Adding solar installation to your construction repertoire
In this special edition of Contractor’s Corner, we speak with commercial and residential solar contractor Motive Energy about the process of integrating solar construction services at the enterprise level. Eli Edwards, general manager of Motive Energy, explains the process of adding solar power and how the company handles PV installations with new customers.
Below is a portion of the company’s Solar Spotlight podcast featuring Solar Power World, but be sure to listen to the full episode here or in your favorite podcast app.
If you’re a non-solar contractor with customers looking to add solar, where do you start to bring that reach into your business?
- 1 If you’re a non-solar contractor with customers looking to add solar, where do you start to bring that reach into your business?
- 2 What steps are required to add solar power to a project?
- 3 What types of suppliers and contractors are needed to add solar energy to a project?
- 4 What are the biggest challenges most people face when building out a solar energy project?
- 5 Away from challenges and obstacles, where have you found success as a partner for your customers?
I think for any contractor who works with clients, your main goal is to create value for your clients, by trying to add more capabilities that benefit their business, or to make their lives better or easier. Most contractors when their clients approach them to either do solar — or they’re thinking about adding solar to a project — the big questions that come right out of the gate are: how much is it going to be? And how much space will it take up? Many customers when they are first exposed to a solar project have ideas about what it will cost or if it will take up their entire parking space or every ounce of building weight they can possibly get on the roof and it will be a lot of trouble and trouble. yield. While in reality it is usually a very simple process for the customer to enjoy.
We like to start with customers who only talk about the added value of solar energy, to make sure they understand that any system, whether it’s on their roof, helps to offset the flow of the sun’s rays hitting the roof , or whether it’s carports in their parking lot that give their employees extra shade on their cars during the day – that’s valuable, let alone the fact that hopefully our main goal is to save the customer money on their energy bill. We want the contractors and the people who work with clients to focus on the positives and work through them and create a realistic picture for their client, going through each step leading up to that project.
What steps are required to add solar power to a project?
We start with the customer, a site walk. We’re going to the facility. For a regular service we usually need no more than 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes. We’ll take some pictures of the electrical room. You need to understand how the switchgear and interconnections are going to work. If it’s a greenfield facility or not yet operational, we need plans and can work from plans. But we need to understand where we’re going to connect that solar energy back to the facility. Take pictures and do some measurements in the parking lots or on the roofs to see where we are going to place solar energy. Then we go back to our offices, we develop a layout. So we have software that we have integrated with our projects that takes accurate measurements of the site, precise measurements of modules and designs, puts everything together and we can make a model that shows how much the sun is going to affect those modules, how much production will come out of those solar panels and how many of those modules will then be pushed back to the grid or consumed by the customer.
We make an estimate based on the production from the sun to the solar panel. We put together a cost price based on our experience in the industry. We’ve been around since 2007, so we’ve been doing this for a while. We make our cost estimates, develop a proposal and then deliver it to the customer. Once they have the proposal they can make tweaks, adjustments, where some customers may want to do more carports on a roof or in a parking lot or more solar panels on a roof to save costs. So we can go back and forth a bit and work with them to develop that.
What types of suppliers and contractors are needed to add solar energy to a project?
It takes an army to do this kind of work. We often say in solar space, “It’s not rocket science.” If you look at it on a simplistic scale, you take some solar panels, some glass and silicon, and you let some sun pass through it. There is a DC wire to an AC inverter and back to a switching device. For most contractors in the industry, that is not difficult. Where it gets very difficult on the sunny side is that we do most things backwards. The amount of staff and expertise is more than most people would expect. We bring developers into our staff to design it and have it engineered. We are a general contractor or EPC (engineer, procure, construct), utility coordinators, people who work with the utility company to make sure the way we design the system matches the way they want to receive it. Every utility company in California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, anywhere has completely unique sets of guidelines and you need to make sure that when you send power to the grid you follow those guidelines.
What are the biggest challenges most people face when building out a solar energy project?
The major challenge that most people face in solar projects is the fact that solar projects are built backwards. In most cases, when you design a system or disclose a system or whatever, the client goes to an architect or a designer and they design a system and then it is designed and all the details are put together. Materials to be used, square footage, the whole project is designed and shipped to be built. In solar energy we go in ourselves. The client doesn’t have an architect or engineer or anyone.
That’s one of the biggest challenges solar contractors and EPCs face, coming up with accurate designs and costs that can complete a project without customers having to introduce change orders or solutions. That’s a big part of it.
Away from challenges and obstacles, where have you found success as a partner for your customers?
The first statement I made as a seller or service provider is that our primary goal is to provide our customers with a product that saves them money, adds value to their business and makes their lives easier. Those are really important aspects, because hopefully you’re trying to build customers for repeat business and a general rapport and hold each other accountable. One of the most important measures for us to be successful and therefore make our clients successful in the contracts and projects we work on, is counting on the people we work with. Every project we do, because it’s a little different, you need dynamic partners. You need people who can take on a challenge, have the technical expertise or the construction expertise and can handle the challenges that arise.
This podcast is sponsored by the Nucor Corporation