Recharge4040: Paul Dickson

At 29, Paul Dickson is head of operations for Vivint Solar, a company with 2,200 employees, which has grown meteorically over the past few years to become the second-largest residential solar developer in the US.

Being an entrepreneur was always Dickson’s aim, and he started young. After spending two-and-a-half years living in Africa, the Texan founded an energy-meter installation company while studying business management and public relations at Brigham Young University, Utah.

In its first 12 months, that company, Meter Solutions, hauled in over $1m in revenues. “I remember sitting in finance classes being frustrated as teachers talked about managing a balance sheet, and I was in the back of the class working on our balance sheet,” he tells Recharge.

In 2010, Meter Solutions was acquired by Utah-based Vivint, one of the largest home automation and alarm companies in the US. Dickson had already been contemplating new directions for his company — including solar — and within Vivint he quickly transitioned to thinking about solar energy full-time.

Later that year, Vivint formally launched its PV subsidiary — Vivint Solar — with Dickson put in charge of the company’s finances.

Vivint’s advantage in the home solar sector has been the vast network of sales representatives and technicians it already had in the field, thanks to its alarms business. The company knocks on ten million doors a year, and has more than 800,000 customers on its books.

“Vivint Inc had a model that very effectively acquired customers and efficiently installed products in the home,” Dickson says. “So the strategy was, if they could do that at a cost-effective point on a $3,000 alarm, then the economics would be extremely attractive on a $30,000 solar system.”

Indeed, they have been. Since being founded less than four years ago, Vivint Solar has taken the sector by storm, raising more than $1bn in tax-equity and other funding to deploy rooftop PV systems.

In the past, many rooftop solar companies tended to focus on one segment of the value chain — on financing systems, or installation, or customer acquisition.

But Vivint Solar’s “vertically integrated” model — running from fundraising straight down to hammering the nails — is seen as the shape of the future. (In 2012, Vivint Inc was itself acquired by private-equity giant Blackstone for $2bn.)

“Something I like about the energy space is there’s so much money in the industry that an entrepreneur with the right idea and the right execution plan can disrupt so many different aspects of the industry and make a lot of money and create a lot of value,” Dickson says.

He wants to be around to see Vivint become the largest US solar company. But over a longer term, his focus may shift increasingly back towards the developing world, where he sees tremendous opportunities — both to make money and transform lives.

“In America it’s attractive and a nice relief to save 20% on your power bill. In Africa it can be life-changing.”

Paul Dickson is vice-president of operations at Vivint Solar

Recharge4040 brings together the world's young new-energy pioneers from the worlds of renewables technology, finance, development, social engagement and advocacy. The list includes people from major wind and solar companies, banks, investment funds, crowd-funding platforms and governments. For the full list of nominees and news about the initiative, visit the 4040 website