Solar Tariff? What Solar Tariff? State-Level Regs Have Greater Impact

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A new survey confirms what some solar industry analysts have anticipated: many installers are absorbing some or all of the increased costs associated with President* Trump’s new solar tariff. Meanwhile, it looks like rooftop solar has actually gained a new lease on life in Nevada, now that the state’s net metering “experiment” is over.

The good news doesn’t mean solar is out of the woods yet, but it does indicate that market forces, consumer demand, and state-level legislators are, well, trumping Trump. So to speak.

Good News: Many Installers Absorb Solar Tariff

The new survey is the third annual Solar Installer Survey, conducted by the energy information company EnergySage, with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

EnergySage bills it as the “largest and most comprehensive business climate survey of solar companies nationwide,” involving about 590 residential and commercial solar installers.

The survey was conducted between December and January. That was shortly before the new solar tariff took effect (February 7 was the drop dead date), so it’s a reasonable assumption that PV companies were firming up their just-in-case plans during that period.

Here’s the solar tariff finding:

Installers may absorb solar tariff – The recently announced 30% tariff on imported solar cells and panels by the Trump administration may have less of an impact on residential solar than initially expected. Two-thirds of solar installers say they plan to absorb some or all of the cost of the tariff, rather than pass those costs along to the consumer.

That’s great! On the other hand, many installers still face obstacles in terms of customer service and customer acquisition.

If that’s beginning to ring a bell, take a look back at another rooftop installer survey CleanTechnica covered last week. The survey basically concluded that smaller, local companies fare better in the customer satisfaction survey, with larger national companies faring not so well.

That’s consistent with a finding in the new EnergySage survey. Half the respondents expect smaller companies to dominate the market, while only 31% expect that larger companies will dominate.

Now take a look at this feedback from the EnergySage survey:

…installers called for better customer service and support from manufacturers, financiers and software providers as they try to win more business in an increasingly competitive solar market.

I know, right? Nobody ever said the rooftop solar installation business was a cakewalk. The EnergySage survey confirms that it’s hard out there on the roofs:

Customer acquisition remains difficult – 37% of respondents stated that customer acquisition was harder in 2017 as compared to 2016, and that confusion created by competitors is still their number one challenge. Additionally, installers are prioritizing growth in market share over margins.

That thing about prioritizing growth overlaps with to the absorption of solar tariff costs. It seems that installers are looking at the big picture and are willing to take short-term hits to beat out the competition.

As for the customer acquisition issue, a few years ago the National Renewable Energy Laboratory looked into the matter and came up with seven guideposts to help solar companies chase down leads and nail down customers, so it looks like the industry is still struggling with that one.

What Solar Tariff?

Before Trump made his final decision on the new solar tariff, CleanTechnica took note of the potential damage to the PV industry here in the US. We also spotted signs that the industry was prepared to weather the impact.

The new survey certainly comes down on the side of preparation, and it indicates that the solar tariff may not be the crushing blow to the PV industry that some had feared. Here’s Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage on that score:

…From speaking with our installers across the country, we believe there are several reasons for continued optimism. Consumer interest in solar energy and home energy storage has never been higher. Given that prices remain competitive and the solar tariff is expected to only have a limited short-term impact, solar installers have much to look forward to in 2018 and beyond.

So. There.

Solar Tariff Or Not, State-Level Action Is The Key

Aside from the tariff, the biggest chances of damage — or of a solar renaissance — are occurring on the state level.

For example, last summer Nevada finally reinstated its solar net metering program after an uproar from solar lobbyists and other stakeholders. When state legislators killed net metering in 2015, key players in the solar industry pulled out.

Now they’re coming back. Last week The Houston Chronicle noted that Houston-based Sunnova Energy was moving back into the state. Sunnova of course is very pleased with itself, and state officials have made it clear that they are here to help. Here’s Paul Anderson, Executive Director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development on the topic of rooftop solar growth in Nevada, tariff or no tariff:

The solar industry is very much a part of the emergence of the new Nevada, and it’s always a positive sign when a company like Sunnova recognizes this and views our market as a growth opportunity.

The next state to watch is New Jersey, where renewable energy stakeholders have had to deal with eight years of governorship by Republican Governor and Koch fanboy Chris Christie.

Newly tapped Democratic Governor Phil Murphy has already taken steps to undo some of the damage, so this should be an interesting year for solar and other renewables in the state. A new Democratic governor also appears to be making a difference in North Carolina’s renewable energy profile.

On the downside, Kentucky appears to be at risk as a major anti-solar campaign heats up, reportedly with some help from tar sands oil stakeholders. Arizona is another trouble spot for rooftop solar, so stay tuned for more on that.

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*As of this writing.

Photo (screenshot): via EnergySage.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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