luck!

Meet Mitul Chandrani – Xantrex Guy From Day One

Mitul Chandrani-Xantrex

A Conversation With Mitul Chandrani, Sr. Marketing Manager, Xantrex

With vision and purpose, Schneider Electric in 2008 bought a Canadian company called Xantrex. They were interested in the renewable division because of its market potential, which was rebranded under Schneider Electric. But Xantrex’ mobile unit (boats, RVs, and trucks) remained independent.

“Xantrex was one of those fortunate acquisitions” where the business benefited while still retaining its core teams and values, said Mitul Chandrani, Sr. Marketing Manager. “There was no bureaucracy or red tape you normally associate with a global company.”

In essence, Xantrex enjoys the autonomy of an entrepreneurial arm within a large but supportive organization which speaks to the strength and confidence of Schneider leadership in leaving a well-established brand alone.

Xantrex Guy From Day One

Mitul was a “Xantrex guy” but didn’t miss a step when Schneider Electric acquired the company. In fact, there was virtually no change in his day to day or with the people in charge. The General Manager,  the head of Product Development, the OEM sales manager and Mitul are all still with Xantrex today, 10 years later.

Trained in civil engineering, Mitul uses his master’s degree in marketing to design and conceive solutions for dealers, serving more as an outside sales person than a traditional marketer. He thrives on being on the front line understanding how Xantrex can help its partners, like Newmar, Keystone, Highland Ridge, Jayco, and Forest River.

For example, they just launched at the OEM level a new electrical system for Class B motorhomes called Freedom eGen as an option for the end user which eliminates a generator altogether.

Why an Inverter Upgrade Just Makes Sense

Mitul’s enthusiasm for Xantrex solutions was evident as he told me about projects he’s been working on. One major marketing campaign over the past couple of years has been to encourage consumers to “Upgrade to an Inverter Charger.”

He detailed impressive statistics while explaining market opportunities.

Most of the RVs sold from the factory come equipped with a converter which is an AC to DC charger. It charges the batteries. That’s all it does.

Conversely, not only does the inverter/charger charge the battery it also provides an AC power source. So any AC-powered electronics and appliances in an RV can be powered easily using an inverter.

Xantrex makes inverter/chargers. They don’t make converters. Hence, the “Upgrade to an Inverter Charger” campaign targeted to RV dealers.

Instead of replacing a broken converter, Xantrex recommends the dealer offer a choice to upgrade. While an inverter/charger is slightly more expensive than a converter, it offers two distinct features: (1) a two-year warranty vs. a one-year warranty on many converters and (2) an AC power source, which is not available in a converter.

The campaign has worked so well that sales for inverter/charger models they’ve targeted to promote for the aftermarket have more than doubled, Mitul said.

Another campaign which has enjoyed great success is called “Your Gateway to Worry-free Dry Camping.”

The goal of running a print campaign in Trailerlife and Motorhome was to educate RV end users to the limitations of relying on a converter. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, an inverter/charger

  • Lasts longer.
  • Charges the battery better.
  • Powers any downstream loads while plugged into shore power (which you can’t do with a converter).

Everyone has a smartphone these days, but you can’t plug in your phone charger into a converter. You need an AC power source to do that. In educating dealers, Xantrex is not only offering end users a practical solution to their connectivity needs but also improving the bottom line for dealers with incremental revenue and improved customer satisfaction!

Freedom X for the Win

xantrex-freedom-x
Xantrex expands the Freedom Series with new sine wave inverters.

“Freedom is like a Corvette. It’s so strong it’s become a sub-brand across multiple industries,” Mitul said. There are more boats, trucks, and RVs with the Freedom product than any other make or model. Almost every class of RV built in the U.S. between 1980 and 2004 has a Freedom product on it. The majority of boats over 50’ built in the late 90s and early 2000s have a Freedom installed.

Like any technology, Freedom has evolved. In 2017, Xantrex launched the Freedom X. Their marketing message needed to speak with one voice across the various market segments. What symbol would communicate the same thing to different audiences? They decided on the horse because of its strong connotation of Freedom and Power. In using the stallion, they were able to tie everything under one brand. (Freedom SW was launched in 2011 for the marine market.)

Power Technology Market Trends

Inverter Service Center’s Ray Barbee and Xantrex both agree that lithium-ion and solar are two areas where consumers will see rapid growth over the next five years.

“Manufacturers are way more open to lithium-ion than they were two years ago,” Mitul said. In the next few years, he believes that “a lithium-ion option will be standard on almost all RVs and boats.” That’s why the new Freedom X and Freedom SW are both compatible with lithium-ion batteries.

In addition, Coachman and Midwest, two massive RV companies, already have endorsed and are offering Freedom eGen. After extensive testing, they’ve decided to offer it as a factory option.

Of course, solar is big, Mitul said. Every RV wants solar panels on it. It’s also becoming popular in the truck and marine industry. Xantrex manufactures solar-charged controllers which work with the solar panel and inverter/charger and helps capture this market. The Freedom SW and Freedom X also integrate into a solar power system.

Finally, Mitul sees Bluetooth integration allowing for one single control panel managed from one place. Soon you’ll be able to control all instrumentation and accessories through your phone or tablet.

