Sunworks has a storied past, but this year the California-based integrator found its niche and is ready to expand. Originally known as Solar3D and functioning as a research and solutions provider, a series of installation-company acquisitions (MD Energy, Elite Solar and SUNworks) led to its Sunworks name-change in 2016 and a focus on developing and installing residential and commercial solar systems.
Although the company still has a hand in developing technology—its Solar3D solar cell is awaiting a patent and its racking system was just branded as Rapid Rack—Sunworks is not a manufacturer. The company develops products manufactured by subcontractors to drive down the cost of installation, but CEO Jim Nelson describes Sunworks as largely “technology-agnostic.”
“When we say we’re in integration, we do everything except manufacture. We source the customer, design the system, source the parts, install it and then monitor and maintain the system afterwards,” Nelson said. “Being technology-agnostic is a critical part of our business. The technology for both solar and solar storage is changing rapidly. People who wed themselves to one technology end up getting passed up. We have stayed away from manufacturing [so] we can really be nimble on behalf of our customers.”
Sunworks has multiple offices across California, Oregon and Nevada and plans to expand into eight additional states by mid-2017. Commercial-scale installation makes up two-thirds of its business, and Sunworks actively approaches the agriculture industry to go solar.
“We think solar is really made for agriculture,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of opportunities to approach farmers and other types of ag-organizations in the central valley of California—the greatest agricultural area in the world. Throughout the United States, there are great opportunities for agriculture where ag-organizations haven’t really taken a hard look at solar yet. We think there is an opportunity country-wide.”
Nelson said the key to market domination is offering ways to purchase solar systems that don’t involve third-party ownership, which has been favored by big players like SolarCity.
“One of the problems with residential solar is that some of the biggest companies have been third-party ownership oriented. They’ve given leases and PPAs, where residential customers should own their solar system,” he said. “Unfortunately, the customers have only just now learned that these things are not economical. These big companies are not going to be able to push their sales like they have in the past.
“We facilitate ownership on behalf of the customer,” he continued. “We’ll help them get a loan or help them pay for the system. That’s what’s right for the customer.”
Sunworks is also looking to the future and experimenting with energy storage.
“We are partnering with Tesla, sonnen and Enphase with their storage solutions, and we’re being trained,” Nelson said. “We’ll of course remain technology-agnostic, so as the technology for battery storage continues to improve, we’ll be right there as one of the prime installers for storage.”
In addition to expanding outside of the West Coast, Nelson said Sunworks is looking to do an additional acquisition to increase the company’s ability to do residential installations on a larger scale. Real growth is, of course, contingent on utilities’ attitude toward solar.
“Utilities are always going to be a little bit defensive about someone coming into their turf. Utilities have a desire to protect their monopoly,” Nelson said. “Ultimately, they’re going to have to figure out a way to collaborate with solar companies because this is coming, there is no question. The public wants to have solar. They want to own their own energy.”