Editor's note: The following consists of a conversation between COO Karen Edwards and S-5!'s Founder, Rob Haddock.
Karen Edwards: So today, we're going to talk about solar, which I know is a really hot topic growing ever more in popularity. And the question that we're talking to our influencers for September is how can solar be integrated with metal sales?
Rob Haddock: Yeah, that's a very good question. I started a company years ago to do exactly that, but it wasn't successful because they're just two completely different languages. And it was too big a leap to get the metal roofing community, if you will, to learn a whole new language and a whole new trade. Although, solar isn't all that difficult. But I guess, if I were to try to do it again, first of all, I would be very determined and I would educate myself as best I could about solar and the drivers for solar and the feasibilities and all that sort of thing. With the market the way it is now, solar is a pretty competitive field. It's not... But it is still going to be a gold rush because this, what's it called, the Inflation Reduction Act passing into law is going to restimulate the solar industry. Not that it hasn't had stimulus in the past, it has, but it's really going to invigorate the market for solar, and you're going to see all kinds of people getting into solar. It may get a little bit scary.
But if I were to do it again, try it again from the roofing side of the equation, the metal roofing side of the equation, I would hire a good solar designer, one that was really proven. And they're going to be in short supply, so they're going to command a pretty substantial salary. And having a good solar designer, one who is a registered electrical engineer and has had lots of experience with solar and knows how to design systems and knows what products are the best ones out there and all those kinds of nuances, get him on the payroll, and really all you need beyond that... You've already got a roofing contractor with personnel that are used to being on the roof and all that. And actually installing the modules is not a hard thing to learn. It's really pretty easy, and it's pretty systematic once you have a good design and layout, which would be the job of the other guy I mentioned.
And the only other thing you need really is a licensed electrician. And this is a do-it-yourself kind of thing that I'm proposing. The other... And you have to be really determined to get the ball over the goal line and do it the right way. And so the knowledge and integrity of the key people you hire to do this has to be without question. The other way that it could be done, I suppose, is to align a roofing contractor or contractor, manufacturer, whatever that side of the equation is, with the same sort of VPC company and make it a joint effort, perhaps contractually or some way get aligned with a good EPC who's already in the business of installing solar.
The chasm between solar and roofing is, although solar gets put on roofs, the shortcoming of most EPCs is they don't know roofs. Most solar EPCs don't know that much about roofs. But the same thing in the inverse is also true, that the roofing trades know very little in general about solar. And so you got to figure out a way to bring those two together, and one is to bring the solar expertise in-house, and the other is to, as I said, align yourself with a contractual relationship with a known EPC whose integrity is beyond reproach.
Karen Edwards: Seems like that would be happening more frequently.
Rob Haddock: It really does. I mean, it really makes a lot of sense. But as I said in my first response to that question, is that they're two different languages. Solar guys speak in terms of watts and kilowatts and megawatts and inverters and all that kind of stuff, which is very alien to contractors in the metal industry and any roofing-related industry. We all talk in terms of squares and square feet and so on, and they're pretty different languages. But either one can be learned, it's just... Right now, the construction climate, all the roofing contractors that I know are just busy, busy, and backlogged and everything else. And to try to take time to learn another trade, that's a difficult thing to do.
Karen Edwards: It is. And as you mentioned, hiring that person, a good solar designer, someone who understands it is probably a good step in that direction.
Rob Haddock: Right. And an electrician. Of course, you can normally get an electrician on a subcontract basis without having him on the payroll, but the same thing, the labor market in both trades, it's just try to find a good electrician who doesn't have a full-time job. It's a tough thing nowadays. I've got buddy who's an electrical contractor here in town, and he's just pulling his hair out trying to get electricians on his payroll.
Karen Edwards: Yeah. It's across the board. Everybody's struggling. But it's going to be interesting. Like you said, with the government incentivizing solar installations, now might be the time to think about start laying the groundwork and the foundation to make that part of your business, especially if you're doing metal roofs, because they're ideal for solar systems.
Rob Haddock: The metal roof is the ideal platform because it outlasts... It's really the only roof type that outlasts the solar. And the financial metrics of solar is annihilated when you figure in a roof replacement midlife of the solar. It just really destroys an otherwise very attractive metric. And it's less expensive, in general, to install solar on a metal roof than it is on almost any other roof type.
Karen Edwards: And why is that? Because of the attachment methods?
Rob Haddock: Yeah, it's so easy, and it's really the perfect marriage to have a roofing company that does metal roofing also adopt solar and sell the two together. I mean, it just makes all the sense in the world. And that's why I said... It's going to be a struggle to get the right people on board to be able to do that, but that's why I said you got to be really determined.
Because you got to get past those struggles and put it together. Yeah, it is, it's a brilliant thing to do, but you're going to need to learn some new language and you're going to need to have a lot of determination.
Rob Haddock is the founder and CEO of S-5!. See his full bio here.
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