Personal Relationships Matter

Mitul works closely with everyone at Inverter Service Center and enjoys a strong relationship. “If they don’t hear from me for a week or two, they shoot me an email or Jordan will give me a call or PJ would say ‘where the hell have you been,’” Mitul said with a laugh. “That’s the kind of close relationship we have.” He credits PJ Gonzalez, ISC Manager, for cultivating a family atmosphere.

Inverter-Service-Center-Repair-Technicians
PJ Gonzalez, Jordan Hall and Ray Barbee

The team at ISC is also direct about issues that need fixing. PJ is very clear and transparent about his expectations and doesn’t hold back. He gives Xantrex a chance to make changes.

“Xantrex had some issues early on and after working closely with PJ the turnaround has been amazing,” Mitul said.

“Now we are so strong I think ISC is the closest partner we have.”

Thank you Mitul for being an equally great partner!

Meet Ray Barbee – Inverter Pioneer

lightning strike

Early in the development of the solar power era in the U.S., everyone knew everybody. Ray Barbee found himself on the ground floor of a new industry. A small manufacturing company, Trace Engineering, had designed a product which advanced inverter technology making it accessible to the average person. Ray became an early employee. He parlayed his aviation electronics experience gained in the Marine Corps into a 10-year career with Trace.

Ray Barbee Inverter Pioneer
Ray Barbee’s early days in the solar/renewables industry

But that was just the beginning.

After only a few short months, the company promoted Ray to Customer Service Manager. Within a year he was also given the opportunity to start their Mobile Division, (boats, RVs, & mobile power). Early in 1993, he crossed paths with Marysville Marine Distributors (MMD) who became one of Trace’s wholesale distributors. When Matt Harvey opened the Nashville location, he became Ray’s advocate. (Matt is now President of MMD.) As he was growing the Middle Tennessee branch, Ray was growing the Mobile Division for Trace, and MMD became Trace Engineering’s largest East Coast distributor.

More on Ray’s new role with MMD later in our story.

The Solar Pioneers Get Their Start

In fact, when anyone in the solar/renewables industry wanted to know something about inverters, they would call Ray. The industry was small and tight-knit. Recently, when industry veterans formed The Solar Pioneers to document and honor those early solar industry people, they invited Ray to join. The two founders, Jeff Spies and Jason Vetterli, wrote and directed a documentary, Solar Roots, inviting Ray to be a part, given his history within the industry as an “Inverter Pioneer.”

The film debuted November 2017 and “tells the story of how a small group of backwoods engineers and business hippies brought solar photovoltaic technology down from space into homes around the world.”

Solar-Pioneers-Jeff-Spies-and-Jason-Vetterli-interview-Cully-Judd
Jeff Spies & Jason Vetterli interviewing Cully Judd | Photo courtesy of Aur Beck

You can read about the evolution of the industry and the history of the project here.  They hope to release the film for distribution within a year.

Ray’s Excellent Inverter Adventure Continues

By the time Ray left Trace Engineering, he held the title of Director of Customer Service. He was also the managing director of the mobile division.  Ray was now part of a thriving business, managing more than 60 people within a multi-million dollar company. He continued his journey in the inverter industry when Trace sold to Xantrex in 2000.

It was the beginning of the renewable energy market. Both Outback Power and Magnum Energy emerged as startups founded by former Trace employees.

Ray’s five years at Xantrex took him all over the world, establishing backup power in third world countries.

Ray left the solar industry for a few years to lead a company to build houseboats. When Schneider Electric bought Xantrex, they tapped Ray to head up their battery-based products (mobile, RV, marine, backup, renewable) group. He left Schneider in early 2015 then spent a brief time working with Outback Power.

Coincidentally, Matt Harvey called about the same time. (We told you it was a small tight-knit community.) He laid out plans for a Florida expansion of Marysville Marine and Ray was on board.

Leading the Charge for Inverter Services Expansion

Here’s where Ray sees the industry headed and why he wants to lead the charge in our expansion:

I see true growth potential in distributed generation combined with some type of power storage technology. Typically, we assume this is solar, maybe wind, small-scale hydro, or some type of biomass, tied to storage or batteries.

But it could also be other technologies scaled to fit the local need, being created and used in the same place. You would need to define ‘local’ in this statement – perhaps a single home, or a village. But it would not include a public utility using a distribution web of wires to bring it to a needed location.

The electronic/power side of technology can  –  and is  –  advancing at an incredible pace, and will easily keep up with the development of new storage technologies. But the most used storage technology today is some variation of the same lead-acid technology that we’ve had since the early 1900’s.

Lithium is now gaining ground quickly and will probably overtake lead-acid at some point, but there is still a lot of development required for that to happen on a larger scale. There are also things like zinc-air being advanced for that type of use, as well as many other potential technologies.

Some of these new technologies can produce AC power, but most produce DC – and, remember that you cannot ‘store’ AC power for use later. Storage only happens with DC power, so there will always be a need for some conversion technology, i.e. inverters – and the advancement of the pacing item in development of all of this today is the storage. We need better batteries.

Why Choose Inverter Service Center

“What Inverter Service Center offers that not a lot of other companies can is to provide both stock on the shelves and technical expertise. There are a lot of electricians who understand AC; there are a lot of mechanics who understand DC well. Not many people understand both. Our service technicians do,” said Ray.

And we are always happy to take the time to assist our customers in understanding their systems better. If you need help with power inverter repair or systems design advice, just give us a call.