People of the 10th anniversary Top Solar Contractors list: Helge Biernath, Sunstall

For the 10th anniversary of the Top Solar Contractors list, we’re sharing Q&A’s with the people who make the industry run every day. Read more interviews here.

How’d you get started in solar?

Sunstall owes its place in the solar industry to a fun coincidence and a lot of hard work. In 2009, I attended a GACC West Oktoberfest and met a German manager of a solar manufacturing company wanting to start a solar racking firm in the U.S. As is often the case, this chance-meeting started the idea behind Sunstall. Shortly after, myself, Heiko and two more co-founders, Craig and Stefan, founded Sunstall in January 2010, in support of the solar-racking industry.

What’s your favorite part about being in the solar industry?

From Hawaii to Massachusetts, Sunstall has been there to bring solar to the reaches of the U.S. Continuing forward, our mission is to install solar in evermore states, proliferating reusable energy and carrying forward our key partnerships. That is a cool feature in our part of the industry — we see and experience many pockets of our great nation with new challenges everywhere. Ten years later, Sunstall has worked in 23 states and installed solar on all kinds of terrains and under the harshest conditions.

What has surprised you the most about the solar industry in the last 10 years?

Probably the lack of focus on quality work. Given that we are part of the energy distribution system you would expect the same scrutiny as if we were building a “conventional” power plant, but it seems that we are only focusing on lowest capital expenditure. Given the life expectancy of the assets, we believe that that is a mistake. Quality is key for our future swarm-like distributed generation and distribution of energy.

What are your solar predictions for the next 10 years?

Stefan Bauer, CTO, is following the trends: “The solar industry is innovating every day, from GPS and drone use, to higher efficiencies in the modules, to higher density in batteries.” The industry is innovating on every level – from business model innovations to floating solar. “Witnessing all of the novel changes makes it especially exciting to work in solar right now,” Stefan adds.

How’d you/your company stand out in the last year?

Teamwork, consistency, honesty and focus has made us stand out, survive and thrive over the last 10 years! When we started it was just the founders trying to get the startup going, but soon after, many “Sunstallers” joined the team and supported us on projects across the country. A big thanks to all who have worked at Sunstall to support the energy transition in our country.

How are you helping to improve the industry?

Sunstall has nurtured for years the idea that only people and especially the younger global generation will further the transition out of the carbon-driven economy. Therefore, we had interns working with us from Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Turkey and Poland. These young professionals will be the advocates for renewables in the future.

What was it like entering the market in 2011?

It was tough not knowing anybody in the industry, and not having performed the SOW, we were very nervous. The first “big job,” Baldock Solar Highway PV south of Portland, Oregon (1.8 MW) was a big stepping stone, but caused a lot of friction as the organization was not ready for such a big installation. In the end the client was more than happy and provided big kudos to Sunstall.

How has your solar business changed from when it started?

The sum of failures is called experience! We had quite some failures along the road, mostly initiated by weather events which demonstrates that our services depend on project conditions. Today we have processes and tools to manage the projects better than when we started, but identifying all the risks is still challenging.

Back in 2011 it was very hard to understand which project is really going to be executed and if we have a chance to win it. The ratio has positively changed — most of the projects these days are real and so the sales process is more efficient.

Ten years on, what advice would you give yourself or the company back in 2011?

Stay calm and carry on — good things will happen!