Best Company's senior solar writer, Jordan Grimmer, recently met with Alexia Cooper, George Hofmann, Krystal Hosmer, and Jeremy White to discuss their thoughts on current solar industry challenges and shifts, and what they have done to maintain their customers’ trust over time.
We’ve highlighted a few of the questions and responses mentioned during the panel discussion below. View the video above or click here to watch the entire discussion.
Question: What is a new development in solar that your company is most excited about?
Jeremy: “I think the biggest thing that is affecting the solar industry…is the extension of the tax credit. It provides stability within the industry. It was actually set to expire I think at the end of next year, but now they’ve extended it out for 10 more years.”
Question: What efforts has your company made to spread the word about the tax credit extension?
Krystal: “We’ve done multiple social media posts regarding it, we have a blog post up on our website, (and) we’ve also just gotten in a lot of call-in volume (such as) emails, text messages. Customers seem to be more aware of it than we thought they would be. We’ve had a lot of folks come out of the woodworks…We also have a webinar that explains the tax credit in very plain English that people seem to find pretty valuable.”
Question: Do you think the average solar customer cares where their solar panels come from?
Alexia: “No, I would say probably only about 40% of our customers actually care about that. That really affects us more than them, I would say, because, with everything that’s going on overseas, I’m sure we’ve all experienced some difficulties getting some panels at some point. But with them actually being created here, it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to be able to have better quality products, get them hopefully quicker, and be able to sustain our growth”
“So, as a company owner, it’s exciting for me, but it’ll also be good for us as we add that into our pitch and be able to educate the homeowners on that. But as of right now, it’s not really a big driving force in our sales.”
Question: Has there been a greater uptick in batteries and other system upgrades after the major power outage in Texas in 2021?
George: “We sell in both the Utah and the Dallas, Fort Worth areas, and in Dallas, Fort Worth, we’re probably selling 60% of our packages with battery simply because of the disruption…The uptick since the outage has really created awareness. (This is) magnified by the fact that the grid is still so fragile and fragmented that the increase in costs that are being passed on by Encore, the primary distributor of the power, is really causing people to a) be aware and b) the news outlets are picking up on the vulnerability of what people are experiencing and really strongly suggesting towards being self-sufficient.”
“There’s a new product called a Sunlight Operating System that actually allows people to operate when the grid is down during daylight/sunlight hours…allowing them to keep their refrigerators, freezers, and what have you going. And we’re finding sales of that at a much-reduced price compared to batteries, which are really picking up.”
Question: What is the biggest challenge facing residential solar today?
Alexia: “There’s a lot of misinformation out there in our industry and it ends up hurting people like us who want to actually help the customer and want to do good for our industry. I find that we’re constantly out here combatting the fake information with what’s real. And it’s almost like a battle.”
“To me, if we could, as installers, get on the same page on what is right for the customer, how we can help the customer, continue to propel this industry forward because there’s so much opportunity here. We only want to do what’s right and it’s hard when you’re up against people who really are just about the money.”
George: “I think the biggest risk to our industry right now is the power producers and distributors who are adding an upcharge back to the bill and lowering the buyback rate. The economics of our industry are significantly changing and to the negative for the consumer.
Jeremy: “I’m going to go with supply chain. Every week, it’s something new. It’s harder and harder to find, it’s from breakers to solar panels to solar edge commercial inverters are six to nine months out right now.”
“As the solar industry grows, that’s going to continue to happen. There are a lot of companies that are still trying to catch up from the pandemic and everything else, and the supply chain over the last two years. Now, a lot of manufacturers are looking at 20, 30, 40, 50 percent annual growth, so not only are you trying to catch up from the last two years, you’re also trying to expand at the same time, and the problems are just going to continually get worse as the solar industry grows.”
“And the labor market. It’s a very tight labor market, at least here in Las Vegas, and there aren’t a whole lot of people out there who have a lot of experience in solar, which is an opportunity to create a lot of jobs, which is awesome, it’s just kind of in that short term, in the interim when companies are growing 20 to 30 percent, you are going to need 20 to 30 percent more people to handle the installations and handle the paperwork and deal with the utilities and everything else.”
Question: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced breaking into a male-dominated industry and what advice do you have for other women who may be interested in working in solar?
Alexia: “Looking back, I just chose to keep pushing forward, and I never saw those boundaries as anything that was going to hold me back. It’s been amazing, I’ve learned so much and my ideas and how young I am, and being a female has been able to kind of revolutionize how my company functions, so we’ve been very different in how we go about things, and I’ve always looked at it as a benefit versus something that was holding me back in growth. Very few times can I remember somebody actually bringing it up in a negative way.”
“I just came back from RE+, which was the largest convention in the country for renewable energy, and I actually went to a women’s event where all women in solar who were there got together and we got to celebrate each other, and it was really empowering to see the room full of powerful women who want to do better in this industry and who want to make a change, and choose to do so by their own will and not because people tell us we can’t.”
“My advice to anybody who does want to go out there and do it is to just do it and don’t really think about the what if’s or what society puts on us because it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. What really matters is what we want and how we’re going to go about it.”
Krystal: “In the consultant role, women seem to be really well-suited to this because we are generally a little more empathetic and a little bit, sometimes better listeners. We also tend to be less zero-sum game. We’re usually looking for the compromise that the company gets a win and the customer gets a win.”
“Because a lot of women are generally competitive and confident, but in less abrasive ways than some men, as consultants, we can really set people at ease and make them feel cared about, make them feel communicated with, make them feel like they’re heard and understood, and that can be an extremely powerful tool for getting customers to trust you and to trust the company with what is the price of a car. So, women are really well-suited to that role and it’s an asset to the industry to have more of us as consultants.”
About the Panelists
Alexia Cooper is the CEO of Bell Solar & Electrical Systems, a Nevada-based solar installation company. Bell Solar has an internal focus on female engineers and construction workers, breaking down the traditional hazing in the industry. For example, the company offers paid apprenticeships to any female interested in the electrical or solar industries.
George Hofmann is the COO at Sparrow Electric, a solar installation company that provides residential, commercial, and custom electric services. Sparrow Electric services Utah and the greater Dallas, Fort Worth areas.
Krystal Hosmer is the Senior Energy Consultant with Robco Electric, a commercial electrician that has been serving Las Vegas for 25 years. Krystal transitioned into the solar field in 2011, after a long and successful career in graphic design as both an award-winning designer and a Design Instructor at UNLV Continuing Ed.
Jeremy White has been a leader in the Las Vegas Solar industry for over a decade, starting with creating the first certified training class for PV installers. Since joining Robco, he has helped grow the solar division as the Division Manager from just a dozen or so projects a year ago to the second largest volume division in the company.