An Inspired Conversation with Yi Li, Founder & CEO of Renogy

An Inspired Conversation with Yi Li, Founder & CEO of Renogy

By David Hutchison and Shari Galiardi
David Hutchison and Shari Galiardi
renogys blog Mar 30th 2020

Savvy consumers want to get to know the people behind the products they buy and the brands they support. As a company, Renogy offers the compelling story of a young woman whose innovative vision has grown into a multi-national corporation, based in Ontario, California.

This March celebrates Women’s History Month and this year Renogy celebrates a significant milestone, 10 years in business. To commemorate this special timing, we’re catching up with Renogy’s CEO, Yi Li, to understand a little bit more about her story and the company she founded.

While in her 3rd year of a Doctorate program in Physics at Louisiana State University, and still in her mid-twenties, Ms. Li became captivated by the idea of decentralized energy systems, replacing the need for long-distance high-voltage transportation infrastructure with localized renewable energy sources. Believing that everyone, regardless of location or economic means, should have access to clean, cost-effective, and locally-produced energy, she committed to starting her own company.

"You become very inspired when you first meet Yi and you can’t help but be awed by her vision of the future… Renogy is not just a company, but a way to make a lasting impact on the world."– Renogy Employee

Since both the concept of renewable energy as well as a trademarked name “Renergy” were already taken, Yi realized from the start that she needed to do things a little bit differently. Innovation would have to become a signature of her new company if it was to compete in this burgeoning industry. Settling upon three key words as concepts: renewable, innovation, energy, “RENOGY” was born. For Ms. Li, innovation means not only investing in both state-of-the-art facilities and manufacturing processes, but also in the people who round out the company’s personnel, “with over 100 Research & Development Engineers, R & D is the key to our product design and quality.”

Since the early days in 2010, Ms. Li, a self-confessed “workaholic,” has guided her company through some turbulent waters (including recent trade tariffs) and reached significant benchmarks: Renogy currently sells in over eight countries including, Japan, Australia, U.K., Germany and the U.S., and has reached over 1 million consumers.Renogy’s commitment to quality stems from Yi’s belief that, “Every mistake can be learned from; even negative feedback is good.”

In a technical field dominated by men  Ms. Li estimates a 20 to 1 ratio of men to women she has needed to work even harder to take her company where it is. “Trust and respect,” she admits, “can always be earned, but as a woman it just takes longer.” Considering how far Renogy has come in its first decade, and the growth of the industry as a whole, the future for Yi, and her company looks bright indeed.

“She values all her employee's input and is always open to new ideas that could benefit the company. She makes everyone feel very comfortable in and out of the workplace. During our annual Halloween party from 2018, she even dressed up in her Frog onesie and joined us in the costume contest and party activities.”– Renogy Employee

We were lucky enough to get a few minutes of Yi’s time to answer some questions about her company, up-and-coming products, and advice for young people entering this exciting, ever-growing field.

Q: How are Renogy products different from those of other solar companies? What sets Renogy’s apart?

Yi: Three major things set Renogy apart from other companies: 1) The seamless connection between components that makes it easy to set up our products. 2) The quality of our products; we support that quality at all levels from research and development to manufacturing and quality control. 3) We are a one-stop solutions provider, and down the road we will be offering an energy management system which will allow the consumer to access their energy data anywhere via Bluetooth and wifi.

Q: Why should the average family go solar? What strategies do you use to help people make an investment in solar?

Yi: Solar is clean and sustainable, and the cost is affordable.We start with small kits ranging from $200 -$500 which educates the customers. Once they see how it works, they don’t need much convincing to invest $20K for their entire house. And for those who can’t afford this investment upfront, we offer 24-month financing.

Q: What are the biggest surprises and challenges you’ve faced with building the company?

Yi: The biggest surprise is the rate of growth of the off-grid and hybrid markets. We are seeing more than 50% growth year-after-year with Renogy. My biggest challenge is finding people who believe in the vision and building an organization that aims for the same goal.

"She has a vision for where she wants Renogy to be and when she wants to achieve those milestones… She has big goals, and as such, she sets high bars for everyone here." – Renogy Employee

Q: What changes have you seen or experienced in the industry in the past 3-5 years?

Yi: We’ve seen more and more real estate companies offering solar built into new houses. Also, consumers are creating larger scale off-grid solutions. Solar is really coming into its own.

Q: How have recent tariffs affected business?

Yi: Yes, they hurt business and raise costs by around 10%. To combat this, Renogy is diversifying the supply chain to lower the effects of the tariffs and continue to provide cost effective solutions to consumers.

Q: What is on the solar industry horizon?What are you excited about with regards to the future of solar?

Yi:Energy storage, with safety and efficiency being at the forefront, is the future of renewables. Also, I see solar becoming a part of everyone’s household, not just for the energy conscious consumer.

Q: What products are coming out soon that you're really looking forward to?

Yi:Two things come to mind:1) Renogy’s 48V Off Grid Solution:This will be the power solution of the future by offering higher, but safer, power stations without compromising reliability. You can expect this to change the market from 12V systems to 48V systems! 2) DC Home Energy Management System: This will gather all Renogy component data within the system and send it to a central computer, giving the consumer a tactile visual of their energy consumption so they can make informed decisions about usage.

Q: In such a male dominated field, what advice do you have for women entering similar technical fields?

Yi: Don’t think of yourself with a female tag; we are intelligently equal. Sometimes it is okay, though, to show that a woman sometimes has less physical, muscular power and ask for a helping hand.

Q: What fields of study would be most helpful to young people as they prepare for a career in this field?

Yi: I would recommend studying any field related to Science, with Math and Physics most preferred.It’s about training the brain to think logically. Also, I recommend interning for a technology company (in any technical field) to understand business logic and the underlying technology.

"As someone still in her 20’s, it feels overwhelming to think about someone achieving so much, and I often wonder if it’s possible. But then I remember that Yi started this global company in her mid-twenties. It’s a sobering perspective that makes it feel less distant and more achievable. It is Yi’s continual pursuit of her dreams and her accomplishments that I find most inspiring." – Renogy Employee

Q: We’ve learned that Renogy supports local non-profit organizations. What areas are you particularly passionate about?

Yi: Poverty and sustainable living are very important to Renogy. We have recently supported both the Jack Ma Foundation and Clinton Foundation.

It has been an honor to be Solar Ambassadors for this growing company that is empowering people around the world who are seeking energy independence. We’ve learned that we share a passion beyond promoting sustainable living with solar and supporting important causes -- Yi loves to cook hot and spicy Southeast Asian cuisine in her spare time. Don’t be surprised if you see Hamlet in your driveway next time we are in your area, Yi! We’ll bring the chilis.

Learn more about Shari & Hutch’s solar powered adventures on their website and join them on the road via social media at Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube!