Solar arrays are marketed as a “set it and forget it” power source that will generate electricity for at least 25 years. Los Angeles-based residential installer Forme Solar Electric (No. 256 on the 2022 Top Solar Contractors List) understands that there are plenty of instances where solar arrays do fail — enough in Southern California alone to start a company focused on residential solar repair.
Forme Solar was founded in 2017 and initially only offered solar repair services, later adding installation. Company co-founder and chief sales officer Nick Duong worked in the support and repair department with now-shuttered residential installer Verengo Solar and saw first-hand just how many arrays needed repairs.
“It’s literally so that people can realize the benefit that they paid for. At the end of the day, the thing that rubs us the wrong way is knowing someone who splashed out all of this money and is in the hole with their system and it’s not even producing,” Duong said. “They can get no help. There are thousands of solar installers, but try to get one on the phone to go out and repair a system they didn’t build — it’s near impossible.”
Forme Solar (pronounced “for me”) was founded to provide third-party repairs to solar system owners who can’t schedule a service call with their original installer. The company often fields repair requests on systems installed by contractors now out of business and larger install companies that put system owners on waitlists for months at a time.
“There’s not enough attention on repair,” said Terry Kim, COO at Forme. “No one wants to wait three months to have their car back up and running. There needs to be a better infrastructure for [solar] repair.”
Many of the systems Forme Solar repair technicians encounter have failed at an electrical level. Inverters installed a decade ago are dying and oftentimes no longer under warranty; zip ties break and leave wires drooping and susceptible to electrical shorts.
“The solar equipment itself doesn’t really break. The biggest fallacy in solar is everyone cares about panels. My calculator has a solar chip that still works beautifully. The things that break are the inverter or wiring,” Kim said.
Ultimately, that experience in solar repairs prepared Forme Solar for its foray into installation. Fulfilling warranties, replacing components and rewiring systems has led the company to install systems that are less likely to need repairs.
“We can make a business out of fixing systems that we didn’t install, but I can tell you, as a business, having to go back to and install the correct thing several times, it literally sucks out any of the profit margin you could have possibly hoped for on a job,” Duong said.
Today, about 60% of Forme’s work output is installation and the remaining 40% is repairs. In 2021 alone, the company installed nearly 3.2 MW of solar.
“We want to do more on the repair side, but at the same time, because of the stuff we do on repair, we have a very strong referral business,” Duong said. “There’s a tremendous amount of goodwill that comes after you fix one solar energy system right.”
And with the constant growth of the U.S. solar market, demand for repairs will undoubtedly increase, too.
“It’s an area where there’s a huge amount of demand, and in all honesty, a huge amount of responsibility,” Kim said. “It’s the worst thing to leave a customer where they feel powerless, where they can’t get results from the utility company or anything. It’s nice when they can finally find a place where that can be resolved.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2022 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.