Plenty of Sunshine
How MPI Solar advanced the solar energy movement in Indiana
“Destiny.” That is how MPI Solar’s founder and owner David Mann and Amie McCarty, director of sales & marketing, explain their unexpected roles in the solar energy industry. Against all odds, David, a plumber, and Amie, a sales representative and marketer, advanced the solar energy movement in Indiana and in just 10 years transformed local startup MPI Solar to a company well respected across their home state. With no previous experience in the industry, David and Amie are self-taught professionals whose fearless, can-do spirits have both literally and metaphorically brought energy to Indiana.
Unexpected Paths to Solar
Despite his educational background in agronomy, David started working in the plumbing industry in the mid-1980s. He remembers, “I wasn’t interested in agronomy after I finished school. I had a friend in the plumbing business, and it seemed like a practical way to pay the rent, so I started helping him.” Though this was an unplanned career path, David says he was quickly “sucked in”—so much so that just four years later, he founded Mann Plumbing, Inc. in 1992.
However, things changed in 1998 when David was in the process of building his new home and decided he wanted radiant floor heating. “I learned about it and then self-installed it in my home,” he says. It was this decision that proved most fateful because radiant floor heating served as the bridge between David’s plumbing work and the services that would later define MPI Solar.
After mastering the radiant floor heating installation process, David progressed to solar hot water—a more natural outgrowth of plumbing work—and the rest is, well, history. Once David began advertising his solar hot water services, he quickly added solar photovoltaic (PV) to his skill set before 2008, when he founded MPI Solar as a subsidiary of Mann Plumbing, Inc.
At the same time David expanded his services to include solar hot water installations, Amie found herself at an unexpected break in her career. She abandoned the corporate world to aid David, who is her brother-in-law, and has worked as MPI Solar’s director of sales & marketing ever since.
Setting Up Schools for Success
With a diverse portfolio of customers across Indiana, including Indiana University Bloomington, Monroe County, Monroe County History Center, Indiana Department of Correction and Upland Brewing Company, MPI Solar has a proven track record of designing and building premium-quality solar energy systems specific to each customer’s needs.
Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is MPI Solar’s participation in Hoosier Energy’s grant program to provide solar hot water systems to 18 schools—one school in each of Hoosier Energy’s rural electric distribution cooperatives, or REMCs (Rural Electric Membership Corporations). MPI Solar worked with Hoosier Energy to create the program format, visited over 100 schools across southern Indiana as part of the selection process, and designed and built each of the 18 solar hot water systems and their corresponding web-based monitoring systems.
“It was a very rewarding experience,” David says. “Not only has this project saved each participating school district money and time, but also it created an educational opportunity for the local communities about the benefits of solar energy.”
Students, parents and school administration alike can learn from the solar hot water systems’ energy-saving data thanks to the production-monitored systems linked to a television in each school’s common area. Some schools even incorporate the data into their science curriculum.
The project began in 2010 and lasted roughly five years. “We are proud that we provided a valuable service that positively affected so many people in southern Indiana,” David says.
Creating Customized Solutions
David and Amie both emphasize that in the solar energy industry, there is no cookie-cutter approach. “We have to create solutions that accommodate our customers’ unique needs,” Amie explains. “For me, this is one of the neatest things about what we do. Every job is different, and we get to meet wonderful, interesting people who are inspired by solar energy because of benefits ranging from environmental to financial.”
For example, one customer needed a water pumping station; he had no way to bring water from the pond on his farm to his cattle. David and his team built a custom, self-contained solar system on a dam to operate a water pump that fills a large reservoir. From the reservoir, water is transferred easily to the cattle’s water tanks.
Amie emphasizes, “Not only is our job rewarding and interesting but also fun! We get to work with our customers to create a customized system that works best for them.”
In 2008, when David founded MPI Solar, few in Indiana recognized the viability of renewable energy, let alone seriously contemplated using solar energy to power their everyday functions. In fact, Amie said some still ask whether or not there is enough sunshine in Indiana for solar power. “There is plenty of sunshine in Indiana,” she says.
In the context of the time of its founding, MPI Solar’s success proves all the more impressive. In 2008, solar energy infrastructure and statewide incentives were nonexistent in this coal-dominated state, and residents of Indiana were accustomed to inexpensive electricity. However, to David and Amie’s surprise, Bloomington proved the perfect incubator for the early adoption of solar energy in Indiana.
“Bloomington’s embrace of the concept was in large part thanks to Indiana University Bloomington. The university town includes an educated, diverse population of citizens from all over the world who are open to investing in technology and resources to improve the environment,” Amie says.
“MPI Solar is a definite success story,” David says. “I think this is largely due to the fact that we are unafraid of the unknown looming on the horizon. We’ve embraced change at every turn.”
Since 2008, both MPI Solar and the solar industry have experienced explosive growth. Nevertheless, MPI Solar remains committed to its small-town roots. As self-described “hometown solar pros,” the MPI Solar team proudly serves the residents of Monroe County and differentiates themselves not only by the quality and range of their services but by their commitment to cultivating relationships.
“Our goal is to ensure each customer is completely satisfied,” Amie says. “So we listen to the customer and then design a solution that accommodates his or her needs.”
Amie explains that unlike the work of most subcontractors, MPI Solar’s projects lend themselves to the development of ongoing, open relationships. After a job is complete, MPI Solar continues monitoring the system’s operation, and customers are encouraged to reach out with questions. “Be it a commercial or residential project, our work establishes an ongoing relationship with the customer that is durable and personal,” she says. Considering MPI Solar’s prioritization of its customers’ needs, it’s no surprise that referrals drive MPI Solar’s growth. David notes that it’s not uncommon for customers to request system expansions or for customers to refer MPI Solar to their friends and relatives. “Referrals have been instrumental and display the quality of the service we provide our customers,” he says.
The Best Crew Around
David and Amie stress that MPI Solar’s exceptional service wouldn’t be possible without its four, full-time team members. “I have no qualms saying we have the best crew around,” Amie says. “Their work ethic and attention to detail is unmatched, and they work on each customer’s system as if it were a system in their own home.”
Most members of the crew have a combination of mechanical and electrical skills, and all have participated in various safety trainings like those required by roofers because much of MPI Solar’s work is executed at great heights. “The job calls for multitalented workers,” adds David.
A Bright Future
Having experienced incredible success in just 10 years of business, David and Amie remain ambitious. In fact, MPI Solar is already positioned to capitalize on intelligent battery storage, a trend David and Amie anticipate soon will become mainstream in the United States. In 2018, they entered a partnership with German battery manufacturer Sonnen and have since served as the company’s preferred solar panel provider in Indiana.
Before David had the chance to respond to a question about the next generation of leaders at MPI Solar, Amie interrupted, laughing, “He’s never going to retire.” With David and Amie at the helm, MPI’s future is bright and the sun’s the limit.