Headquartered in Selbyville, Delaware, is a small but mighty solar installation company. Green Street Solar, a division of hurricane shutter and retractable awnings manufacturer and installer Alutech United, only has five dedicated solar employees but still manages to consistently install 850 kW of residential and small-commercial solar each year.
Russell Pfaller, Green Street’s installation manager, helped get the company off the ground in 2008 after Alutech’s president Joe Schanz decided to enter the solar market.
“He decided he was going to start a solar division and that I was going to be the one to learn how to do it since I had electrical knowledge and some mechanical know-how,” Pfaller said. “We just started fiddling with it, and it’s grown since then.”
With only five employees (and three more shared with Alutech), Green Street Solar stays busy year-round, especially since it doesn’t turn to subcontractors.
“Consistency is good. I basically have three guys that go out and do it every day,” Pfaller said. “It’s just being able to look the same guys in the eyes every day and make sure we’re on the same page about what’s going on. That way, things don’t get lost in translation and you’re able to keep the quality up. With subcontracting, I don’t think you can have that level of security.”
Green Street primarily installs solar in its home state of Delaware, but Pfaller said its pipeline in Maryland is gaining momentum.
“We just started doing a bit more in Maryland this year for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just the urgency of the ITC,” he said.
In fact, Green Street, not unlike most residential solar installers across the country, has been encouraging solar fence-sitters to sign on for projects by educating them on the gradual stepdown of the investment tax credit starting this year.
“We’re not fearmongers or anything like that, but we’re trying to raise awareness that [the ITC stepdown] is going to happen,” Pfaller said. “The ITC thing does give people a sense of urgency. Some people that are on the fence, thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll kick the can down the road,’ it just gives them a kick to get moving and go ahead and do it.”
Pfaller has heard from distributors that there may be a solar panel shortage later this year, so he’s also expressing that urgency to customers. If they want certain products, they should buy now.
“The answer I get from distributors is there’s a lot of [solar panel] product being allocated to other countries that have different programs that are expiring,” he said. “It’s really foreign manufacturers, which is primarily what’s being used nowadays, whether they’re bringing as much product into the United States because of allocating it elsewhere or trying to circumvent tariffs. I can’t get product as easily or as inexpensively as I was able to last year. My panel prices have already started to creep up.”
Green Street Solar is open to other product opportunities but isn’t too keen on solar-plus-storage right now. Pfaller said the company has installed battery systems before, but the products on the market today are a bit underwhelming for their price.
“I hate to be that way, but I’m not really a big advocate of the battery system as of yet. If we can get more capacity into those units for less, or even if it’s more capacity at that same cost level, then I’ll start really considering it,” he said. “As of right now, I’m not really interested in getting into it because it’s a whole other learning curve. If I’m going to do something, I want to be good at it. I [don’t] want to do one battery system every three months and then have to relearn it every time.”
When customers ask for backup options, Pfaller said he explains capacity and cost, and many change their minds. Solar on its own is still a great option in Green Street’s coverage area.
Besides, Green Street Solar will have its hands full over the next few years installing solar systems to meet ITC qualifications. Pfaller is optimistic that an ITC extension may come before 2022 when the residential credit is set to expire completely.
“I don’t anticipate a large sales drop because it’s going from 30% to 26% or 26% to 22%. There’s going to be a sense of urgency each year because of that. Beyond that, we’ll see,” he said. “Once there’s a sense of urgency on that [political] side, then I’m optimistic that we’ll have something available for us. Hopefully it will be a smooth transition like we had back in 2016. I’m optimistic that something like that will happen again.”