In one way, 2017 was a fairly typical year for Milestone Solar. But in other ways, it saw some major milestones.
It was typical in that, like the past five or so years, the total number of installations has been extremely consistent – somewhere between 40 and 50 – while the distribution of the systems across four states seems to vary from year to year. West Virginia usually gets the most installs, and second through fourth place switch between Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania almost yearly.
Three developments made 2017 anything but typical.
First, and from our point of view, one of the biggest changes in 2017, was the decision by SolarCity and Vivint to stop marketing leased systems in Maryland and move to a sales model instead. The plummeting value of SRECs in Maryland is probably the reason for this change, in my opinion. The so-called “free” systems model apparently doesn’t work profitably for the leasing company without homeowners surrendering high-value SRECs in addition to federal and state incentives, and without the companies’ ability to aggregate the leased installs to take advantage of accelerated depreciation. It was a sweet deal for the leasing companies – for consumers, not so much in my opinion. Certainly they were never free systems.
The second really big story this year was the complaint filed with the International Trade Commission by Suniva and SolarWorld alleging they were the victims of unfair trade practices and asking for tariffs to be placed on imported solar modules and cells. The fact that both companies are majority owned by foreign concerns makes this too rich, but the process went forward. The reviewing panel ruled that there was some validity to the claims and forwarded recommendations to the White House for final action. Mr. Trump can basically take whatever action he wants, and estimates on what the final result will be are all over the place. It does seem likely that there will be tariffs of some sort, though. The decision is expected in January 2018
Everyone in the solar industry not employed by Suniva or SolarWorld seems to agree that this action will negatively impact the industry. The big commercial integrators will be hit hardest, but even small residential systems will likely go up in price as a result of Suniva and SolarWorld attempting to get solar consumers to pay for their failed business practices. No matter what the final ruling is, most in the industry think that Suniva is not likely to come back and that SolarWorld will re-emerge in one form or another.
Last, and far from least, 2017 was a very neat milestone year for Milestone Solar. Ok, pun intended. By about mid-year we installed and commissioned our 200th residential system. For a small operator like us, that’s a pretty big milestone. The systems we installed run the gamut – grid-tied, grid-tied battery backup, ground-mount, off-grid, direct connect water pumping, and some I may not be remembering. When I started the business in 2009, I really wondered if I could ever sell 20 systems, let alone 200.
I can’t begin to express how grateful we are to the many families that trusted us to design and deliver a solar system that was specific to their requirements, budget and expectations.
Another big thing for us was that we became Authorized Installers of Panasonic Solar Modules. I’ve been tracking their high-performance modules for years, and always wanted to offer them as an option. When I first looked into them, the Panasonics were Sanyo. The other great module was SunPower. I contacted SunPower more than once and they made it clear that we were too small to be of interest to them.
As often is the case, it worked out fine. We’re very happy with Panasonics and believe they let us offer one of the world’s best solar modules, and do so as an Authorized Installer. We definitely offer other modules as well, and are happy to go over the pros and cons with all recommended components, just as we always have.
Incidentally, our success with Panasonic modules has not gone unnoticed. At least two other West Virginia companies are recently selling Panasonic systems, but they are not Authorized Installers. If you’d like know what you’re not getting, drop me an email.
And about the 200-system milestone, it’s also true that I have personally entered the configurations and turned-up (commissioned) every system to date. I shared this recently at a holiday lunch with a friend who owns three successful businesses and probably has well over 100 employees. His reply: “That’s great, Bill, but you know it doesn’t scale. You’ll never get much bigger until you have other people doing some of that stuff.”
He’s right, of course, as all the others who’ve pointed this out. Growing and expanding is part of the DNA of must successful entrepreneurs, and at some point I may look into their recommendations. But for now we’ll likely stay fairly small, with the same goals we started out with in 2009.
Installing Best of Class Solar Systems composed of:
- Best of Class components
- Best of Class engineering and design
- Best of Class installation practices
- Total compliance with all state and local requirements as to licenses and insurance
- Highly qualified personnel in terms of training, formal education and professional certifications
By staying relatively small with low overhead, we can continue to deliver all this at a fair and reasonable price. We’re usually very competitive pricewise in honest apples-to-apples evaluations.
By the way one, reviewer recently called us a “boutique installer.” That’s a good thing – right?
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018, and our most sincere thanks again to the customers that chose us to deliver their systems in 2017 and all previous years. I understand they have options.