Q&A with Mark Falahee: Understanding Energy Use Is the First Step to Smart Energy Solutions

A curious mind on the Solential marketing team recently sat down with the new guy, Mark Falahee, director of business development, to pick his brain on these turbulent times in energy. One thing we learned is the dude is an optimist. He’s wired to turn problems into opportunities. To that end, there’s nothing he likes better than sitting down with clients, delving into their energy history and creating strategies that deliver control, comfort, carbon offsets, and cost savings. Check out our conversation.

 SOL: Tell us about yourself, Mark. How did you end up in the energy industry?
MARK: Believe it or not, I got a degree in Social Science at Michigan State University and parlayed that into a 35-plus year career developing and implementing complex energy and energy-related solutions. I launched my career with Honeywell. One role was with the Honeywell national account team. My team had responsibility for managing various FedEx Operations across the country. We provided complete facility services support in regional sorting hubs, data center operations, and call centers. One thing you learned in that culture was aircraft delays were timed to the minute. There was hell to pay if anything you did contributed to a delay, so I really became a perfectionist in my approach to operations.

I got into the energy services industry specializing in the needs of local government. This led to some interesting projects, two of which included development of CNG fueling station infrastructure. One was for a regional transit bus operation serving the needs of a well-known Indiana community and large university campus. The other for a medium sized city trash and recycling fleet. In both cases, we were able to significantly lower operating costs, allowing us to replace aging fleets with more economical and environmentally friendly transportation infrastructure. Community acceptance was great and we got a lot of good press.

Most recently, I was with Trane Technologies, providing complex energy and environmental solutions for cities, schools, county correctional facilities, and water/wastewater utilities.

SOL:  Why did you join Solential?
MARK: Much of my career I worked with large, predominantly global companies, which are very structured. Seeing how the U.S. energy grid infrastructure is changing, with the heightened need for security and the transition to renewable energy, the time seemed right to switch to a smaller, nimbler, customer-focused company. Strategically, Solential understands the consultative approach to customers’ energy needs that is collaborative in nature and leads to creative solutions. Additionally, Solential has some significant projects in the works that will be game-changers on many levels, and I wanted to be part of it. It’s just a great fit for both of us.

SOL: What have you been hearing from the public and private sectors over the last two years that grabbed your attention?
MARK: Naturally, everyone is talking about rising energy costs and how it’s impacting business and operations. It’s painful for a lot of people. There’s a growing interest in how best to take back control over one’s energy spend. Plus, there’s a growing openness to consider renewable energy and technology adoption that didn’t exist until recently. For example, manufacturing traditionally has not been a hot bed for renewables. But that is changing as companies are adopting a more sophisticated approach to their energy use combined with carbon reduction goals and environmental sustainability.

SOL:  You have deep experience in complex energy solutions. What exactly is a complex energy solution and why should people  care?
MARK: I care about it! (Laughs) Actually, a lot of people hear that term and their eyes glaze over. We want simple not complex, right? Your energy bill is high, so you want to do something about it. Some solar companies will tell you to simply install solar panels, and that will take care of it. But it’s not always that simple. Your HVAC equipment and controls may be outdated. Your building envelop may need attention. You may be using energy during periods of peak demand, so your utility company is charging you more. With complex energy solutions, Solential takes a holistic approach by identifying where, how, and when you use energy. Kind of like peeling back an onion. Doing this, we find opportunities to make both simple and more extensive changes that will help clients reach their goals. A complex energy solution is a multifaceted way to achieve sustainable results whether its energy efficiency, energy savings, meeting ESG requirements, or resiliency.

SOL: Can you provide an example of a recent complex energy solution?
MARK: The one that immediately comes to mind is the Jasper Jail in Rensselaer, Indiana. The building had design issues, the HVAC systems were fighting each other, and they were controlled by an off-site, third-party company. All of this created significant issues. The building was so cold, employees couldn’t work and brought in space heaters, which drove up energy costs. It was also a safety issue. Poor temperature control is not conducive to good inmate management and outcomes.

After conducting an extensive energy audit to identify exactly what was going on, we developed a strategy to address each issue. Without going into a lot of detail, we updated the building envelope to stop energy loss, replaced lighting, and all of the control systems. We added ground-mounted solar to offset a significant amount of energy the jail was pulling off the utility at significantly lower cost. The net result was a more efficient, comfortable, and safe environment for everyone.

SOL: What are some of the trends in the energy sector Solential is bringing to the market that excite you?
MARK: A recent article in Forbes really summed up the big energy trends with three words: decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization. What excites me about Solential is that we’re addressing all three of these trends. Obviously, with decarbonization, solar fits in that bucket. But we’re pushing the envelope with technologies like floatovoltaics, which are floating solar arrays. It’s such a great solution for water and wastewater utilities.

In terms of decentralization, Solential sees significant opportunities in microgrids where enterprises—larger utilities, cities, universities, and other energy-intensive operations—adopt larger, self-controlled strategies for energy generation, usage and storage. Finally, digitalization which is infusing more technology and data into the energy equation. As a former Honeywell and Trane systems guy, I know how powerful this can be and I’m eager to dig in on behalf of Solential.

SOL: The federal government pumped a tremendous amount of money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. How can water and wastewater utilities for example tap into these funds?
MARK: The funds are finally trickling down to cities and counties, and there’s money specifically designated for water and wastewater infrastructure. The timing is perfect. Infrastructure at our water and wastewater facilities is aging, energy costs are going up, demand charges are becoming more costly, and there’s pressure not to raise rates. I would encourage city and counties that want to access these funds to upgrade their water and wastewater utilities to reach out to Solential. We are happy to consult with you on the best use of these funds and how to access them. There is some urgency; these funds will run out in 2024.

SOL: What are you tackling first at Solential?
MARK: I’m reaching out to everyone I know to let them know I’m here and what we’re doing. I’m planning on starting a lot of conversations.

SOL: And when you’re not solving complex energy issues?
MARK: I’m looking for a lake or ocean to sail on.

Solential Energy is a leading provider of commercial energy solutions, many involving renewable solar, battery storage and microgrids. Learn more at our website, or better yet, start a conversation with Mark at  MFalahee@solential.com or (317) 978-1727