Texas installer sees coronavirus concerns driving interest in residential storage

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“Today, more than any time, we’re seeing that the world is a volatile place. Whether it’s the economy, the grid or our public health, all of these things are more fragile than we thought two months ago. Today, more than any time, people have a sense of what they can take back, in terms of providing some predictability to their future.”

And while that quote by Bret Biggart, CEO of Freedom Solar, a Texas-based residential and commercial solar contracting firm may seem to echo much of the doom and gloom surrounding the solar industry in the coming months, the truth is that Biggart believes Freedom Solar is in a unique position to weather the upcoming storm.

This belief is founded upon another unusual trend: Freedom has seen consistent installation interest since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, interest which has yet to show signs of slowing down.

“We’ve had no cancellations thus far. We’re installing solar today in every market… Our deployment levels have been relatively unchanged, and the number of people who are inquiring about solar has not really fluctuated that much over the last couple of weeks, which is interesting. I expect that to not be the trend going forward, I expect there to be a dip. The really interesting part is the number of people that set an appointment and didn’t cancel it.”

Biggart notes that a number of customers have pushed appointments back, many referencing an uncertain financial future in the immediacy. Another trend that he noticed? In this time of uncertainty, many customers and prospective customers are turning to battery storage.

“I had a customer call yesterday, a more high-profile kind of customer with a 60 kW system on his residential home. He called me and said: ‘Hey, can you get out here and get some batteries on this thing? I want to make sure I’ve got a battery backup system in case things get really sideways.'”

It’s not just one customer, either. While Texas is not the most lucrative market for residential battery storage, the state has not implemented time-of-use rates or other policies that incentivize storage, Biggart cites what he can most closely describe as a ‘Cowboy Mentality.’ This mentality comes from a desire for energy freedom, a desire which, in the last year, has driven five times more battery attachment among freedom customers than the previous year. That number is still low when compared across all Freedom installations, but growing fast in the face of the virus, with more and more new and returning customers inquiring about storage by the day.

And so long as this interest remains, Biggart will continue installing solar. Freedom is still installing in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, all of which are jurisdictions that have established shelter-in-place ordinances.

“Shelter-in-place ordinances generally have a carveout for businesses that provide critical infrastructure support. If you have more and more people that are at home, people are working at home, it was 90 degrees in Texas yesterday, so they had their air conditioning on, that’s a large load on the ERCOT grid, especially with ac usage… We consider ourselves to be a critical grid infrastructure provider.”

For Biggart and Freedom Solar, it’s not increased social safety regulations that pose a problem – Freedom is informing all customers about the increased safety measures being taken, practicing social distancing and has moving all consultations with perspective customers to virtual appointments – it’s disruptions to supply chains.

“All of our warehouses and all of our locations are now filled with supplies. We told our vendors that we wanted to ramp-up and have two months’ supply of everything that we need and we got all of those orders pulled in and delivered. If it goes longer than two months, could we see some disruption? Absolutely… If we can’t get the parts that we need after burning through a month or two of inventory, we’ll have an issue.”