National solar installer Green Solar Technologies found itself in a tough spot in 2017. A dedicated SolarWorld module buyer, the company was asked to testify in favor of the tariffs on imported solar panels. Although the company was a proponent of using U.S.-made solar panels, COO Edward Harner said the decision to come out as pro-tariffs was still risky.
“Did we really want to be the only installer to be in favor of the tariffs? We knew there’d be some backlash,” he said. GST ultimately did testify in favor of the tariffs to the International Trade Commission. “We wanted to make sure to do what’s best for consumers. We were getting calls all the time from [foreign solar panel] companies that we had never heard of. Any company can write a 25-year warranty, but how do we know in 10 years whether that warranty would mean anything? We thought that in order to keep the industry honest, there needed to be something done.”
Luckily for GST and the installation market, the tariffs announced in early 2018 didn’t affect the industry as disastrously as predicted. But with new panel manufacturers entering the U.S. market and SunPower buying SolarWorld, GST had to find a new U.S. panel supplier. The company just recently chose Texas-headquartered Mission Solar.
“We always knew that Mission Solar made good panels,” Harner said. “The things that we considered on top of the quality is the capacity of their production. We are a high-volume purchaser of panels. It’s kind of untested as far as how many [panels new U.S. manufacturers] can actually produce. It takes a long time for the production capacity to be reached, and we need continuity in our company.
“I trust American-made panels. In order to be competitive, all of these companies are going to have to do their testing,” Harner continued. “It just comes down to who can produce enough to fill the demand.”
And GST has serious demand. The company started in Los Angeles in 2011 and has since expanded into 24 states across the country. The decision to move outside of California came five years ago when competition in Southern California exploded.
“We decided to go where there was not a lot of competition,” Harner said. “We started just moving east with Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Colorado and just kind of followed where there was demand and where we thought we could get more solar business. Now we’re operating in 24 states, and we’re always looking for new markets to enter.”
The company’s plan of attack is to find markets that have solar demand but not a lot of installers. Instead of serving Denver, Green Solar Technologies works further south in Pueblo, Colorado. Instead of Dallas, the company serves Lubbock, Texas. While other national names focus on the major cities, GST has found there are many second- and third-tier cities with just as much demand.
GST works primarily in the residential market, but it will take on a few commercial projects under 500 kW if they come up. Harner said the company doesn’t shy away from complex projects.
“If a customer wants solar, we’ll make sure that they get it one way or another,” he said. “We build pergolas, we do carports, we do ground-mounts, we will do it on any roof as long as we know that roof is good. We talk to hundreds of homeowners a day and at least 20% have already considered solar and either the local companies didn’t have financing that we can provide them, or it was too complex of a job. We do it, and we just try to get more people solar every day.”
Green Solar Technologies is always looking to expand into more states, but the company wants to do it smartly.
“Out of the other nationwide solar companies, we’re not funded by huge investment by external sources. We started as a private company and remain private, so we really do have to pay attention to the bottom line,” Harner said. “Up until now, we’ve been less concerned with market share and more concerned with profitability. We have a good foundation now that we can start really utilizing all of our resources and grow. So hopefully you’ll hear Green Solar Technologies mentioned the same way you hear Tesla or Vivint or Sunrun.”
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