Next wave of solar roofs built by electrical contractors and roofers

There are two remarkable things about the 25 kilowatt solar system that Frederic Roofing has just completed. One is how mundane the 84-year-old roofing company’s first solar installation was and the second is where the company will build its second system.

“Probably the hardest part of the job was getting everything on the roof,” VP Gene Frederic said of the installation on the AJ Adhesives distribution warehouse. “Once that was done, it wasn’t that big of a deal. “

AJ Adhesives requested Lightway solar panels. St. Louis solar developer Clean Power Design selected Renusol America’s Fronius non-penetrating ballast shelving and inverters.

Before the first installation was completed, the roofer committed to installing almost the same system, using Sharp panels, at their own headquarters.

“We launched the idea of ​​going into solar for three or four years,” said Frédéric. “The utility rebates were there, but what they got and what they paid didn’t make sense” – especially because of the cheap electricity produced in Missouri. “Now that the price of panels and shelving has come down, that makes sense. “

AJ Adhesives and Frederic Roofing will get a $ 2.00 per watt rebate from Ameren Missouri (NYSE:AEE) and will exceed the 25 kilowatt limit for their flat roof systems, Frédéric said.

“This is the next wave in our industry,” said Jason Loyet, founder of Clean Power Design. “Frederic Roofing has built thousands of roofs. It is now climbing the solar learning curve. We are currently running a project at their head office. In Tennessee, we have done projects statewide and our first wave was to install contractors on rooftops.

Loyet has worked in solar in the Midwest and Mid-South since 2005. “I saw an opportunity in the solar industry focusing on the last mile of solar development, in distribution, and on empowering entrepreneurs. in electricity and local roofers to be the solar installers of the future.

These Tennessee entrepreneurs, said Loyet, “have come a long way down the learning curve. They now have experience installing and maintaining inverters and see what it is like to produce a solar system on their own property.

Solar, said Loyet, “is a natural choice for roofing and electrical contractors. It is not far from what they are already doing. Now they put the pieces together. That’s what the next wave is.

The sun is not a problem in the Midwest, Loyet said. “The DOE maps show there is as much sunstroke in Missouri as in parts of Florida. Look at the Midwest versus Germany. In Illinois, people are asking if solar power will work there. One answer we give is, “Watch how high the corn grows.” There is a lot of sun in the Midwest. “

The challenge, said Loyet, is that “we are coal dependent states. We are competing with coal and very low electricity prices.

These low rates have also hampered the growth of third party ownership programs (TPOs) such as those operated by Sunrun, SolarCity and Clean Power Finance. “These programs have matured where the cost per kilowatt hour is higher than in the Midwest,” Loyet said. “Power can be eight to ten cents in the Midwest and sixteen to twenty cents in California.”

But, Loyet said, the Midwest is likely to experience the highest electricity price inflation in the United States. cost of energy and offer a fixed price.

A recent report documenting state-by-state coal delivery costs from an advocacy group Clean energy action has experienced significant inflation over the past eight years. For example, Missouri went from $ 0.92 per MMBTU in 2004 to $ 1.72 per MMBTU in 2011, Illinois went from $ 1.16 to $ 2.01, Arkansas went from from $ 1.23 to $ 1.91 and Tennessee went from $ 1.33 to $ 2.82.

“Previously,” Loyet said, “that if you put 3.5% inflation in front of a conservative CFO, he would balk. Not anymore. The change lasted less than five years. People accept that the next twenty years will be over. ‘energy will be nothing like the last twenty years. “

Loyet spoke about two interrelated challenges for solar growth in the Midwest. First, he said, “is the learning curve. It is still an early market. There aren’t a lot of pure-play solar companies. Second, he said, “there aren’t a lot of public service incentives and programs. So there has been no uprising of solar installers at the local level who can go out and educate the market.

The way forward, he said, “is the electrical contractors and the roofers.” They know the markets and do not yet have the competition of pure solar companies. “You will have more electrical contractors and roofers offering solar energy as a service under their umbrella. They have all the tools in their toolbelt. Together they have the basic skill to compete.

Many entrepreneurs have learned to work in solar as subcontractors to purely solar companies, Loyet said. They are ready to go out and educate the market, do the marketing and sell systems.

“What you see with Frederic Roofing is the future. There are thousands of roofing contractors and electrical contractors across the country taking this first step. This is how we will build the next generation of electricity. “

Patricia D. Rutt