Mark Hagerty, Michigan Solar Solutions
How did you get started in solar energy?
I have always had a love for science and nature. Around 2003 I started investing in shares of solar, wind and fuel cells. During my research, it became clear that solar energy would explode from any direction. There were technological innovations, rising electricity rates, favorable bills issued by government agencies, and our network was vulnerable to both cyber and physical attacks. We had to move our grid from a centralized architecture to a distributed architecture. Only solar had the potential to deliver the peak loads when we needed them.
What is your favorite part of working in the solar industry?
My favorite part is watching everything come together. Solar energy was something that only the wealthy could afford and that required major incentives. Now someone who only cares about the return on investment can see the value of solar energy even without any incentives.
It was nice to see batteries go from utopia to mainstream. What was a vision is now reality. Due to market forces, solar energy beats all other forms of energy generation and no one can stop it.
What has surprised you most about the solar industry in the past 10 years?
The biggest surprise is where the price is today. We used to have to sell a system for $8+/W. Now we quote commercial jobs for about $2/W. The first solar panels I bought were Evergreen Solar 200-W panels for $4.55/W; nearly $1,000 for a solar panel. Now we can sell a 400W solar panel for less than $1/W.
What are your solar predictions for the next 10 years?
With the utility sector’s relentless struggle to save their archaic business model, they will hasten their demise by encouraging customers to install batteries. They won’t intend to, but with increases in grid access rates, for back-feeding solar overproduction, this will happen by default. The market will find cheaper ways to purchase lithium or find a replacement. Batteries become part of every solar installation.
The pioneers will also convert their solar panels from generating electricity to making hydrogen in ten years’ time. With this hydrogen, a house can run on a fuel cell. Fuel cell technology was where solar energy was in the early 2000s.
Finally, building integrated solar energy will be commonplace in 10 years. The roofing, siding, and windows will all generate electricity. Electrical panels will be available with built-in grid-connected inverters. The roofing, siding and windows simply terminate in the electrical panel.
How did you/your company stand out in the past year?
We took the shutdown as an opportunity to reorganize our entire company. With the growth rate that we have had in recent years, we had to reorganize. We have by far the best customer reviews of any installation company in Michigan. Due to the rapid expansion of the last few years, we started to become disorganized and did not provide the service we all need internally. This caused a very high level of stress as none of us were used to dealing with dissatisfied customers.
How do you help improve the industry?
We try to raise the bar for quality service across the state. We’re promoting our free “How to Choose a Solar Contractor” pamphlet. This strongly encourages customers to check the BBB, Google reviews, and multiple other review sources. It also includes the insurance and licenses that clients must require proof of before hiring anyone. We run at least four blogs a month with topics like, “No, solar isn’t free” to combat misleading advertising, which seems to be rampant in our industry. The majority of our competitors are very good, honest companies that have become friends over the years. But like in any industry there is that one guy who only cares about money. We have a program where we help customers who have hurt them. We repair systems, answer questions and teach them how to monitor their system.
How do you maintain consistent quality in rooftop solar projects?
Our field sales manager, Karl Hercula, has a strong passion for quality. He is a very hard worker who won’t think twice about letting one of his crews redo something that wasn’t done right. He is given full autonomy to make these decisions. He is highly respected by me and his crew leads for his energy level, level of integrity and in-depth knowledge of all things related to delivering quality work.
When SolarWorld was there, they had a program to become and remain a Platinum Installer. Part of this was using our co-op dollars to hire an outside research firm called GuildQuality. The surveys would be sent to each orbit and the responses would go to SolarWorld and we would receive a copy. As a result, we noticed a change in the personality of the company. When everyone knows they will receive a report, they tend to work a little harder to exceed customer expectations. Although SolarWorld no longer exists, we have continued with GuildQuality for the value their service provides to help us continuously improve.