True Solar Story: 103-year-old antique dealer goes 21st-century solar

June 23, 2015

Typical depictions of solar systems focus on the largest and smallest of clients. Wide-angled images of utility-scale plants disappearing into the horizon, as well as 30-panel systems atop suburban homes (often positioned behind smiling suburban families), abound on company websites and news articles alike.


These systems tell meaningful stories of technological breakthroughs, controversy, and rapid growth in the solar industry. But could it be that in all the recent hype, we are overlooking a vast variety of clients that are just as deeply affected by the solar revolution?


In the spirit of diversity, we chose this week to highlight one of our most unusual clients, a 103-year-old antique dealer based in New Orleans’ French Quarter. M.S. Rau Antiques operates a sprawling 30,000-square-foot showroom on Royal Street, as well as a Mid-City warehouse near Tulane Avenue. Their diverse collection includes some of the world’s finest art, furniture, and jewelry spanning across several centuries.


A walk through the brightly lit showroom inspires silence, reverence, and careful scrutiny of the magnificent workmanship of each piece. While at first it seemed that an antique dealer would be the least likely sort of client to incorporate forward-thinking, 21st-century solar technology, the inspiring visit to M.S. Rau’s showroom suggested otherwise.

It quickly became evident that the dedication and care with which antiques are both made and preserved set the finest pieces apart from the rest. The same applies to the solar industry; the best-producing and longest-lasting systems are designed and installed with care. Both industries value sustainability, preservation, and a passionate commitment to a shared mission. As preservationists and practical environmentalists, Joule and M.S. Rau are more natural partners than we might appear.


I spoke with Chris Drake, M.S. Rau’s Chief Technology Officer, about the company’s decision to go solar, and how it fits into a culture of valuing quality and longevity. He was glad to give me an inside look at M.S. Rau’s philosophy on corporate sustainability, and how the company continues to apply it in practice. Read his answers to my questions below.


Tell us a little bit about M.S. Rau’s story, and how it became the prominent company it is today.


We are a 103-year-old, third generation family-owned business with a history on Royal Street going back to 1912. While the previous two generations laid the foundation for MS Rau as a source for the “Best of the Best,” the current owner/CEO [Bill Rau] has taken it to the next level.


While we have an AMAZINGLY wide product range, the one common thread that binds everything together is quality. It is Bill’s commitment to curating the “Best of the Best” and assembling fantastic Operations, Sales, Marketing, Finance, and Technology departments to support the organization that has made us the largest fine art, fine jewelry and antiques gallery in North America.


What was behind the decision to go solar?


We feel that environmental stewardship is a bedrock principle to which all people and companies should commit themselves. That being said, we recognize that if that stewardship does not make economic sense, we will not be in business and therefore will not be able to be environmental stewards.



Solar energy offers us the best of both worlds. We are able to meet our goals of reducing our impact on the environment by reducing our energy consumption at the warehouse by over 50%, while at the same time realizing a less-than-five-year payback period on a 25-year product.


How did you develop a relationship with Joule, and how was the process?


As we represent the “Best of the Best” in our line of business, we pride ourselves on seeking out similarly positioned businesses with whom to partner. As I researched local solar companies, it became clear that Joule represented that “best of kind” partner for us. This was due to Joule’s reputation and responsiveness.


In addition to the clear, documented expertise, the ability to “think outside the box” and willingness to just provide ideas – whether they benefitted Joule in any obvious way or not – established the trust necessary to move forward on such a large project.


How do you see solar fitting into your larger strategy of corporate responsibility?


Solar energy helps us offset the energy consumption that is a natural and unavoidable part of our business – and every business. We do our best to reduce our energy footprint in every aspect of our business.


Solar enhances our efforts by allowing us to generate our own power from the sun’s rays that are already hitting our roof every day. The solar array also serves as a radiant barrier, further lowering cooling costs – a big driver of energy consumption in New Orleans.


How would you respond to businesses that are skeptical about going solar?


msrau-case-study-3I am not sure what there is to be skeptical about.  Unless you feel you are only going to be in business for another 3-5 years anyway, there is no way solar is not a good option.


Anyone with an appropriate roof and a plan to be in business for at least 4 years would benefit from solar. There are relatively few investments with a 3-4 year payback period, a 25-year lifetime of paying you back, and a positive environmental impact. You can feed your bottom line, feed your reputation, and feed your conscience all at the same time!


Post by Alex Snedeker
Showroom Photo by MS Rau Antiques
Installation Photos by Alex Snedeker and Tenbo Air

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