Quality and profit are not mutually exclusive

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By David Bywater, CEO of Vivint Solar

When I was in business school, one of my professors made a statement that has had a profound impact on me to this day. “The secret to life,” said Richard Tedlow, “is to learn how to celebrate the genius of the ‘and’, rather than the tyranny of the ‘or’.” When I think about this adage in regard to quality in the solar installation business, it fits it to a T.

There’s no reason a company–or the industry as a whole–can’t enjoy profitability, growth and success while also practicing the highest levels of quality. Profit and quality are not mutually exclusive: they do not have to fall prey to the “the tyranny of ‘or’.”

When a company goes down the path of “or” thinking instead of “and” thinking, the result is often a nonchalant or inconsistent attitude about quality made in the name of short-term gain. This short-sighted approach will not only turn out to be ultimately unsuccessful for the company, but it doesn’t help the industry’s need to maintain the highest quality standards either. Our collective success as solar and clean energy providers must be built on a foundation of quality.

Let’s not forget that we’re in the business of helping people go solar in a safe, secure and seamless manner. Solar is a long-term commitment, and people want to know they are putting their home in the hands of a trusted guide. A well-installed system makes the entire process of adopting solar that much easier for people. A poorly-installed system, on the other hand, can tarnish the entire experience. We’re working on and around families’ homes and must take pride in helping them make such a meaningful improvement to their lives.

This level of commitment takes a deeply integrated approach, an obsessive, detail-oriented mindset that relentlessly drives quality through the entire customer acquisition, installation and commissioning process. We want to deliver the kind of peace of mind to the customer that providing the highest quality installation can bring.

Quality is not just about making sure the roof is in good condition before installing the PV system or choosing the best solar modules, inverters, and mounting structures. It’s also about finding and retaining great people, training them rigorously in best practices, and giving them the tools to do their jobs at the highest quality level.

One of the ways we’ve done this is by creating a very specific installation protocol. Each Vivint Solar installation is required to pass a robust 86-point installation process, which checks all the boxes on computer-assisted design deviations, roof mounting and penetrations, grounding and bonding, and the various parts of the electrical balance of systems, all the way through to jobsite cleanliness.

If an installation doesn’t pass each and every one of these points, it will not be given the green light to move forward to final inspection and interconnection. The wiring is undersized, or improperly terminated? Fail. The array is not level throughout? Fail. The mounting lag bolts missed the rafters? Fail. The system is not properly grounded? Fail. All 86 points of installation must pass the test—80 out of 86 just won’t do.

It’s not enough to implement and follow robust quality practices in one’s own company. Quality is an industry wide concern. Spreading the gospel of the critical importance of quality throughout the solar community has a multiplier effect, lifting all of our “boats” on the proverbial rising tide and boosting consumer confidence that solar is the right (and smart) choice.

Industry initiatives such as the Installation Best Practices Guide – Residential Portfolios, which our team helped develop as members of SEIA’s Quality Assurance Working Group, provide richly detailed yet practical guides to installers who want to achieve high quality standards. Other organizations such as NABCEP also make quality control a major part of their training programs.

Admittedly, fostering, instilling and maintaining a quality mindset throughout an organization—let alone an entire industry—takes relentless effort and focus. I know, because what we’ve achieved with our company’s quality program so far hasn’t come easy and requires constant vigilance. But seeing family after family reap the economic and environmental benefits of solar, knowing the installations meet the highest standards of quality, is immensely satisfying. “The reward for work well done,” Jonas Salk once said, “is the opportunity to do more.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.