The 5 most dangerous trends facing solar companies

The 5 most dangerous trends facing solar companies

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1. Supply Chain

We’re not telling you anything you don’t know here.

COVID has disrupted the global supply chain, and small installers are often left out in the cold.

If you don’t have solar panels, you don’t have a business and you may need to furlough employees (or at least crews) until you do have them.

Our manufacturers are explicitly telling us to hoard modules until things improve.

That’s an eye opening statement from a manufacturer who sees the global supply chain firsthand.

But what if you don’t have strong lines of credit or volume to command steady volume?

Start talking with your bankers and distributors about creating flexible lines of credit, and consider sharing your forecast/pipeline with distributors so they know exactly what you need and when you need it.

Joining a buying cooperative like Amicus Ipsun Solar has been part of for years helps as well.

2. Labor force

Again, nothing new here.

The labor market has been tight for a while, with the tides turning toward workers during the pandemic.

This is categorically a good thing (coming from an owner), especially in a country that has undervalued labor for a very long time.

However, when it comes to solar, we need more people in the green economy, not less.

You’ll need to get creative on retaining the folks you do have on staff, and finding new avenues for more people who want to get into the solar industry.

There are plenty of veterans groups who want to help military personnel get into the industry, as well as community colleges and vocational schools who are doing the same.

Appalachian State is well known as a college with a pipeline to the green economy, and Handshake has an amazing platform to get involved in career fairs so you can groom talent straight out of college.

Consider hiring a 1099 human resource/recruiting lead (such as RCR Consulting), who can help you build a pipeline of talent and filter for your company’s values

3. Regulation

What happens when you lose 1:1 net metering?

Well it’s happening now in more states than ever, and it’s not always pretty.

In California, proposed regulations would have the payback time go from just a few years to 20 years, which could kill the industry.

Prepare your financial models and sales tools to be flexible for Net Metering 2.0 and 3.0 and beyond, because the ROI and payback calculations will be messy and might not fill neatly into your existing solar software.

4. Growing pains

When our solar companies sell more, we need to install more and keep all our solar customers up to date.

You can scale up by hiring more and more people to keep it all running, or you can automate certain tasks to reduce the workload.

I think you can’t hire your way out of this like you could have done in the past years.

Sunvoy is a software that automates specific solar tasks and can automate key customer communication.

By automating the communication you really tackle 2 major issues:

  1. you give a baseload of communication to each customer so that a customer can’t say anymore they didn’t get any good communication. You know they got the minimum communication and now your employees can focus on providing additional communication or specialized communication.
  2. It provides quality control to your communication. If you rely on each Sales person or Project Manager to relay all the important information it’s possible they forget to mention something. Once you codify it in standard communication you are sure all the communication was sent out. Certain people may not read it, forget it or misunderstand it, but at least you’re 1 step further.

5. Increased liability due to batteries

People around the US and the world learn about energy storage and want home batteries to protect their family from power outages and/or use their own solar power. Years ago, each of these battery projects were mainly off-grid storage projects and each battery install was unique with extensive engineering. I remember vividly when Tesla came out with a plug and play battery that was a total game changer.

Then other brands followed suit and now we see a long list of battery options to choose from.

The problem is customer expectations are sky high. They want a low price, fast install and they want their entire home powered, not just a little backup subpanel.

Unfortunately installing batteries is not that easy.

Installing them every day is hard as you need to have your entire process 100% figured out. That means from your sales, setting the right expectations with the customer and knowing what can be backed-up, to your engineers knowing the ins and outs of the technology and the physical space needed to install a battery for the required size.

Here comes the kicker: we’ve installed many solar PV systems and they usually require little maintenance. By installing batteries we take over “utility” services and our reliability needs to be as good as an utility.

As an installer we’re taking on a large liability that is not accounted for at this point. I believe that many installers will need to have a 24/7 call center and teams to dispatch at any time even on holidays, rain or shine.

A simple solution is two fold:

  1. Tell your battery customers to use the app to go off-grid once a month so that when the grid really goes out, they have tested it.
  2. Get your software stack in line with your business needs

From "aha" to "oh crap", we’re sharing everything on our journey to install 1,000 kW in residential solar per month.

We’re learning a lot and so will you.

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written byHervé BillietCEOHerve is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ipsun Solar – a top residential solar installer in Washington DC with 60+ employees and $10M+ in annual revenue.
Hervé Billiet

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