Axial's Growth 100 : Jon Sader

Jon Sader

CEO, Solar RAQ

Selling Solar

“In 2008, I took a job with Brad Pitt,” Jon Sader says — and from there, the story doesn’t go anything like you’d expect.

No, Jon wasn’t co-starring or producing one of Pitt’s films or nannying for one of Pitt’s children. Instead, he was serving as construction director for Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, helping to rebuild homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina.

The houses were aiming for LEED certification (“of course,” Jon says), and one component of the building process was installing solar panels.

He found that the installation process was a nightmare — especially in the Louisiana heat. It might take four days and hundreds of specialized nuts and bolts just to mount the panel on the house. What’s more, the cost of solar panels and cost of inverters (to convert power from DC to AC) had fallen significantly in the marketplace. The labor cost was one of the only remaining roadblocks to more widespread use by businesses and homeowners.

From Philanthropy to Company

Jon saw a problem that needed fixing — and a few years later, his company Solar RAQ was born. A universal solar mounting system, the RAQ fits “just about any solar panel,” says Jon. He compares the difference between his invention and the old mounting process to that between a cardboard folding table and an IKEA desk. The RAQ unfolds, locks into position immediately, and easily aligns with roof rafters.

“The technology difference between existing racking for solar and our racking is comparative to the difference between a pager and a cell phone,” says Jon. The data backs him up: The National Renewable Energy Lab recently tested the Solar RAQ and found it to be 76% faster than other systems.  The company is continuing to work on new initiatives even as they prepare the RAQ for widespread deployment after three years of research & development. “We have other products that are coming online that remove the need for an electrician to install the solar ray. The whole idea is to make the solar ray easy enough to install so that anyone can do it and take their house off the grid.”

Jon says solar will soon replace utility companies when it comes to residential houses. “Think about how fast pay phones disappeared,” Jon says. “For cell phones, it was 15 years from the start to where we are now. That’s how strong and fast our industry is moving now. Once the affordability kicks in, solar will be just like cell phones.”