By David Dunlap
Solar contractors in the United States have come a long way.
Whether you’re a small business serving homeowners in your city or municipality — or whether you’re a multi-state, regional player — I know the broader solar industry can sometimes feel like a much larger machine happening outside of your reach, nationally and globally.
But I would give yourselves more credit.
Where we are today in the solar landscape — and how our market continues to mature — owes a lot to you all. We are all still connected to and inspired by the early movers and shakers who got our community started more than 35 years ago.
There’s no question that by getting involved in your local industry associations — or even starting some of those associations and groups yourselves — you have made a foundational difference. Anytime a new market sector is created, it takes early adopters to say, “Hey, this is a thing, and we’ve got to make a difference to get legislation on the books and get incentives for deployment” and so on. And though much of this policy advocacy has shifted to the federal arena or the larger state capitals these days, the actions you take locally still matter. Many of you are still very active players in your local solar associations, and it’s that appreciation of “community” that carries such strength of purpose.
There can still be healthy competition — and there can still be leaders and pacers among us — but we can also come together as a larger community of like-minded businesses and all row together in the same direction towards thriving enterprise, greater deployment of solar and renewables, and profound benefits for our environment and our communities.
With regards to those external forces — perhaps the fear of a couple of massive residential, regional aggregators merging forces, or the looming shadow of aggregated utility conglomerates — we can take comfort that everyone still has to answer to regulatory committees and governmental bodies, because our solar industry has matured. We’re a regulated industry. And the battles at those federal or state levels, fought by larger companies and associations, stand to benefit contractors of all sizes.
But equally important are the smaller battles, fought at local and regional levels, by smaller businesses and associations. These also stand to make a difference, because you’re the experts who’ve thought about how those rules at the municipal level need to be improved for permit approvals, or experimented with material or operational innovations. These small seeds may grow into disruptions and standards in due time.
The work remains, of course. We have a long way to go in widening the reach of our solar industry, and this is when our core values can shine. Just as we “vote with our dollar” in our daily decisions for food and groceries, all of us along the supply chain ecosystem have the power to influence and affect one another. We express our voice, from the smallest startup to the most well-sourced distributor, to align our businesses and our practices behind or within the community. That is our choice.
Who are those other companies and colleagues that I want to support? From a values standpoint? Or from a best-practices standpoint? Which manufacturers and distributors do I want to give my business to? Which customers and communities, regardless of their wealth, will stand to benefit from renewables and could use my expertise and service?
Those daily choices — that’s your individual impact. And in aggregate, it is a large one.
So, don’t lose sight of where you stand and what your business represents in our broader industry. Think about the role you play in your local energy association and the solar community at large. Think about why you got into solar and renewables in the first place, beyond the dollar value.
The state of the maturity of our PV industry and the U.S. solar installation industry today is made possible by individual actions and individual values aggregated over time. You are all influencers, whether you feel like it or not. And we’ll keep rowing together, through choppy waters and calm seas.