Commercial Solar Panels: What Installers Need To Know
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
Tapping into the commercial solar installation market is appealing for many PV companies. It opens up a whole new world of solar projects and potential clients. As a commercial installer, you can expand your reach and visibility in the community, while increasing knowledge and skills.
It’s essential to know that the commercial & industrial (C&I) and residential markets are fundamentally different in certain ways. These differences span the entire project, from attracting leads to ongoing relationships after the PV installation. Gaining some understanding of these differences will help promote success, from start to finish.
This guide will help prepare solar panel installation companies for serving the C&I market while avoiding common pitfalls.
Getting Commercial Solar Power Clients
Many of the tricks of the trade for bringing in high-quality residential leads also apply to commercial leads but with a few modifications. For example, it’s helpful to make your website demonstrate that you install C&I solar projects to gain confidence in your target market. Likewise, modifying your online SEO efforts to incorporate C&I-specific terms with applicable content is crucial. This can involve profiling past commercial solar power projects in case studies, creating a commercial solar section of the website, and writing relevant blog posts.
Also, consider who is your target market and could most benefit from a solar power system. Water districts, wastewater treatment facilities, schools and universities, and local governments are an excellent place to start. Likewise, hotels, farms, manufacturing plants, health care centers, and churches are also good candidates. Then, figure out who is the decision-maker for a project and the ideal person or people to communicate with, such as a CEO, CFO, plant manager, town manager, sustainability executive, etc.
Finally, figure out how to connect with these people, such as by email, social media campaigns, or in-person at events. When you create marketing content, think about the materials from their point of view by considering their goals, concerns, and motives.
What Installers Should Be Aware Of When Starting A Commercial Solar Installation
Some commercial projects take longer to plan and receive approval, but they can be more lucrative than residential installations. Because C&I projects vary so much, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. These projects might also be more demanding from an engineering standpoint.
If you need assistance with client-ready proposals and professional engineering reviews, contact Greenlancer.
Understand The Parties Involved
Often, relationships are a bit more complex on C&I solar systems and involve more key players. When you first get involved with a project, examine the key stakeholders and what the contract approval process entails.
If you are installing a photovoltaic system on a school, it might be safer and easier to install the solar panels when the students are not around or to avoid placing equipment near the main entrances. When installing a solar farm on a capped landfill, Environmental Protection Agency approval is required.
For some projects, the building owner and tenant are not the same entity. Who is responsible for paying the utility bills? Does the tenant understand the benefits of solar energy on lowering energy bills? Understanding the length of the lease and the tenant-owner relationship is beneficial in crafting a sales pitch.
Some clients might be eligible for grant funding, perhaps under the REAP grant program. If your project involves a nonprofit, a board of directors will likely be involved. Some local governments may require a town vote to move a solar PV project forward.
Whenever possible, nurture relationships to earn trust, just like you do with homeowners for residential projects. Respond to emails and phone calls promptly to show professionalism.
Understand The Solar Energy Options For Commercial Buildings
When getting started, learn as much about the facility and the energy needs of the organization. Often, this involves reviewing a year or more of electricity bills so you can understand how solar panels will reduce their operating costs.
Then, decide if a ground mount or roof mount is better. Examining all the major aspects of the project helps with accurately pricing a job and preventing change orders or installation delays. Let’s explore a few of the critical considerations.
Are there any interconnection challenges you will need to overcome with the project?
Are they planning any building or electrical equipment updates or upgrades soon that would make adding solar easier or harder?
Are there anticipated changes in the energy needs of the facilities? For example, are they planning to switch their fleet to electric vehicles or install heat pumps?
Is there shading where you will install the solar modules? If so, are there ways to mitigate production loss from shading?
Would your client benefit from additional clean energy technologies, such as EV chargers, or creating a solar carport in a parking lot?
Is there a criterion you need to meet to obtain financing or take advantage of incentives or rebates?
Can your client pay the upfront cost of the solar investment?
For Rooftop Solar
What roof obstructions will you need to accommodate?
Is the orientation of the roof not optimal? Are there ways to overcome this?
Is the load-bearing capacity of the roof an issue?
Are there roof warranties that you need to adhere with for either pitched or flat roofs?
For Ground Mounted PV Systems
Is the land cleared, or will this need to be done?
Are there concerns related to the topography of the site?
Are there areas of the property you need to avoid when planning the solar farm?
Are there any geologic features of the site that will limit your racking options or use of equipment?
Be Ready To Explain Financing for Commercial Solar Systems
Similar to residential projects, understanding solar financing options, incentives, and net metering are critical. These factors will change the impact of the solar array on the organization’s bottom line. The tax incentives for C&I projects vary slightly from residential projects. Keep in mind that only for-profit companies can take advantage of the tax credits and write-offs.
Thus, non-profits such as condominium associations, churches, environmental nonprofits, and government agencies typically miss out on the solar tax incentives, including the federal tax credit. For this reason, power purchase agreements (PPAs) for nonprofits are often more advantageous than purchasing the system outright.
For-profit organizations, such as hotels, rental properties, office buildings, factories, farms, and golf courses can usually take advantage of the 30% investment tax credit (ITC) and tax write-offs. The latter involves either bonus depreciation in year one or Modified Accelerated Cost-Recovery System (MACRS) over 6 years.
In addition, there are local solar incentives or rebates available in some areas through governmental agencies or utility companies. REAP grants or loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture might be a good option in rural areas. Also, Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) might be an additional source of income from a commercial solar energy system.
Know How To Debunk Common Solar Panel Myths
Because solar PV is a relatively new technology, there are many myths and misconceptions. Many clients or critical stakeholders will raise concerns about solar panel maintenance, equipment warranties, and the impacts of cloudy weather on solar production. They may wonder if solar panels will pay for themselves in cold climates or think that an array without batteries can store energy. Prepare yourself to dispel myths by providing accurate information.
Create Professional Commercial Solar Panel Proposals
A critical aspect of showing professionalism is having a polished solar PV proposal. Ensure that your proposal is thorough, attractive, and well-written. Some solar system design software helps generate proposals and provide visual elements. Brand your proposal, so it includes your logo, relevant images, and even your company colors.
Think through all the design challenges and take your client’s preferences and budget into account. Remember to understand your client’s needs and then highlight the financing options, solar incentives, and the best solar technologies for the given project. Your solar proposal should also include pricing, return on investment calculations, an installation timeline, solar equipment, and required permits and approvals. Provide an overview of your team, citing relevant certifications, education, and experience.
Often, solar installers do not have the time or expertise in-house to create permit drawings and satisfy engineering needs. GreenLancer can provide client-ready proposals and drawings and get a P.E. seal of approval. Work with us to make your next project a breeze!