Despite the pandemic, the U.S. solar industry had a record year in 2020 with the industry reporting a 43 percent year-over-year increase in installations. In 2021, the US solar energy sector surpassed three million installations, the vast majority of which were residential, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Much of this growth comes as consumers and commercial businesses look to reduce energy costs and turn to more sustainable power sources to align with the United States 2030 emissions target.
As the largest residential solar installer in the U.S., I understand how navigating an abrupt increase in consumer demand presents both opportunities and challenges. Like many of the industries impacted by the pandemic, Titan Solar Power experienced a record number of installations while navigating growing pains.
While technology may not always be a focus for energy and gas executives, having the right infrastructure in place has allowed my business to grow and scale responsibly. Titan Solar Power has benefited from technology by using proprietary data to make informed decisions on supply chain, accounting, inventory management, and more. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned on the importance of using data to scale:
Track your soft costs
With increased demand in installations comes increased data tied to project management, accounting and other systems. While solar installations may seem like a straightforward process, there are many moving parts to manage including system design, utility company negotiations, permits, and financing options, such as loans and leases.
This introduces a costly side of the solar industry that is largely unseen: soft costs. These costs – which include expenses associated with customer acquisition, marketing, field labor, financing, inspection, and permitting – typically run up to 66 percent of the total cost to operate a residential solar business. And these costs can vary significantly in today’s fragmented energy marketplace.
At Titan Solar Power, we were acutely aware of our monthly hard and soft costs, but needed to have greater visibility, or a single data source, to better manage and scale our operations.
Connect disparate data
When you’re in the midst of growth it takes real effort to pause and identify where there are problems before small issues become big ones. Symptoms may become apparent long before you’re able to figure out what the underlying issue is.
We had different systems for everything, from project management to accounting. As we grew, it became more and more cumbersome to efficiently share data across these systems. With more than 420 different data fields required for every project, our homegrown project management system couldn’t handle an influx of orders. We were drowning in data that we didn’t know what to do with, let alone properly use to make informed decisions.
It became apparent that the underlying technology and the disjointed systems we relied on were leading to a myriad of challenges impacting us across the organization. Our operations were inefficient and often found ourselves needing to hire additional staff to patch the holes in the different systems. This is when we knew it was time to upgrade to a unified cloud-based business applications suite, like Oracle NetSuite.
Cater to the nuances of your business
Every industry has unique challenges and opportunities and a solution that may work for one industry often may not work for another.
Solar installation is a booming business, but it’s also very complex. There are many moving parts, varying labor fees and coordination between dozens of different sales organizations per project. We needed to be able to get everything on one system so that we could do a high-level analysis of our business. We also needed a simple automated process that could pay out commissions to our dozens of sales organizations. In short, we needed one system that could do it all.
We turned to Blu Banyan’s SolarSuccess, a SuiteApp built on NetSuite that is specifically designed to help solar installers manage their business – nuances and all. With NetSuite and Blu Banyan, we finally had a unified view of data across the company including real-time insights into project status, costs, inventory, pricing, purchasing, and profitability. It was the best solution for us because it handles accounting and operational logistics items in tandem with project management and it allowed for customizations to help us manage our unique business – including a solar-optimized sales pipeline management system.
Looking toward a bright future
Titan Solar Power has grown significantly and we’re on track for even more growth in 2022 as our customers take action to reduce their carbon footprint. By 2030, solar installations are expected to quadruple from current levels.
Putting technology in place to bring our data and operations into one centralized platform has been critical to our ability to scale and grow as a business in the last few years and will serve us well as we look to keep pace with the growth expected in the next decade. With the right systems in place, you too can manage data more effectively, control costs, better serve customers, and ultimately turn growing pains into opportunities for a bright future.
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Aaron Casillas is Technology and Infrastructure Director at Titan Solar Power. Titan Solar Power partners with like-minded solar sales companies to deliver world-class installations with industry-leading customer experience. Titan handles all aspects of a solar module installation. As a Titan partner, you can rest assured we are just as committed to ensuring every one of your customers are elated with their decision to go solar.
For further information please visit: https://titansolarpower.com