A1A Solar Contracting has installed more than 15 MW of solar over the last decade in Northern Florida and Southern Georgia, a feat made more impressive considering its coverage area doesn’t have high electricity prices that make customers more inclined to go solar. Still, A1A president Pete Wilking said the demand for solar and storage is high.
“Most people do want the financial returns, so that’s a motivator,” he said. “More and more we’re seeing people that are more green-minded and want a choice [of] where they’re getting their energy. The market is changing for the better where there’s more demand for cleaner energy moving forward.”
A1A Solar Contracting started in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2010 initially as a solar thermal system installer — a good business decision in Florida at the beginning of the decade. As solar electric installations started their upward swing, A1A switched over to residential and small commercial PV installations.
“I wanted to get out of the plumbing business and focus on the solar electric side of things,” Wilking said. “There’s a lot of empty roof space, a lot of energy hitting those roofs, and I was seeing all that sunshine going to waste so I thought we should put it to good use.”
The company today averages about 70% residential, 30% commercial projects. A1A recently became an authorized SunPower dealer and will offer the panels and systems to its residential customers. Wilking said meeting SunPower’s steps to become an authorized dealer show that A1A is at the top of its game.
“They have rather strict onboarding requirements to represent their products, so we’re proud to say that we met all those criteria,” he said. “[SunPower has] a pretty comprehensive warranty. The high-efficiency panel means you can put more watts on the roof. Being A1A Solar, catering to a clientele that wants the highest quality, we can provide that for them.”
A1A Solar Contracting is also a Tesla Powerwall certified installer and a Generac generator dealer, and the company tries to understand why a solar customer is interested in storage add-ons before suggesting options. For those looking for continuous power regardless of weather conditions and electricity loads, A1A suggests a generator. But for others looking for some backup with no maintenance or noise, a battery-based system always wins out — if customers are OK with the price increase.
“We’ve been installing battery systems for nine years — since we’ve been in business. It’s amazing the leaps in technology that [have] happened from nine years ago to today,” he said. “The driver for that in this market is, basically, people want backup power. We’re not doing much energy arbitrage with time-of-use and all that. We’re getting a lot of orders on [Tesla Powerwalls]. But the economic drivers are still lagging in this market.”
With the ITC stepping down to 26% at the end of this year, Wilking said it has created a sense of urgency in customers, and A1A contracts have increased, especially in the commercial market.
“We are hoping that Congress [will] decide to do another extension on that, but that’s a whole other debate,” he said. “Even if it does step down 4%, it will stretch out the economics a little bit but it’s not going to be a deal breaker. It’s not going to ruin the industry. It’ll just make it a little bit more challenging.”
Wilking said he sees 2019 as a turning point for the solar market in Florida and the country as a whole.
“This year, I think we cross the threshold where we’ve gone past the early adopters and it’s getting a little bit more mainstream,” he said. “People want green energy. They want a choice. The technology is there. We have a lot of people moving to Florida, so we do have a growing market here, both residential and commercial, [and] we plan to serve that market well.”