Chris Nelson – Helios Energy
What calls you to work? Meeting your financial obligations? Plying your skill? The excitement of starting a new career?
For Chris Nelson and his team at Helios, it was all of these and more.
A Marine Corps intelligence veteran, Nelson led global training and sales for three Fortune 500 companies following his military retirement. Seeing a distinct opportunity to help organizations reduce their energy costs and preserve natural resources, he formulated the idea for Helios Energy.
The son of an electric utility lineman, Nelson sees it as a natural next chapter in his career.
“When I interview or go out on the road, people see ‘military, financial services, medical devices,’ and say: ‘I don’t see energy anywhere on your resume,’” Nelson says. “They’re partially right. My dad was a lineman for 30 years, then he was foreman and a training supervisor. Eventually he was inducted into the lineman’s hall of fame. He was in the energy business.”
“Electricity is in my blood, if you will.”
Together with founding partner Aaron Roberts, Nelson formed Helios Energy in 2014. Realizing that the world of clean energy was evolving at a rapid rate, the two saw a significant market opportunity offering clients a clean-energy partner to help them reduce their carbon footprint.
Since then, Helios has emerged as an end-to-end solutions and services company for industrial and commercial clients seeking to achieve savings, efficiency and sustainability, offering 12 core services in both energy efficiency and clean energy.
Recently, the company broke ground on its largest solar project to date: a 2.6-megawatt system for the U.S. military. Conducted in partnership with Schneider Electric, the project joins a suite of multi-million-dollar energy efficiency projects spearheaded by Helios for clients throughout the U.S.
The company’s value proposition is about more than just cutting costs or reducing greenhouse gas emissions, however. It’s about independent advisors giving long-range energy management advice.
“Businesses recognize that energy options are complex, and I think we’re proving how a trusted advisor can look at their needs holistically and make it simple and easy,” Nelson says. “The Helios model is not to sell just a single solution in isolation. We help clients make a fully informed energy efficiency and clean energy decisions and implement a suite of smart solutions that drive savings and maximize value.”
For Nelson, implementing large-scale solutions proves the efficacy of the Helios Total Energy (TotalETM) approach. More specifically: helping clients cut energy consumption by up to 50% using a combination of energy efficiency and appropriate clean energy systems.
Or, to put it in mathematical terms: EE + CE = TotalETM.
“It goes to the core of this business,” Nelson says. “We knew going in we did not want to be out there selling technologies. Instead, we wanted to focus on helping our clients implement total energy solutions.”
“The Helios team has been very knowledgeable about the industry and goes about everything they do in a professional manner,” says Joseph Wallace Exum, a sales engineer with CES Renewable Energies Group, which partnered with Helios on the U.S. military project. “Working with Helios has been such a great experience because of the responsiveness of everyone we’ve worked with. When you have questions, they respond back promptly. It makes life much easier.”
In another large project, Helios completed a LED retrofit of 30,000 lighting fixtures at Concord University—a “budget neutral event” that was completely funded by savings generated by the overall project. Helios also installed smart controls, which use sensors to turn lights on and off. Combined with the lighting fixtures, these controls helped generate additional savings on the energy bill.
Nelson—who earned degrees in business and education from The Citadel and Montana State University, respectively—served for years in intelligence assignments and training roles around the globe with the U.S. Marine Corps before his retirement and entrance into the corporate environment.
Recognized as an expert in the intelligence and sales training, development and coaching, Nelson has received numerous military and professional awards.
A constant student of the business world, Nelson’s strategy when building Helios was influenced by “Blue Ocean Strategy,” a book that posits that market boundaries are flexible and can be reconstructed by the beliefs of industry players.
“It made me a student of this notion that we can carve out a business opportunity that’s difficult to replicate,” Nelson says. “The classic example is Cirque du Soleil. They took a dying circus industry and made it into a marquee theatrical and aerobatic event, creating a whole new ‘blue ocean’ to swim in without competition.”
‘Why wouldn’t you?’
When Nelson and his founding partner Aaron Roberts created Helios Energy, they faced an interesting challenge.
“Our clients did not understand their energy bill,” Nelson reflects. “Often, they are unable to read their bill, do not understand their charges and are overpaying without knowing it.”
Since then, Helios has helped clients achieve 5 to 15 percent savings on energy expenses just from a simple bill audit—before the company ever lifted a wrench, changed a bulb or installed a solar panel.
“Who looks at their power bill every month and finds a way to cut it 20, 30, 40, 50%?” Nelson asks. “Very few.”
So where does Helios go from here?
With clients fully embracing the TotalETM approach and implementing Energy Efficiency solutions—from nonprofits to corporations to government—Nelson believes the sky’s the limit for his company.
“In most cases Clean Energy is not only feasible for facilities, but a sound financial decision,” he says. “So many organizations are looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve their environmental, social and governance posture.”
To that end, he says, efficient and resilient facilities have become critical requirements. Be it grid instability due to natural disasters—such as wildfires or hurricanes—or supply and demand-triggered electrical disruptions, organizations want to mitigate risk.
“Our future growth is progressively tied to our clients by cultivating awareness and understanding of the technologies we can implement to meet their challenges,” Nelson says. “The future for Helios, and for our clients, is incredibly bright.”
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