When I called Jake Kubiski of Edmonton’s Kuby Renewable Energy, he needed a few minutes to deal with his growing solar company.
Kuby was undergoing Alberta Labour’s Certificate of Recognition, a government safety audit for firms with more than 10 employees. The certification opens opportunities to bid on larger public projects and “separates the fly-by-night companies from those with a bigger, more mainstay presence,” Jake says.
After all, business has been good at Kuby, an electrical and engineering construction firm that specializes in renewable energy. “We’ve been increasing revenue three to four times year-over-year since we started,” says Jake, an electrician by training who left the oil and gas industry to start Kuby with his friend Adam Yereniuk in 2015.
But growth brings new challenges. “We have ten employees, but it fluctuates between ten and twelve,” Jake says. “We’re shooting for 25 to 35 next year. Employees are probably our biggest challenge. There are a lot of people who want to be in [solar], but we need to find the right people.”
Today, the duo’s big gamble is paying off, but their venture wasn’t always so certain. “I was working for one of the larger oil companies in Alberta for five years as an electrician and then as an electrical supervisor. I was making great money, and I saw myself climbing the ladder in front of me, but I really had no interest in it.”
The vision for Kuby came after Jake took a trip to Costa Rica with his girlfriend. “I was down there and they were running, I think, one hundred and ten days purely off renewable energy—the whole country. I thought that was so cool. I realized everywhere in the world was going to this solar energy movement.”
When Jake returned to Alberta, he saw an opportunity in the local market. “I looked into it and realized there was only a handful of people doing [solar installation] here. I took a few courses through the electrical union. The guy that was teaching there offered me a starter position.”
It was a quick decision. “I weighed my options for all of ten minutes and said, yeah, this is what I want to do. I pretty much gave my notice to the oil company right then. They thought I was crazy because it was coming up on a slow time recession-wise. The price of oil was tanking, and I had a pretty comfortable maintenance gig going.”
Jake says that while the NDP government in Alberta has been supportive of the solar industry, he’s not worried about the possibility of a new party coming in. “At that point, the market will have picked up enough to lower the costs naturally, and people will do it anyway…. A big part of the solar business is educating people. You will see a return on your investment in the lifetime of the system.”
Kuby strikes a deal with Tesla
A turning point for Kuby happened when Jake was in Vancouver in 2016, at a Tesla dealership. “I was kicking tires, chatting with the guy. When someone buys a Telsa, they need a charger. He goes to check if anyone is installing Tesla chargers back in Edmonton, and nobody was. I gave him my card and said we definitely want to get on that.” After an extensive vetting process, Tesla certified Kuby as an official installer.
Today, Kuby is also certified to install Tesla’s Powerwall (a rechargeable battery used to store electricity in homes) in Western Canada, a relationship forged when one of Kuby’s solar customers wanted to install a Powerwall in Inuvik, N.W.T. “Only one per cent of solar installers ever get that [Powerwall] contract [with Tesla]. We were one of them.”
And Kuby’s relationship with Tesla continues to evolve. The company is about to install Tesla charging stations at roughly 40 locations around Edmonton, such as major shopping centres.
It’s been a long and busy road, Jake says, but “now we’re cruising.”