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Listen Up: What Is the Future of Solar Distribution?

The most conspicuous driver of the residential solar industry's growth has been large, national-scale solar installers. Their market share has been increasing, primarily because they offer attractive financing to homeowners. Although all solar installers large and small pretty much install the same equipment, for someone who wants solar on their roof, a "no money down" lease is compelling. But there are thousands of smaller, local residential installers who are also thriving in this era of lower equipment prices, higher utility rates and improved awareness of the benefits and reliability of rooftop solar.

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Large-scale solar installers typically order their modules by the container-load, and ship their balance of systems (BOS) directly to regional installation offices or distribution centers; they don't rely on distributors. But the thousands of local installers generally don't order directly from manufacturers; their purchasing volume of one or two systems a week is not big enough to support a direct relationship. Most of these small installers do not have a dedicated purchasing department to get the best price and ensure that all the parts get to the right location on-time. Nor do they want to carry much inventory.

Solar distributors have historically provided these ordering, design support and shipping services to small installers. Distributors make it possible to order — from one website — the blizzard of parts needed to complete an installation: modules, inverters, cables, grounding clips, monitoring components, racks, fuses, flashings...even wire and junction boxes. This one-stop-shop allows local installers to operate efficiently and minimize their inventory investments. Since these small residential installers are indeed thriving, distributors are doing well, too.

My guest on this week's Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is Mark Laabs, chief operating officer of Soligent. In addition to purchasing, Mark and his team are focused on bringing new services to solar installers, such as customer financing, engineering and paperwork processing services. Basically, they want to be an installer's "back office," so installers can focus on what they do best: market, sell, install and service their customers. Please join me as Mark talks about the value that distributors bring to installers, as well as the new services they are rolling out at Soligent.

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don't have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we'll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He's been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock

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