3 Elements for Profitability in Solar Construction

December 20, 2016
Posted in Featured, News
December 20, 2016 TerraSmart

Learn Why Selecting a Racking Partner Goes Beyond the Simple Cost of Parts for Profitability in Solar Construction

Each new quarter, analysts publish eye-popping data on the growth of solar PV. Most recently, that growth has broken all previous records, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), which announced the U.S. solar industry had installed more than 4,000 megawatts in Q3 of this year.  That’s an average of one megawatt of solar installed every 32 minutes.

The industry is poised to continue record-breaking growth.  Specifically, increased demand of utility-scale solar is driving down costs, with contract prices dipping below 3 cents per kilowatt-hour in the Middle East and Latin America. And since gangbuster growth often comes with cutthroat competition, developers are looking to their supply partners to help them boost margins and increase returns for investors.

There’s a lot at stake. Leading EPCs and developers have a lot to gain by looking beyond the cost of parts when choosing a racking partner. Emphasizing these three elements will give them a decided edge: a complete turnkey offering, unbeatable customer service, and bankability for long-term success.

True Turnkey Wins the Race

Cheaper prices up front don’t always mean a better deal. Racking companies that lead with lowest cost per watt systems without owning the entire construction process may not deliver the most cost effective results.

Ground-mount racking companies that offer complete turnkey construction get faster results. Combining panel and rack installation services with design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities, turnkey partners can offer advantages to large-scale ground-mount deployment:

*  Problems are resolved quickly with construction experts on-site throughout installation. Turnkey providers have a unique opportunity to gather customer feedback and spot challenges before they cause trouble.

* Innovative products come to market faster through continuous communication and feedback. For example, TerraSmart’s adjustable TF2 rack shows how direct field intelligence reduced install time by 35 percent.

* Plants are bought online sooner, generating energy and revenue faster when racking companies provide a seamless transition from design concept to manufacturing to field deployment.

Overall, partnering with racking companies that offer turnkey installation services is a safer approach. But while many companies tout offering a complete turnkey solution many fail to deliver. To make sure you are getting what’s been promised, are some key questions for you to ask new suppliers:

* Do they use their own full-time employees to oversee and install their systems?

Do they use their own equipment?

* Do they offer value-add services to increase project velocity such as proprietary surveying and mapping?

* Do they own the construction process from beginning to end or do they contract any of the work to third party vendors?

Customer Service That’s Not Lip Service

Every racking company will claim exceptional customer service but assessing how issues are resolved throughout all levels of the organization is not always easy.  Testimonials and references will help confirm or deny inevitable claims of exceptional customer service. But look further:

* Does the company assign dedicated Project Managers (PMs) to oversee each project from start to finish, 24/7?

* Are these PMs in constant communication with the construction teams on the ground and engineers in the office, assuring a timely and accurate up-to-the-minute exchange of information?

* Does the company have its own in-house steel and product fabrication capabilities equipped with the latest state-of-the-art machinery? Is its manufacturing vertically-integrated for full control of material quality, availability and cost of its products?

* Does the company have in-house logistics with its own shipping and delivery capabilities?

* What is the warehouse capacity?

* What metrics are in place to measure product delivery turnaround times?

* How readily available are materials for manufacturing? For example, a company like TerraSmart that uses steel made in the U.S. in the fabrication its proprietary product line means it’s never waiting for cargo that ships from China.

Additionally, using ground-mount systems that can adapt to each project’s unique characteristics saves time for in-field teams. Look for a racking partner that custom-engineers each site and adapts to various terrain challenges cost-effectively. For example, TerraSmart, value-engineers every system to overcome any unique challenges that may be present on the build site. In Shakopee, Minnesota, TerraSmart specifically designed a foundation to address the frost heave, loose soil and boulders in the region.

Not everything can be measured. A collaborative culture that fosters good communication tends to resolve customer issues more quickly. Clients’ access to everyone from the PM to the CEO is a good indication of the organization’s commitment to collaboration. Such cultures value input from all employees, resulting in more innovative products and services and their build partners and clients will always reap the benefits of forward-thinking companies that are accustomed to pivot to find the best solutions quickly.

Bankable Partner You Can Trust

Bankability is the foundation to lasting strategic partnerships. Solar developers can protect their investments with experienced racking companies that combine deep solar experience, engineering excellence and supply chain integrity with reliable products backed by lengthy warranties, such as TerraSmart’s 20-year-limited warranty.

First, look at a company’s growth over the past few years. Look for partnerships with big players, including tier 1 module manufacturers; look for proven experience building the largest regional projects, and for companies earning  industry awards for landmark projects. These are markers of solidarity, consistency and longevity.

It’s important to scrutinize your vendors’ testing and certification credentials:  Are the racking products certified to the latest UL 2703 Edition 1 standard to ensure product safety, bankability and simplified electrical inspection? Has the vendor field-tested its systems to withstand the most extreme environments? Have third-party engineering studies from industry-recognized entities been conducted?

At TerraSmart, we believe in working hand in hand with our customers every step of the way. This is how we deliver the highest quality systems, building great projects that yield strong returns. As the first company to offer a complete turnkey service for panel and rack installation, TerraSmart brings you bankable quality you can count on build after build.

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