Sales up 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, lowered his sales expectations for 2020.

“We were scared like everyone else and we thought, what’s going to happen?” Dickson said, noting that the company laid off most of its 20 employees when the business impacts of COVID hit nearly a year ago. “We were kind of preparing for the worst.”

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

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

As a result, in June Wood Mackenzie predicted that distributed solar would see a 31% decline in 2020.

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

“The phones started ringing again and it just kind of went off the hook from there,” 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 sales than expected, generating $4.9 million in revenue for the company. year, Dickson said.

Why the increase in demand? According to Dickson, solar panels and battery systems have renewed their appeal for people who spend a lot more time at home and have less certainty that the lights will stay on.

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

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

“I think the whole renovation market took off last year and people were like, ‘hey, maybe we should do this project and put solar in 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 to see sales increase in the second half of 2020.

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

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

“It’s sparked consumer interest, especially in the Q3-Q4 periods as people race to get tax credits before the end of the year,” Miller said, noting that revenue from Great Basin Solar had grown about 25% in 2020 compared to 2019. “And I expect that trend to continue as long as the tax credits continue.

You could say that selling rooftop solar panels is also easier when potential customers are more aware of their rising electricity bills.

Since the pandemic began shutting down or restricting businesses, many Americans have had to shift electricity consumption from work to home. In August, for example, residential retail electricity sales rose 5.8% from a year earlier, while the commercial and industrial sectors saw declines of 6.7% and 9.3% , respectively, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.

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

Dickson said the average residential solar system that Simple Power installs in Reno-Sparks costs about $20,000. The projects in Lake Tahoe, meanwhile, are a “totally different ballgame.”

“We make $100,000+ systems there,” Dickson said, referring to Tahoe’s high-end homes. “People build big and use a lot of energy up there.”

Zooming out, solar companies across the country are expected to install a record 19 GW of new solar capacity installations in 2020. That’s a 43% year-over-year growth from 2019, according to the latest quarterly report from SEIA and Wood Mackenzie.

LABOR DEMAND

And an increase in solar installations requires a labor supply to match. In total, solar engineer and solar installer job openings in the fourth quarter of 2020 were up 81% and 34%, respectively, from the third quarter, according to the Cognizant Jobs of the Future Index.

The surge in solar job openings can be partly explained by the fact that the sector saw many layoffs when the pandemic hit. After all, more than 72,000 solar jobs in the United States were lost between February and June, according to SEIA.

Dickson said Simple Power Solar has rehired all of the people it laid off and is back to a team of around 20 people — 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 he expects to “expand the team a bit” in 2021.

Which begs the question: is there a skilled workforce for solar jobs in Northern Nevada? So far, Miller and Dickson said they’ve 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’s about the breadth of programs available to those interested in working for a solar energy contractor.

“There’s not a very good workforce here that has solar-specific skills,” Dickson said. “For us, we want someone who has some kind of construction background and is mechanically inclined and not afraid of heights. These are in a way the three great qualifiers.

Miller said the region would see its greatest demand for solar jobs if the Silver State followed California’s lead and required all newly built homes to have solar panels. The mandate went into effect a year ago, in January 2020, in the Golden State.

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

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