What are your most popular products these days? What about solar shingles?
We offer a wide range of products. I'd say 95% of the systems we install use traditional solar panels, with less than 5% being building integrated, like solar shingles. Solar shingles are a bit more expensive, are more difficult to install, and are only appropriate if you are reroofing. Improvement in the aesthetics of solar panels has been enormous in the last two years. They can match shingle colors, be thinner and can be flush against roofs.
Do you find people still complain about how solar panels look?
Today we're installing much better-looking panels. It's true the way they used to look was sometimes a barrier. But Namaste is now batting 1000 with homeowners' associations, who often have concerns about how a project will look. But after we give them a presentation on it, many cant believe how unobtrusive they can be.
What about the old arguments of the efficiency of the panels, and how long they take to pay off in terms of the investment?
The technology isn't new it was first developed for satellites, but efficiency has improved dramatically, so you can produce more power for the same square footage. Costs have come down (economies of scale). The goal of incentive programs is to kick-start the industry, and that's exactly what we've seen. Japan started supporting solar 30 years ago at a high level, and they've gradually decreased incentives, while the market has expanded. The goal is to get solar to compete with conventional industry prices.
The payback time depends on a lot of factors, including the state, electricity costs, incentives available, the solar resource... Germany has less sun than anywhere in the lower 48 states, yet they have high electricity prices and high incentives, so they're number one in the world when it comes to solar power. Solar panels have 25-year warranties and no moving parts, and they are backed by such big names as Sharp, BP, GE and so on.
It might take roughly 15 years for one system to pay for itself, but then if you look at how electricity prices have been going up in many areas, it could be shorter. In Colorado electricity prices have gone up double digits in the last few years, and California and the Northeast have had very dramatic increases. One of the things solar contractors do for potential clients is analysis of their finances. A great resource is to find a local contractor near you with the American Solar Energy Society's findsolar.com tool, which is searchable by zip code.
Installation by Namaste Solar Electric
Who makes the solar units you install? Have you been affected by recent shortages of silicon?
We sell a number of different brands, to provide the best options for customers, because every system is different. We like Sunpower, an American company that makes the highest-efficiency panel. They are sleek and all black and have been very popular. The company has been the darling of Wall Street. We also sell Sharp and Kyocera from Japan. There are quite a few other good manufacturers as well, including Uni-Solar, Evergreen Solar, GE, BP and others.
A key material used in solar panels, silicon, is actually one of the most abundant things around. But refined silicon isn't. Because of the growth of solar power and the semiconductor industry, demand has been outpacing supply, and for the last few years panels have been selling faster than companies can make them. This is both a blessing and a curse: it's holding back growth but showing markets how popular solar is.
There are new silicon foundries coming online soon, so it should help improve supply some. There just haven't been enough foundries built to keep pace with demand for refined silicon.
Where did your progressive company model come from?
When three of us started Namaste Solar Electric, we were wondering if people would think it was harebrained. We don't have a blueprint, and in many ways we are a business experiment. We wanted to do things differently the majority have worked, while some haven't. We attracted a superstar team passionate about solar and doing business in a different way.
We look at profit and things holistically. But even if you only measure profit conventionally, we are number one in Colorado, and have installed twice as many systems as anyone else. We want to prove that this concept works, and that by measuring your business holistically you will contribute to a great bottom line.
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