Contractors Corner: Creative Solar USA

The Georgia solar market is fairly dependable. Consistently in the Top 10 states by installed solar capacity, Georgia has a strong utility-scale pipeline, mostly fueled by large arrays that support major corporations. But the residential and commercial markets are just as strong, said Russell Seifert, CEO of local installer Creative Solar USA.

In this episode of the Contractors Corner podcast, Solar Power World editor-in-chief Kelly Pickerel talks with Seifert about how Creative Solar has found success in the Southeast market for the last 13 years. Early inclusion of energy storage into its service offerings likely contributed to the company’s steady growth. Seifert said over 70% of the Creative Solar USA’s solar installations come paired with storage.

A portion of the interview is below, but be sure to listen to the full podcast for even more insight, including how Creative Solar explains whole-home backup to customers and why representation in local and national solar groups is important. We also have a bonus conversation with Solar Power World editors Kelsey Misbrener and Billy Ludt about how new products are transforming the installation process.

Find the Contractors Corner podcast on your favorite podcast app. Thank you to this month’s sponsor, Roof Tech. Roof Tech’s self-flashing solar mounts, such as the RT-APEX and the RT-MINI, are improving the lives of solar installers with more efficiency and faster installation. Roof Tech, the global pioneer of waterproof flexible flashing since 1994.

There are new solar products coming out all the time. How do you get comfortable with new products, and what’s the process at your company for deciding when it’s time to try something new?

One of the things I thought [at the beginning] is that I didn’t want any of our clients to be guinea pigs on a beta project or beta material. So we’ll typically wait for the second generation to come out and see what their challenges were on the first go-around and see where they end up on the second. We didn’t become a Tesla dealer until just last year. They asked us why, and I said, “Well you guys are having problems. You’re also having issues with your delivery times.” When they said, “How about if we can prove to you we can give them to you in 10 days?” I said, “I’m game.”

When it comes to our roofing, we have a mock-up roof that we do our training with. When we get a new product, we’ll have them send us samples and we’ll ask the team what they think. They’ll look at it and see if it’s time-effective as far as the installation, if it’s any better than what we’re using and if it’s universal with other manufacturers. Sometimes we’ll have good responses, and other times we’ll get “meh.”

Now with the ITC extended at 26% for two more years, does that change your marketing efforts? Do you think the industry needs tax credits?

We were anticipating a big push because of the ITC going away on residential, and now with this, we see people taking their time a bit more and not feeling rushed. I still think [the industry] needs tax credits but I don’t think they need them as bad. Some people may differ, but I don’t think we need rebates. We have enough debt in our country right now due to the pandemic, but I think tax credits are a good incentive for people. The cost of solar will come down to get to the point where we can [make it affordable for those with] below-average income. I’ve been in the market 13 years and we’ve seen the cost of an installation go down 60%. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.

What would Creative Solar USA like to accomplish in 2021?

People always want to be able to grow and create opportunities for the people inside their company. That’s what we’re really focused on this year: to get the existing people that we have within our company to grow on a personal level to where they’re still passionate, they’re engaged with us. We want to create a stronger position to where it allows us to grow in outside states. One of them we’re looking at is Colorado.

We are implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, which is a cloud-based platform. It has been a serious learning curve, but if we are to grow and to become more efficient, these are some of the things that you have to start thinking about. You’ve also got to get your people on board and have your people also staying up-to-date and trained. I think it’s really important that you find people that are engaged, passionate and committed, and you let them take the ball and run with it.