Every month, BayWa r.e. Solar Systems brings U.S. solar contractors and industry leaders together to discuss challenges and opportunities in the business of solar installation and deployment.

Welcome back to a new season of Solar Town Hall! We’ve got all-new shows lined up for you this year, with expert guests familiar and new. While the challenges continue in our industry, there is also a lot to be optimistic about

For our first show this season, our expert roundtable gathered to discuss prospects and trends for this new year. Hear what they have to say about risks and opportunities in 2021, sales and customer engagement, supply chain and financing, and business development. Scroll down to access the video and podcast playback and to read our episode recap!

The Case for Measured Optimism in 2021

“We’re all aware of the kind of pent-up demand and how high consumer interest is for residential solar,” said Bryan White, Research Analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, at the start of our January 27 Solar Town Hall. “But I think what we’re looking at mostly is what’s actually going to be holding the industry back. What are the main constraints?”

Growing backlogs and delayed permitting are certainly reverberations carrying over from 2020’s pandemic onset, along with the resulting labor and equipment bottlenecks to make progress on those projects, our panelists reminded. Supply chain challenges also remain: the global constraint on shipping containers and freight are very real, as are limitations around manufacturing capacities. “I think that we would be wise as an industry to think in terms of measured growth rather than actually trying to force a massive growth,” said David Dunlap, Vice President of Operations at BayWa r.e. Solar Systems.

There is still plenty of optimism to go around, of course. Sales had been booming regardless of the federal ITC extension, and expected policy shifts with the new U.S. presidential administration bring hope. “I think we’re definitely very optimistic, very excited about the future of the solar industry, especially with the Biden Administration and all the policies that are likely to be supportive of solar industry in 2021,” said Vikram Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of EnergySage and frequent Solar Town Hall guest. Of course, actual federal policy details are still incoming in these early days of the new presidency.

Every month, BayWa r.e. Solar Systems brings U.S. solar contractors and industry leaders together to discuss challenges and opportunities in the business of solar installation and deployment.

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Featured Guests:

Ajulo Othow, Esq., Founder and CEO of EnerWealth Solutions, LLC and Committee Representative at BOSS (Black Owned Solar Services), and Board Member at North Carolina Clean Energy Fund

Bryan White, Research Analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables

David Dunlap, Vice President of Operations at BayWa r.e. Solar Systems

Vikram Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of EnergySage

Defining federal policies will be crucial

Figuring out what this policy environment needs to be at the federal level will be crucial for divining practical possibilities, cautioned Ajulo Othow, Founder and CEO of EnerWealth Solutions and a returning Solar Town Hall panelist. “And unless there’s some regulatory and policy changes to facilitate more residential and C&I, we’re going to continue to see the money can go towards utility scale,” said Othow. “Everything sort of rolls back to capital, of course, but a Federal Renewable Portfolio Standard would be a game changer, I think, more so than a hundred billion dollars in additional financing, to be honest with you.”

What, then, are some practical areas where solar contractors can take action in this year?

A clear outreach and sales strategy is key, for one. “The companies that really suffered the most are likely ones that had a hard time adapting their sales and marketing to a digital platform,” mentioned Bryan White of WoodMack. “It’s hard to replace that face-to-face interaction, especially at a time when we’re still dealing with customers that aren’t very highly educated on going solar and what their benefits are. They need a lot of handholding to understand the economics and the actual process itself.”

“The good news is a lot of people want solar; the bad news is that their confidence in the industry is still low,” said Vikram Aggarwal. “They’re looking for more information. They’re looking for more transparency about the solar companies, about solar financing, about the equipment that they’re buying. And they they’re hungry for more information.” This is sentiment is particular true for rural and low-wealth regions, or areas where community solar is the optimal product. “It also helps to understand that there’s a whole segment of the marketplace that is currently not being served by solar, whether it’s geographic or in terms of income,” Ajulo Othow reminded everyone. “And so consider those as opportunities.”

Contractors should also be doing their homework when it comes to branding, financing, and planning.

“Brands do matter. Consumers want companies that they can trust. That stems from companies that are supplying the equipment, companies they’re working with to install the system on their house,” said Bryan White, who mentioned poorly executed lead generation as one potential area to revisit, given changing customer attitudes towards house visits or cold calls. “Installers and contractors need to be careful about the sales organizations that they are working with, as well as their own sales staff, and how they’re operating… not only just from a consumer education standpoint, but the customer perception of their business practices.”

The financial products landscape is also warming to solar’s growing stability, with new options and relationships to forge. “We’re seeing more banks and credit unions express interest in entering the space,” said Bryan White. “Some of these banks are also looking to perhaps enter directly with contractors themselves. So that’s a big opportunity for customers or for contractors of all sizes. Look at your local credit union or bank that might be having a pique of interest in solar, now that it’s a bit becoming more mainstream, and it has been proven out as a safer investment.”

Constant communication and planning is key

And with the continued flux in supply chain rhythms and ever-evolving shifts in new products and new systems configurations, constant communication and planning is key. “I think we all have to kind of agree that whatever we assumed we could do last minute is no longer the case,” said BayWa r.e. Solar Systems’ David Dunlap, regarding increased supply chain delays in manufacturer shipping. Contractors should shift their habits and expectations accordingly, especially for steps they do have control over, like the design-procurement-permitting flow. “How do we actually plan ahead for those changes and not just do the quick math in our head?”

Whatever headwinds or smooth waters our residential and commercial solar industry might face in this new year, one certainty is that contractors, distributors, and advocates can continue to learn from one another and share these emerging lessons as they come along.

“Let’s link arms. Let’s continue to build the community. We’ve got a lot of hope and optimism, and it’s going to be a challenging year still,” said David Dunlap as the last word for our January 27 Solar Town Hall. “We can get through it. We’ll get through it better, stronger — together.”

Remember to share our episode recap with your colleagues. Thank you all again for participating in our Solar Town Hall events and being part of our solar community!

Missed one of our events? Access all of our expert roundtables in our Solar Town Hall archivesfind video excerpts on YouTube, and take podcast versions with you on the go via Spotify, Apple, or Google.

BayWa r.e. Solar Systems LLC supplies residential and commercial solar installers in the United States with quality components, supply chain forecasting, business planning advice, and a community of experts. Learn more at www.solar-distribution.com, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter, subscribe to our podcasts and YouTube, and ask us about our industry-leading Webstore. Part of the BayWa r.e. global family of renewable energy companies.

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Add your voice to the 2021 Solar Installer Survey

The survey is frequently used by policymakers, journalists and solar advocates throughout the year, so it is important to ensure that as many voices as possible are heard. Everyone who completes the survey will receive an advanced copy of the detailed survey results. Thank you in advance for your participation!