Texas-based solar energy installer Freedom Solar continued its expansion free of any hurdles brought on by the pandemic and the tumultuous economy of late. The company built a strong relationship with its solar panels supplier and the partnership is bound to support them through this year without worries, according to company CEO Bret Biggart.
Another aspect boosting Freedom Solar’s business is that Congress extended the 26 percent solar tax credit until the end of 2022, encouraging people to become solar customers. The industry is now lobbying aggressively for Congress to extend subsidies again as the federal solar investment tax credits are scheduled to drop to 22 percent next year. If solar tax credits are not renewed, the U.S. will have substantial trouble in meeting President Joe Biden’s goal of decarbonizing the electricity sector by 2035 because the industry already faces project delays and cancelations due to higher costs and supply issues caused by the health crisis.
Multi-Housing News talked to Biggart about inflation, rising interest rates and their potential impact on the solar energy industry, as well as his company’s progress since our conversation with Director of Sales Kyle Frazier three years ago.
Back in 2019, Freedom Solar was just relocating headquarters to a bigger location in Austin, Texas, with several satellite offices around Texas. How have things evolved at the company?
Biggart: Since 2019, Freedom Solar’s revenue has doubled year-over-year, with 2021 being our most successful year to date. Our revenue has grown and continues to grow across all verticals… Additionally, we have continued to expand into new markets, now serving eight states in addition to Texas and, most recently, opening offices in Tampa and Orlando, Fla., and serving Raleigh, N.C.
For the solar power industry, what are the biggest differences in working for the residential segment compared to the commercial one?
Biggart: The residential segment is driven by financing and the ability of an individual to finance a solar solution. The commercial segment is driven by four factors: employer attention, customer loyalty, ROI and ESG. As financing has become more readily available, and solar prices remain level, we have seen an upward swing in homeowners choosing to go solar.
Which segment is more responsive to the solar power adoption?
Biggart: The segments that are the most responsive to solar power adoption are multifamily, senior living, automotive, and manufacturing and warehouse.
How is Freedom Solar and the solar power industry, in general, coping with the rising cost of construction materials, as well as the supply issues induced by the pandemic?
Biggart: We are purchasing more inventory so that we can continue to provide uninterrupted customer service. We have spent many years cultivating strong relationships with manufacturers in an effort to protect our customers from significant price swings.
Freedom Solar uses panels manufactured in the U.S. With the current market conditions, are you looking to diversify your supply or is SunPower able to meet your needs?
Biggart: We have an incredible relationship with SunPower and will continue to leverage being the master SunPower dealer in Colorado, Florida and Texas. Freedom Solar’s pricing and inventory have been locked in with SunPower for the rest of the year, allowing us to provide the best rates possible to our customers.
Over the past decade, renewables have become the cheapest sources of electricity in many parts of the world. Are the rising global inflation and the higher interest rates the end of affordable clean power?
Biggart: The short answer is no. We’ve seen a shift in more people going solar due to the rising energy costs. Energy costs are rising faster than the price of solar, which makes going solar an even more attractive financial investment, not to mention the incredible financing options now available for our customers, and federal and state incentives.
Which of the two factors—rising inflation or rising interest rates—is most disturbing for the expansion of the renewable energy industry and why?
Biggart: Inflation. Inflation impacts consumer behavior, and when consumer behavior is impacted people stop buying. Overall, inflation presents many uncertainties in the business. Therefore, we are constantly educating the general public and our customer base on the benefits of going solar and the financial solutions available to make solar an attractive option.
How will these two factors impact the sustainability focus in general?
Biggart: If you’re looking for a hedge against inflation in the market, buy something that produces and has value. Solar provides a good hedge against inflation.
Accounting for current global market factors, are the current tax credits sufficient to support the installation of solar projects?
Biggart: Yes, the current tax credits are sufficient to make it a good investment.
What solutions are there to keep the industry on an upward trend and the cost of electricity down?
Biggart: Efficiency is one of the main factors in keeping costs down for the consumer. As solar companies continue to become more efficient—this means from selling to installing—the costs will be lower. Ten years ago, we were completing one installation a day, now we can complete three or four installations. This means that our teams are better skilled at understanding the process and effectively installing systems, regardless of how unique or challenging they may be.