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Local energy startup DreamPower is working with the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center to offer students hands-on internship experience and decrease the school’s energy use.
Founded by Alexander Bazhinov, a student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, DreamPower assesses a customer’s energy use and installs new, more-efficient appliances, such as LED lights and smart thermostats, at no charge.
DreamPower then gives the customer a fixed monthly energy bill guaranteed to be lower than their prior average monthly energy cost.
“Upfront is completely out of DreamPower’s pocket, not the customer’s,” Bazhinov said.
Bazhinov worked for years in the financial sector in his native Russia. That experience helped him develop DreamPower’s straightforward revenue model, which investors have found compelling.
“Within one week, I was over-subscribed on the first package [of customers],” Bazhinov said. “I had to turn down several investors.”
Bazhinov approaches investors with bundles of prospective clients in order to finance the efficiency installations. By calculating fixed fees to divide efficiency savings between DreamPower and the customer, Bazhinov turns a profit and recoups upfront investments.
DreamPower’s relationship with CATEC began when Bazhinov reached out in search of an intern to help serve his growing client base.
Matt Youngkin, at the time a senior in high school studying automotive technology at CATEC, jumped on the opportunity to gain on-the-job technical experience.
“When I first joined, they taught me how to replace certain appliances, like dimmer switches, ballasts and LED lights,” Youngkin said. “My father used to be an electrician, so it’s interesting to get that experience and just see what it’s like.”
The training period did not last long. Within about a month, Youngkin was holding his own during DreamPower’s energy audits and installations.
“He was very quick to learn,” Bazhinov said. “I was completely sure that he would install everything that is needed, and everything would be fine.”
On the strength of Youngkin’s internship experience, CATEC’s strategic planning and workforce development officer, Catherine Lee, asked DreamPower to perform an energy assessment for the school.
“When they came in and did the physical assessment in our building, Matt was the staff person who helped do that,” Lee said.
Youngkin appreciated the opportunity to apply his technical skills at the school where they first were developed.
“It’s cool to go back [to CATEC] after graduation, because people know me there,” said Youngkin. “And it’s cool that I can help them save electricity.”
The assessment process is ongoing, but Bazhinov estimated the potential savings for facilities like CATEC’s as being between 8 percent and 12 percent. Installations of more-efficient fixtures likely will take place this month.
Both Lee and Bazhinov said they hope more CATEC students can intern at DreamPower. Youngkin said the internship, done for high school credit, helped shape his potential career path, showing him the potential of energy efficiency work.
“I’ve been thinking about maybe becoming a journeyman in the future,” Youngkin said. “There’s always money to be made in saving electricity.”
Lee expressed pride in the multi-faceted and mutually beneficial partnership CATEC has fostered with a local startup.
“The relationship that we have with DreamPower is not only that they’re sponsoring an intern — they’re providing services for us that are valuable, and they also have come and instructed and inspired our students around entrepreneurship,” she said.