With the section 201 trade case, it’s very timely to be speaking to a U.S. panel manufacturer. After 14 years at Solaria, president and CEO Suvi Sharma has some interesting things to say. At Solaria, Suvi was a co-founder of NEXTracker and also founded a CRM provider and a volunteer organization.
Read some of what he said below, and listen to the full interview for more.
You’re an entrepreneur, as many solar contractors are. What would be some advice you could give them?
When you look at residential and commercial solar, three years ago you had three companies with basically 80% of the market. Today, the market has grown and the top three have less than 25% market share. What that means is that solar installation has shifted to many smaller, regional companies. That makes more sense from an efficiency standpoint, and also small businesses are a bedrock of growth in the American economy. The fact that that’s happening in solar, to me, is a real sign of market health.
In terms of building out the business, focus on differentiation and cash flow. How can you differentiate? That can be the products you offer, or building a specialization in a different or challenging types of roof or projects. Focusing on specialization is important to building a niche as more installers get into solar.
Also, cash flow management is really key in this business because all companies go out of business for one reason: the run out of cash. It can be exciting to have growth and more projects, but cash flow management is extremely important to sustaining the business.
Do you see solar shingles ever taking off?
I think the solar shingle technology will continue to exist and grow, but I don’t think it will be a dominant form of rooftop power generation, at least in the next five to ten years.
We see that what’s really going to be larger in terms of growth and market share is retrofitting and using solar modules with better and sleeker framing systems on different types of roofs that can integrate more aesthetically than they do today.
There’s a lot of challenges in doing roof shingles because you have a lot of interconnection points where the wires come out, some of the most expensive elements in those types of systems. So while there is opportunity for it as a niche product, we see by far the majority of systems going in with more standardized types of solar panels on existing roofs, many with new framing systems that can look better and better and be more flush with the roof.
Once that happens the need for doing roof shingles isn’t as great if you want a good looking roof. The logistics and costs and complexity trade offs don’t currently warrant shingles being a mainstream solar product compared to panels.
Check back monthly for a new episode of Ask a Solar Vet, in which editor Kathie Zipp brings you the unique perspectives and insights of those who have spent more than a decade in solar.