The most conspicuous driver of the residential solar industry’s growth has been large, national-scale solar installers. Their market share has been increasing, primarily because they offer attractive financing to homeowners. Although all solar installers large and small pretty much install the same equipment, for someone who wants solar on their roof, a “no money down” lease is compelling. But there are thousands of smaller, local residential installers who are also thriving in this era of lower equipment prices, higher utility rates and improved awareness of the benefits and reliability of rooftop solar.
Large-scale solar installers typically order their modules by the container-load, and ship their balance of systems (BOS) directly to regional installation offices or distribution centers; they don’t rely on distributors. But the thousands of local installers generally don’t order directly from manufacturers; their purchasing volume of one or two systems a week is not big enough to support a direct relationship. Most of these small installers do not have a dedicated purchasing department to get the best price and ensure that all the parts get to the right location on-time. Nor do they want to carry much inventory.
Solar distributors have historically provided these ordering, design support and shipping services to small installers. Distributors make it possible to order — from one website — the blizzard of parts needed to complete an installation: modules, inverters, cables, grounding clips, monitoring components, racks, fuses, flashings…even wire and junction boxes. This one-stop-shop allows local installers to operate efficiently and minimize their inventory investments. Since these small residential installers are indeed thriving, distributors are doing well, too.
My guest on this week’s Energy Show is Mark Laabs, chief operating officer of Soligent. In addition to purchasing, Mark and his team are focused on bringing new services to solar installers, such as customer financing, engineering and paperwork processing services. Basically, they want to be an installer’s “back office,” so installers can focus on what they do best: market, sell, install and service their customers. Please join me as Mark talks about the value that distributors bring to installers, as well as the new services they are rolling out at Soligent.