The rooftop solar installation market is so young that many companies who want to give it a go often find it difficult to obtain the money and the know-how to expand their business.
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long-time solar equipment supplier, Soligent, wants to turn that challenge into a money-making opportunity by launching a service to companies that need extra help in any of the key steps in the sales, design and installation process.
For example, if you are good at selling solar energy systems and contracts but not so efficient at designing the systems, getting permits and installing the equipment, then you could turn to Soligent to find contractors to do the work.
You could pay California-based Soligent a fee for using its software to better track the process from sales to construction and find contractors to do some of the work you don’t want to undertake. Or you could sell the deals you closed to Soligent, which then farm out those jobs to installers on its roster.
Soligent also acts as a broker for connecting solar installers with banks or companies that provide financing for leases or power purchase agreements. Home or business owners who don’t want to own the solar equipment could sign those long-term contracts to pay for only the electricity generated.
What makes Soligent an interesting company to watch is its ambition to become a connector among solar companies that are facing larger and better-funded competitors that are widening their territories quickly in states with good solar incentives. The company has been an solar equipment whole seller for 33 years and serves about 4,500 companies in the United States.
Managing relationships and deal flows among companies of different sizes and work cultures will be a big challenge for Soligent. The company will be testing the efficiency of its new service as much as its customers will.
Many new comers in the solar business are really roofers and electricians who branched into solar, or brand new companies that see opportunities in this emerging market.
Players that now dominate the market include SolarCity, Vivint, Verengo and Real Goods Solar. Their growth has been tied to their ability to raise money for financing installations and the systems they have set up to improve the efficiency of their operations, from making sales to tracking permits to putting solar panels on the roof.
With sizable scale and revenues, these larger companies can afford to buy companies to further improve how quickly they can complete the sales and installation steps. Both SolarCity and Real Goods recently bought several companies to do just that.
Some of players enjoy heavy financial backing from parent companies. NRG Solar is part of NRG Energy, which operates lots of natural and coal fired power plants. Edison International bought solar installer, SoCore Energy, last year to gain a foothold in the rooftop solar business. SunPower makes solar panels and develops solar power generation projects for businesses and utilities, and it’s part of the French oil and gas giant, Total.
Soligent promises to deliver its service to its customers at a cost that is less than what those companies would otherwise spend to boost their own staff to do the work.
“The market is growing faster than any of these dealers can grow,” said Jonathan Doochin, who joined Soligent as its CEO six months ago. He said Soligent’s service “changes everybody’s game.”
Doochin founded Clark Energy Group, which carries out retrofit projects to make government and commercial buildings use energy more efficiently. He became an advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy when the department began to dole out billions of dollars in grants and loan guarantees to solar companies as part of the Recovery Act.
Soligent, which has 160 employees, launched its new service in California, New Jersey, Arizona and Hawaii back in October. It will now make it available to customers in other states.