Montreal-based solar power products manufacturer is growing due to widespread global demand for alternate energy applications
When Sass Peress was an MBA student at Concordia during the early 1980s, he was one of the first to apply for an exchange program that enabled students to complete an internship in southern France.
"I told everyone that the international experience would be good for me," Peress said with a smile. "But all I really cared about was the sun and beaches."
Though almost two decades have passed, Peress's love for the sun is still strong. Today he is president of ICP Global Technologies, one of the world's leading producers of solar cells and solar powered battery chargers for the automotive and recreational vehicle industries. ICP also licenses its technology to other manufacturers.
The international experience that Peress got by studying and working in Europe also ended up paying off. ICP Global's head offices are in Montreal, but it also owns a manufacturing facility in Wales and has offices in Hong Kong, the U.K. and Germany.
Peress founded ICP Global in 1988, when, after working at his father's car parts distribution business, he became convinced of the need to get into a knowledge-based industry.
"The middleman always gets squeezed in a distribution business, because people want to deal direct," Peress said. "But if you develop and patent new technology, you can really add value."
Ironically, Peress's first venture was also in distribution. He saw an innovative solar powered battery charger at a trade show and, -- convinced of its potential,-- he quickly inked a deal to sell it in the Canadian market, mortgaging his apartment to pay for a container filled with $50,000 worth of goods. He decided to sell the products by mail-order.
"People only look at products on the store shelf for three to five seconds. But you need longer than that to explain what a solar powered battery charger is and how it works," Peress said. "But if you put it in a catalogue, people can read all about it."
The chargers sold like hot-cakes, but Peress quickly realized that he could design a better version on his own. And today, ICP Global sells a range of battery charges for the automotive industry. The most common of these include a solar panel that mounts on the dash and is plugged in to a 12-volt socket. In other versions, the panels are mounted on a car window using suctions cups. According to one industry expert, the battery savers are an increasingly popular application, especially for car dealerships.
"Newer cars, particularly luxury model and SUVs draw a lot of power even when they are idle, just to keep their computers running," said Sam Fox, vice-president of The Battery Alliance, a Tennessee based group of 350 battery products distributors. "If these cars sit around too long without being used, their batteries will run dead."
ICP Global's products are also very popular among RV users, who can mount the solar panels on their roofs, and use them to provide power in unserviced campgrounds. The panels can also be mounted on sailboats to provide power for cell-phones, fridges, GPS systems and other applications. But Peress sees licensing of its solar cell technology to other manufacturers as eventually becoming its largest revenue stream.
After several years of rapid growth, the year 2000 turned out to be a real turning point. Long cramped for space, Peress moved the entire operation into a state of the art 30,000 square foot facility on Jeanne Mance near Park. The building has high ceilings, which provide space for an additional 15,000 square foot mezzanine.
Last year ICP Global's Wales-based solar cell supplier went bankrupt, and Peress bought out the company in order to ensure his source of supply. It's turned out to be a good move, because solar cells now comprise about 30 per cent of the $15 to $20 million in revenues that ICP Global's 110 employees generate each year.
According to one industry expert, ICP Global is a shining light in Canada's solar power industry.
"They have very, very innovative products," said Rob McMonagle, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association. "They are exceptional. Canadian solar power companies have a hard time, because they are not getting much government support, unlike Europe, which has made it a priority."
"In fact a big part of their success has been in exports," McMonagle said. "If they had to rely on the domestic market, they'd be cooked."
According to Peress, one of ICP Global's most promising products is a series of roof top tiles. These look and perform as conventional tiles, but they can be used to collect solar power. An integrated system will be available by the middle of next year
"Oil prices are hitting record levels, and that's changing the economics in the power market," Peress said. "People want solar power for environmental reasons. But if it saves them money they are going to want it even more."
Sidebar: The global solar power industry*
o Canada relinquished the lead that it held in the global
solar industry during the 1970s, mostly due to a lack of government
support. Competitor nations, particularly in Europe have made
the industry a priority.
*Source: The Canadian Solar Industries Association
Photo caption: According to Sass Peress, president of ICP Global Technologies, consumer concerns about oil prices and the environment are leading to increased interest in solar power.
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|© 2004 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.|