The Carolinas are having an extended moment in the solar industry. North Carolina is second in the nation for kilowatts installed and is a utility-scale solar powerhouse. South Carolina is quickly catching up, ranking 12th in the nation for solar kilowatts installed just in 2018 and actually surpassing its northern neighbor for total number of individual projects. Competition is fierce, something Palmetto State Solar president Aaron Davis is keenly aware of.
“When I got here nearly four years ago, it was kind of the Wild West. There were very few companies here. Then it has just exploded,” he said. “It is increasingly difficult for companies to set themselves apart. Our motto is if you’re not 100% happy, then we’re not 100% finished. We really take that seriously. With our ‘no subcontractor’ model, we do as much as we can to separate ourselves.”
Palmetto State Solar was founded in 2016 after Davis, an experienced solar salesperson, grew tired of making promises to customers that he couldn’t keep. The national companies he sold for would subcontract the installation work after the sale was secured, and Davis had no way of knowing if the projects were completed up to his promised standards.
“In sales, I was the guy that would sit down, shake the hand, look them in the eye, telling them it’s a good decision, they’re in good hands, we will take care of them every step of the way,” he said. “I wanted to bring to my own company the control to be able to keep promises I was making. We have all our people in-house. We’re in control of the quality, the schedule and ultimately that leads to happier customers, because we can deliver on everything that was promised.”
After three years, Palmetto State Solar has 18 full-time employees installing more than 700 kW annually, primarily in the residential market in both North and South Carolina. Davis said he loves the team he’s assembled, and he’ll brag about them any day.
“I’ve got a real point of employing people who have great experience, who have a lot more to offer than what I possibly do in certain areas,” he said. “Everybody’s really on the same page about our mission: If you’re not 100% happy when we’re finished, then we’re not done yet. Everybody’s on board with that, all the way through every process.”
Davis hopes that being a full-service installation company sets Palmetto State Solar apart from the increasing number of fly-by-night solar companies that continue to infiltrate the competitive Carolinas market. To further stand out, Palmetto State Solar recently became an authorized Panasonic dealer.
“We’re focused on quality — not just on workmanship but also on the materials that we offer,” Davis said. “We don’t offer exclusively Panasonic, but their brand awareness can give people peace of mind. They’re making a long-term investment here, so knowing that they’ve got more than just a local South Carolina company working with them…there’s an international brand backing [us] as well.”
Palmetto State Solar is also making strides at becoming the expert on storage in the Carolinas. Davis said he’s doing more research and getting more training on the emerging technology.
“For most of my history in solar, I’ve tried to steer [customers] away from [storage]: ‘You don’t need batteries. They’re too expensive and the technology isn’t good enough yet,'” he said. “But the conversation of generation vs. storage is getting harder to separate as the market develops more. It’s time to step up or be left behind, so we really need to get on board.”
“Every battery has different capabilities and different limitations, so it’s a matter of figuring out who needs what and making the right recommendation,” Davis said. “We’re putting a lot of emphasis on it and putting a lot of work into separating ourselves from the crowd by being the authority on storage in the market.”
At least being aware of the latest technologies should keep Palmetto State Solar at the top of everyone’s mind when it comes to solar in the Carolinas, Davis believes.
“I’d like to get into other things like energy efficiency, smart home kind of stuff. We want to stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “The [solar] industry is a weird one. There are always curveballs, so we want to diversify so that whatever comes up, we’ve got something ready.”