Increased sales for northern Nevada solar companies

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When the phone stopped ringing last spring, Mark Dickson, president of Simple Power Solar in Reno, clouded his sales expectations for 2020.

“We were scared like everyone else and we said to ourselves: what will happen? Dickson said, noting that the company laid off most of its 20 employees when the business impacts of COVID set in almost a year ago. “We were sort of preparing for the worst. “

The same was true for the solar industry nationwide. The pandemic was disruptive at first, as door-to-door marketing became much more difficult.

Residential solar installations fell 23% sequentially in the second quarter of 2020, largely due to shelter-in-place orders that imposed restrictions on production, according to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie. sale and installation of systems. a renewable energy consulting company.

As a result, in June, Wood Mackenzie predicted that distributed solar power would experience a 31% drop in 2020.

In the third quarter, however, something unexpected happened: Simple Power’s phones started turning on. Suddenly, the outlook for the company became much brighter.

“The phones just started ringing again and from there it kind of went off the hook,” Dickson said.

So much so that the Reno-based solar power company – which serves the greater Reno-Tahoe area – ended 2020 with $ 1 million more in sales than expected, generating $ 4.9 million in revenue for the year, Dickson said.

Why the increase in demand? Solar panels and battery systems, Dickson said, have rekindled the appeal of people spending much more time in their homes and having less certainty that the lights will stay on.

“The virus itself, I think, made people wonder, ‘how can I become more independent? ”Said Dickson. “At the very beginning (of the pandemic), they didn’t know if their electricity was going to be cut. So I think there is a bit of fear, which ends up benefiting our industry, especially when we also offer battery storage. “

Solar energy companies have also seen the ripple effect of locked-in homeowners monitoring their surroundings, indoors and out, with a more critical eye, Dickson said.

“I think the whole home improvement market took off last year and people were like, ‘Hey, maybe we should do this project and put solar power over there? “Dickson said.” It was a nice surprise. “

EXTENDED FEDERAL TAX CREDITS

Simple Power Solar was not the only regional solar panel installer in the region that saw sales increase in the second half of 2020.

Great Basin Solar, a Reno-based solar energy contractor that serves all of northern Nevada, has had its “busiest year yet,” said owner Travis Miller, who started the business in 2018.

Miller said the federal solar energy tax credit – the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) – was a big sales driver last year. ITC allows the customer to deduct 26% of the cost of installing a solar power system from their federal taxes. It was due to expire at the end of 2020, but Congress in December extended the ITC to 26% for two more years.

“It has sparked consumer interest, especially during the Q3-Q4 periods as people rush to get tax credits before the end of the year,” Miller said, noting that income from Great Basin Solar had increased by around 25% in 2020 compared to 2019. “And I expect this trend to continue as long as the tax credits continue.

It could be argued that selling solar power on rooftops is also easier when potential customers are more aware of the increase in their electricity bills.

Since the pandemic began to shut down or restrict businesses, many Americans have had to move their business electricity use to their homes. In August, for example, residential electricity retail sales rose 5.8% from the previous year, while the commercial and industrial sectors saw declines of 6.7% and 9.3%. , respectively, according to data from the United States Energy Information Administration.

Dickson and Miller both said residential projects accounted for 90% of their respective annual revenues, with the remaining 10% being primarily commercial. Simple Power also sees a portion of its revenue coming from off-grid projects and battery storage add-ons.

Dickson said the average residential solar system Simple Power is installing in Reno-Sparks costs around $ 20,000. The projects in Lake Tahoe, on the other hand, are a “whole different ball game.”

“We make systems over $ 100,000 over there,” Dickson said, referring to high-end Tahoe homes. “People are building big and using a lot of energy up there.”

Zoomed out, solar companies across the country are expected to install a record 19 GW of new solar capacity installations in 2020. This represents a 43% year-over-year growth compared to 2019, according to the SEIA and Wood Mackenzie most recent quarterly report.

LABOR REQUEST

And an increase in solar installations calls for a supply of labor to match. In total, vacancies for solar engineers and solar installers in the fourth quarter of 2020 increased 81% and 34%, respectively, from the third quarter, according to the Cognizant Jobs of the Future Index.

Part of the reason for the sharp rise in solar power job vacancies is that the industry experienced many layoffs as the pandemic spread. After all, more than 72,000 solar energy jobs in the United States were lost between February and June, according to SEIA.

Dickson said Simple Power Solar has rehired everyone it laid off and is back to a workforce of around 20 – and it plans to hire at least six more employees by the end of 2021.

Great Basin Solar, which has 10 employees, has avoided laying off anyone, Miller said, noting that he plans to “expand the team a bit” in 2021.

Which begs the question: is there a skilled workforce for solar jobs in northern Nevada? Miller and Dickson have so far said they have had no problem hiring local workers.

But, if the solar market continues to grow in the region, there could be a growing need for workforce development efforts. Truckee Meadows Community College offers a Solar Energy Technician certificate, but that roughly represents the breadth of programs available to people interested in working for a solar energy contractor.

“There isn’t a really good workforce here that has specific solar power skills,” Dickson said. “For us, we want someone who has some sort of construction experience and is mechanically inclined and is not afraid of heights. These are the three big qualifiers.

Miller said the region would see its biggest demand for solar jobs if the Silver State followed California’s lead and demanded that all newly built homes be fitted with solar panels. The mandate went into effect a year ago, January 2020, in the Golden State.

“Hopefully Nevada will follow suit soon,” Miller said. “These are the kinds of things that can really drive more solar adoption volume and increase real jobs. I could easily quadruple my staff to start meeting demand.

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