Contractor’s Corner: Cosmic Solar
It’s no secret that utilities are struggling in California right now. With wildfires increasing in intensity every year, more utilities have to turn off the power to save their grids. It is forcing even more people to consider solar and storage to create their own microgrids to keep emergency services online.
So it’s not particularly surprising that state-owned investor-owned utilities are making that age-old claim that solar customers aren’t paying enough to maintain the power grid. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is now considering a monthly fee for solar energy customers, and solar advocates have joined the utilities’ attempt to “undermine consumer choice.”
It leaves installers fun Cosmic solar energy in a precarious position. In this episode of the Contractor’s Corner podcast, Solar Power World Editor-in-Chief Kelly Pickerel talks to Cosmic co-owners Bahram and Judith Shadzi about how they “Red California SolarAnd diversifiable into roofing and maintenance services to ensure the 13-year-old business stays afloat in the worst case scenario.
Part of the interview is below, but make sure to listen to the full podcast for even more insight, including how the Shadzis’ solar-powered home has encouraged customer confidence in the product and how the education of customers has evolved over the past decade.
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Judith: Bahram was offered a job in San Diego, so we ended up here. We saw solar information coming in the post and I said, ‘Here’s what to do. This is your job. ‘I studied consumer economics, so I think that helped us on the consumer side with customer service. We started 13 years ago and at that time there were already 10 strong solar companies in San Diego. We would go to the fairs on the fair grounds and there would be so many solar companies there. We live in a smaller town so we decided it would be better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. I had just finished teaching and people needed to learn more about solar energy, so we started taking classes in the library. We advertised in the newspaper and we started to have about 30 people. That year we started our first sun lanes. Then we slowly started to grow. We started in our boarding house office and now have three warehouses and a large office with about 28 employees.
Bahram: So many customers are waiting [for batteries]. We live in a fire zone, so the electricity companies cut off the power to protect their systems. So our customers are very concerned about this, and the battery has received a lot of attention, but we are struggling to get supplies. We have maybe 45 to 50 customers currently waiting for different types of batteries.
The licensing process is getting very cumbersome in California right now. It sometimes takes three to four months to get a permit. Sometimes we have all the equipment and everything ready, but we do not have a permit. Sometimes we have the permit and we don’t have the materials. There are many challenges. That has a lot to do with COVID. A lot of [permitting] people work from home so it has slowed down. Last year, we were able to get a rooftop permit in one or two days, and a ground mount in maybe a week. But now rooftop living probably takes a month and ground-mounted systems lasts three to four months. Lots of customers are waiting, but we just can’t do anything until we get the permits.
Bahram: When we’re done with a client, we have what we call the ‘closing process’, so we usually send one of our technical reps with the data. We turn it on and go through this process with them. We also offer a warranty package with all the information about their system – the single line drawings, the permits. We ask them if they are satisfied with our service to refer us to their friends and neighbors and rate us as well. We just ask, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. We don’t really push people. We just ask politely and we hope they will. Most of our customers answer that they are satisfied and that they are happy to do it. I would say 90% of our business is just word of mouth.