Harnessing the Power of the Sun: How Stefano Ratti Builds a Sustainable Future

Top Most Influential Executives in Clean Energy, 2024

Everything you need to know about Chaberton Energy CEO Stefano Ratti’s leadership approach you can learn from a sunrise hike he took to the top of a mountain in Arizona. During a company retreat earlier this year, Stefano, an avid outdoorsman, invited fellow Chaberton team members to join him for the climb before a busy day of meetings got underway.

Both on the mountain and in the boardroom, Stefano knows where he is headed and what the goal is. He’s willing to show the way, especially when team members are having trouble seeing the path. And as the hike steepens and people get tired, Stefano will compassionately circle back to those trailing behind to help lift them up. His outdoor pursuits closely reflect his leadership style of the Maryland-based solar development company.

Recognized as one of the “Top Most Influential Executives in Clean Energy, 2024” and head of one of the fastest growing solar companies in the country, Stefano is helping to transform the renewable energy sector one step at a time.

His journey has been fueled by determination, planning, and a firm commitment to excellence. It’s also been driven by his belief in service to others and his sense that we can leave the planet better than we found it.

“For me this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to run a company that is becoming a leader in the solar industry, with a group of people who are so good at what they do,” Stefano said. “The thing that gives me the most satisfaction is to see our team doing meaningful work, having passion for what they do, and having success, all while doing something that helps make the world a better place.”

A solid foundation for success

Stefano’s interest in energy began early in college, as he pursued undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering, with an emphasis on energy, at Politecnico di Milano in his native Italy. As a young professional, he ventured into a range of sectors including nuclear, biomass, and, notably, solar energy.

Then in 2011, Stefano started his own energy consulting firm and, a few years later, he had the opportunity to develop community solar projects for a client. At the time, community solar was a nascent concept and not well known, even to people in the renewable energy industry.

Understanding community solar

Community solar projects offer a unique alternative to traditional solar setups. Unlike the solar panels commonly found atop residential roofs or the expansive arrays used by utility companies, community solar arrays fall somewhere in between in terms of size. These projects enable local community members to subscribe to the electricity generated by the array. In return for their subscription, participants receive credits on their electricity bills, which translates to savings while supporting the adoption of clean energy.

The experience laid the groundwork for Stefano’s founding of Chaberton Energy in 2020, and the young company’s success today. Recognizing the urgent need for renewable energy to help create a more sustainable environment and preserve a healthy planet for future generations, Stefano found his professional purpose in the solar sector.

The early days of Chaberton Energy

Stefano attributes his decision to create Chaberton Energy to a combination of factors, including growing community solar markets, the opportunity to partner with a friend who was also passionate about solar energy, and his personal entrepreneurial aspirations.

Early on, Stefano formed relationships with key business partners who brought world-class operational and financial acumen to the table. Coupled with a successful financing round from Greenbacker Capital, Stefano had the tools he needed to navigate the renewable energy landscape and cement Chaberton Energy’s position as a trailblazer in the field.

Stefano’s company today: advancing sustainable energy solutions

Headquartered in Rockville, Maryland, Chaberton Energy is a public benefit corporation focused on advancing distributed generation and community solar projects. Chaberton’s scope encompasses the entire project lifecycle, from initial site conception to full project operations. This includes identifying suitable hosts and sites, engaging with local communities, obtaining necessary permits and interconnection rights, designing projects, building a customer base, and securing regulatory approvals to ensure successful project implementation.

Under Stefano’s leadership, Chaberton has grown into a national company, with sites in eleven states, and a team of fifty professionals.  It has established itself as a leader in the renewable energy industry through a combination of strategic focus and a commitment to its core values of creativity, excellence and humanity. These values are engrained in everything they do.

“Our team is second to none,” Stefano is happy to extol. “Every single Chabertonian—our nickname for those who work at our company—is dedicated to creating sustainable renewable energy. Each day we’re working to accelerate the transition to clean energy while delivering economic benefits to local residents, businesses, and local governments. I truly believe it is our values that separate us from others in our space: creativity in the origination of projects from scratch; excellence in our top-notch project development processes and skills; and humanity in the way we treat each other, and all the people we interact with, with openness, care for one another, compassion, and generosity.”

Building clean energy solutions while caring for the communities involved

The Chaberton team actively engages with communities throughout the development process to ensure their needs are met.

“We engage communities early and often,” Stefano said. “We go in, we meet with neighbors, we knock at doors to make sure those near the project site are aware of the plans to build and are not surprised. We’re very transparent about what we’re trying to do, and we sincerely seek their input.”

The Chaberton team prioritizes environmental benefits and aesthetics in several ways.  Around the sites, they use native trees and plants for better screening; among the solar panels, they use wildflower and native grasses to establish pollinator habitats. Bees and other pollinators flourish in such habitats and, in turn, they increase agricultural productivity in the surrounding areas.

This commitment to the community extends beyond the project sites. Through Chaberton Cares, the company directly invests in the communities they serve. They provide $5,000 per megawatt in funding for local non-profits. In providing this funding, Chaberton’s team collaborates with project landowners to identify important causes and community organizations that resonate with them. Furthermore, they don’t wait until projects are finished to initiate Chaberton Cares. The program kicks off early on, guaranteeing that communities benefit from the outset.

“We make sure support provided through Chaberton Cares helps to create the equitable and sustainable social impacts that are a hallmark of our work,” Stefano said. 

Finding fulfillment in solar

Recognizing the urgent need for sustainable energy to help combat climate change and preserve the planet for future generations, Stefano found his professional purpose in the solar sector. Solar allows him to harness the boundless potential of clean energy and actively contribute to a healthier planet, while working alongside the amazing Chaberton team, which provides a deep sense of fulfillment.

“Professional success has to be grounded in meaning and fulfillment of a calling,” Stefano says. “Success is having a sense of purpose and fully engaging with one’s life’s work.”

Life beyond work

Stefano also treasures family time and friends, acknowledging how his wife Michelle’s support, companionship, and deep humanity, has positively influenced and shaped his leadership style. Together, they like to embark with their three sons on outdoor adventures like backpacking, hiking, and rock climbing. He even taps into his playful side with competitive table tennis and regularly makes time for informal soccer games with his kids.

Inspired by his sons, a few years ago Stefano embarked on the epic John Muir Trail in California, culminating with a night ascent of Mount Whitney. It was a life-changing experience filled with the beauty of nature and shared moments with his boys. Under the moonlit sky, he realized the essence of his life’s journey. Leaving his comfort zone to conquer challenges alongside those he loves reflects Stefano’s approach to both personal and professional life.

A text message received from his sister when he arrived at the summit of Mt. Whitney—”We are made for great things!”—encapsulates Stefano’s drive. This translates into his work, family life, and adventurous spirit.

“Isn’t this what life is all about?” he asks. “Discover your own Mount Whitney, pay attention to the signs that somebody placed that point you there, share the journey with the people you love, help others and let yourself be helped, embrace the challenges, and never tire of looking for beauty along the journey.”

Stefano’s vision for the future

Stefano’s ambition for Chaberton Energy centers on one clear goal: “Deploy more solar!”  With a strong team, a positive culture, and solid groundwork in place, he believes the company has boundless potential. Their primary objective is to bring community solar projects online across the United States within the next three to five years.

But that’s just the start. The prescient CEO hints at some exciting product ideas that may flourish in adjacent businesses, bolstering Chaberton’s impact on the renewable energy sector and the world.