Roof-mounted solar installations are going, well, through the roof. After a record-breaking 2016 — nearly double the previous record — the market is projected to triple over the next five years, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
“It would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “…While the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction — up.” In terms of dollars, the U.S. solar power industry has exploded from $42.8 million in 2007 to an expected $210.4 million by 2017, according to Statistia.
Meanwhile, manufacturers are producing new building integrated products that make it easier than ever to install roof-mounted solar panels and properly incorporate them into the roof structure, said John Schehl, executive director of NRCA’s Roof Integrated Solar Energy Program. Tesla is even offering a product that replaces the shingle all together.
But if you think roofers are getting rich off this solar bonanza, think again. Thanks to inconsistent license requirements and roofers’ general discomfort with solar business particulars, many roofers are seeding this market to other contractors. And they’re not getting any help from government.
For example, in California, the nation’s largest solar market, installers are required to have one of four contractor’s licenses. Roofer is not among them, said Aaron Nitzkin, CEO of Solar Roof Dynamics, which helps roofers incorporate solar into their business. Most states require a licensed electrician to install solar panels.
But that doesn’t mean roofers should give up on the market, because solar is a natural upsell for roofers, Nitzkin said. “Every roofer when asked to bid on a roof should say, ‘You want fries with your burger?’”
Nitzkin said one of the biggest challenges solar installation firms face are customer acquisition costs which are between $2,000 to $6,000 per customer. “It’s pretty crazy,” he said. But roofing contractors don’t have to spend anything for their solar leads — they already have them in their roofing customers. “If you’re getting 1,000 calls a year, that’s 1,000 free solar leads,” he said.
Incorporating solar into roofing also diversifies the business so it’s better able to weather economic downturns. In California, where solar demand is strongest, more and more roofing contractors are offering solar, Nitzkin said. A good strategy is partnering with other solar companies, bringing solar capabilities in-house or finding some middle ground between the two, he added.
So why aren’t more roofers capitalizing on solar? Nitzkin said part of it comes down to the difficulties of selling a different kind of product. Unlike installing a roof, which typically is something people need, solar is more of a want. That means roofers have to know how to sell the benefits of solar. “You have to convince them that they want it,” Nitzkin said.
Convincing solar customers means understanding sometimes convoluted utility rates, tax credits and other incentives that have made the solar industry boom.
Solar is also a completely different sales model. Unlike roofing which is fairly straight forward, solar means understanding design and financing options. “A lot of roofing contractors underestimate the complexity of solar,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean roofers should shy away from solar, he added, especially as it gains in popularity. “If you don’t talk about solar or at least ask about it, you’re leaving money on the table,” Nitzkin said.