Silicon Valley’s progressive views provide the perfect atmosphere for solar adoption. Fresco Solar, headquartered right on the valley’s edge in Morgan Hill, California, has found success in the commercial market, approaching mid-sized businesses that have specific green agendas within their vertical markets.
“[We work with] supply chain companies that want to be seen as green,” said CEO Sean Kenny. “We don’t do any business with Apple, but we have installed solar on the roofs that produce components for Apple. Apple has made enormous investments in using green power, so they expect their suppliers to do the same thing. There’s lots of opportunity there.”
Kenny said selling solar to the commercial market is easier because the payback is quicker.
“Our best candidates or opportunities are profitable mid-sized businesses—industrial, commercial—who have a tax burden,” he said. “Part of the way that this has a quick return on investment is if you can use the 30% federal tax credit and depreciate the system quickly. If you can walk into a boardroom and pitch a project that has a payback of less than four years and an ROI that is going to stretch to 25 years, that will get their attention.”
Solar carports are popular in Silicon Valley’s commercial solar market, and Fresco Solar has a constant pipeline of parking lot structures. The company hardly ever subcontracts out and has invested in carport installation equipment to bring all the expertise in-house.
Fresco Solar first got involved with carports when a local winery approached the installation company with a unique project. The winery didn’t want to put solar on valuable land, so the only spot available was on top of water towers. Fresco Solar came up with a custom canopy design that kept the important land shade-free.
“We had to [design] it ourselves because no one else was interested,” Kenny said. “That taught us how to do carports from scratch. Then we had an opportunity with a developer to do fairly large carports at a private California college, about 550 kW. We thought, ‘We have this down now. We know what the costs are, we know how long this will take.’ So we put in a bid, and we’ve been continuously doing carports ever since.”
Since Fresco Solar is working on larger projects that are pitched on quick paybacks, high-efficiency 72-cell solar panels are often the norm. But the installer also has experience with niche thin-film designs.
“We had been awarded to put solar on a childcare center. The State Architect in California is very strict. Since this was a building with small kids in it, they took a very conservative position on the weight of the panels that could be installed,” Kenny said. “We had to use the peel-and-stick lightweight panel. You rolled it on between the standing seams of the metal roof. That was a specific solution to a specific technical challenge.”
Fresco Solar is down for whatever installation challenge the market throws its way. After installing almost 1 MW last year, Kenny said he wants the company to keep getting bigger and better.
“We want to multiply in size. We have a good reputation. We have plenty of repeat and referral business,” he said. “Now that we’ve mastered carports, that’s really the biggest part of our business. We want more of the same, but just a lot more of it.”
This month’s Contractors Corner podcast is sponsored by DuPont.
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