[caption id="attachment_51140" align="alignright" width="432" caption="Left: An irrigation technician checks a HydroPoint system in Santa Clarita. Right: Cudo Stormwater Systems crew on an installation for Delaware Addition in Santa Cruz."][/caption]
NORTH BAY -- The housing slump has taken its toll on green construction and a glut of Chinese panels has dimmed the solar industry some, but local companies with water management tools say business is flowing along smoothly.
"We just had the best fourth quarter we've ever had and 2011 was the best year," said Paul Ciandrini, president and CEO of HydroPoint in Petaluma.
The company's WeatherTRAK systems use sophisticated data gathering and moisture sensing technology to automate landscape irrigation.
[caption id="attachment_51141" align="alignright" width="350" caption="KriStar's Dean Zander works on the installation of a hydrodynamic separator for a Canalside housing project in South Carolina"][/caption]
Conservation and management is becoming standard in the building industry, he said. But new home construction only represents about 2 percent of HydroPoint's business currently. Municipalities and large commercial projects account for the bulk of the company's customers.
"As water becomes scarcer and more expensive, people are starting to think in terms of a smart water grid, similar to the smart energy and communications grids. Supply, end use and disposition of water will only become more important as time goes on," said Mr. Ciandrini.
"Since we're in the end use area, and our technology saves money, we're well positioned for the future," he said.
KriStar Enterprises, a Santa Rosa stormwater erosion control company, is also enjoying strong sales growth, according to CEO Doug Allard, who also founded Cudo Stormwater Systems.
He attributes KriStar's growth in large part to an increase in the enforcement of environmental regulations as well as an overall awareness of water quality issues.
"The irony of the present market is that the growth drivers and growth impeders both hinge upon the new green and sustainable regulations. They're perceived as -- and in some cases are -- very cost prohibitive for new development," he said.
However, companies like KriStar, which have tailored their offerings to meet the new regulations, are in a good spot if and when that development takes place.
"We're optimistic about our continued growth," he said.
Things are a little less bright for the solar industry, in particular residential solar, although there are exceptions in advanced technology makers like Enphase Energy, which is expanding in Petaluma.
In Sonoma County installers suffered a double blow with the expiration of tax credits and cheap Chinese solar panels lowered profit margins.
"Also, the federal tax credit for commercial solar projects is still pending renewal, so as an industry we're struggling on three fronts," said Nate Gulbransen, president of Westcoast Solar Energy in Rohnert Park.
He and his team have launched a home energy-efficiency arm, HomeStar, both to diversify their offerings and to help homeowners qualify for funding by proving that solar will provide the necessary 10 percent gain in efficiency.
"The solar installation business has become very complex, with complicated financial models. My own background in mortgage lending is coming in handy. But we're not harvesting sunlight any longer so much as we're harvesting funding," he said.
Locally he's seen an uptick in business as the unusually mild winter has people thinking about air conditioning several months sooner than they ordinarily would.