What would it take to double the number of solar projects you do next year?

Every solar company should be asking this question right now. Because the demand is there. We’ve arrived at an energy inflection point. Solar is the cheapest form of electricity and people that weren’t thinking about solar before are ready to move now. But…what if our industry isn’t ready?

Solar Companies Are Turning Away Business

My family is putting solar on our house, finally 😬 , after fifteen years in renewable energy education. Even in a state (Michigan) with lame incentives, the costs are now low enough that solar is a no-brainer.

Many of our neighbors have been thinking about solar and want to do it now that we’ve done the homework. But when I told our installer – a friend – that we have ten more customers for him, he said they can’t handle more business right now. He told me to refer them elsewhere.

This blew my mind. Business owners don’t walk away from an opportunity to work with more customers, right? But when I reached out to another local solar installer and they said the same thing. Friends in other states have shared similar experiences.

What is happening? What is the most interesting entrepreneurial response? Who is best suited to capitalize? These are questions I asked friends on LinkedIn and the responses were interesting.

Too Much Business Can Sink a Company

Prolific solar instructor and renaissance man Sean White made a great point that I hadn’t considered: 

“I’m in the same position. I have contractors licenses, but no time. I am having trouble finding people to refer to that will get jobs completed in a timely manner.

I have been embarrassed by referring to someone that does not know how to turn down business and they have taken almost 2 years on a job. I wish they would have been like your friend and admitted that they had no time. They do good work, with good intention, but just grew too fast. The owner of this company works every waking hour (and probably in his sleep). He has huge accounts receivables, probably over a million, but no time to collect. His phone is constantly ringing with people that are upset that the projects are delayed constantly.

They say that one of the main reasons businesses fail is because they grow too fast and cannot keep up with the growth. My last referral was to tell a friend to call an 800 number.

We need way more competent solar businesses, installers, designers, inspectors, etc. This industry has grown much faster than the most optimistic projections. Solar PV is now the cheapest energy in the world, cheaper than coal, nuclear, natural gas and barely cheaper than big wind. Please help us get more people into this industry!”

Starting a Business and Scaling a Company Are Two Different Skills

Brittany Heller, a workforce development leader from GRID Alternatives keyed in on a key differentiator for companies that can scale: 

“It’s a situation I’m seeing all the time now. There’s so much growth in solar and not nearly enough skilled folks to get the work done. Wages and benefits are being bolstered to attract talent. Companies that aren’t competitive enough (in regards to attracting and retaining talent) are folding or are unable to move through their pipeline in a timely manner.

It seems that the key to running a successful solar business is creating an inclusive company culture where staff are afforded opportunities for training and growth as well as compensated well for their time, energy, and expertise.”

What do Solar Companies Need to Survive 100% Growth?

I’ve never managed a fast growing solar company so I don’t claim to have all the answers. But certainly these are some of the things a solar company would need in order to double in size:

  • New processes and systems
  • A strong culture
  • Good recruiting and onboarding
  • Opportunities for professional growth
  • Technology

You might also wonder if survival is a worthy goal. You might ask,

  • Can we grow 100% and still be proud of how we treat customers?
  • Can we grow 100% and continue doing work we love without getting burned out?
  • Can we grow 100% and stay profitable?
  • Can we grow 100% and have a life outside of work?
  • Can we grow 100% and continue to develop in your career?

The last fifteen years were about technology and business model innovation to compete with coal and natural gas. The next fifteen years will be about professionalizing the solar industry to meet the exponential growth in demand.

Can we do it?