Tips for residential solar installers looking to expand into small commercial and industrial solar markets

Residential installers who want to expand their business are looking at opportunities in the small commercial and industrial (C&I) solar market as a pathway for growth. Businesses, schools, healthcare groups and other organizations are thinking about modest-sized solar options to decrease their energy costs and become more sustainable. Here are a few things experienced residential rooftop solar installers should consider as they expand from helping homeowners go solar to helping C&I customers go solar—while creating a new revenue stream in the process.

First, it’s a natural transition from residential installations to taking on slightly larger projects, one that doesn’t require a huge change in installation techniques and has a relatively mild learning curve. Small commercial rooftop solar arrays range from 10 KW (the size of a large residential project) to 250 KW in size. The solar design software used for C&I projects is similar to that found in the residential sector, employing advanced technology like drones and 3D modeling to good effect.

Commercial roofs are usually flat or mildly pitched, and safer and easier to work on than smaller, more constrained pitched residential rooftops. Flat-roof racking and mounting hardware are often ballasted, penetrating or nonpenetrating systems that might be unfamiliar to some residential installers. However, the nonpenetrating systems are relatively easy to install, since they are Lego-like in their layout, have a consistent module-tilt angle, include a small number of SKUs, and require no roof-hole drilling.

These bigger C&I projects also open the door to upgrade from 60/120-cell modules to larger format 72/144-cell modules that are usually not suitable for residential jobs. There may be a significant cost savings in using the larger modules since they produce more energy than their residential cousins (at least 25% more in nameplate power output), so fewer modules and less balance of systems gear are needed—plus the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for the system is optimized. In addition, bifacial modules have almost reached price parity with monofacial modules and are starting to be deployed for C&I projects, offering another opportunity to increase system power output and achieve lower LCOE.

On the customer side of the C&I sector, they generally have more buying power by virtue of their larger installations. Depending on the customer, there may be a dedicated purchasing team that is sophisticated and understands their energy needs. This means that the C&I customer will require a more targeted and specialized approach than the residential homeowner.

But that extra time and effort that goes into these longer-term, relationship-based sales will pay off with more revenue and—if all goes well—possible return business down the line (adding energy storage batteries or EV chargers, for example) and positive word of mouth in the local business community.

This post was contributed and sponsored by LONGi Solar.

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