People of the 10th anniversary Top Solar Contractors list: Leanne Kim, Forme Solar Electric

For the 10th anniversary of the Top Solar Contractors list, we’re sharing Q&A’s with the people who make the industry run every day. Read more interviews here.

How’d you get started in solar?

Although I was born and raised in California, I spent a lot of time overseas. I attended law school in China for an advanced LLM degree, only to realize how much we took our planet for granted. Every morning before walking to class I would check the AQI (Air Quality Index) to make sure the air I would be breathing that day wouldn’t be in the “RED- UNHEALTHY” zone. This made me experience firsthand that the environment we live in can become extremely toxic if we don’t do something about it, not tomorrow but today. I decided to travel all across Asia and through the years I was able to visibly see how the air quality was getting worse over time. Here in the United States, we need to be a leader in renewable energy and hopefully help spur the movement globally.

What led you to transition your company from solar repair to residential solar installation?

Because of our booming solar repair business we quickly found that quality residential solar installation was highly sought-after by people who realized that solar was more of a long-term benefit. And funny enough, the individuals that could best articulate the benefits were individuals who owned solar for a few years. These individuals just happened to be the ones that were most likely to need repair services.

We found that most solar customers had simple requirements: A quality solution while dealing with a reliable organization. Nobody questions the benefit or technology. The only way that we saw how to solve for these requirements was through execution. Our foundation in solar repair allowed us to excel at that. Deliver what’s promised, when promised, communicate properly and focus on the end customer.

What’s your favorite part about being in the solar industry?

I get the most enjoyment out of seeing our customers proudly show off their electric bills after going solar! The combination of joy from seeing their investment pay off and their pride from knowing they are producing their own clean energy is unbeatable, and I never get tired of it.

For the first time, we’re starting to revamp how we think about how we consume energy. We are smarter about what type of electricity that we utilize and the options that are available. We are all making an effort toward a better, more renewable solution for our planet. Knowing we are part of fundamentally changing our customer’s lives and energy consumption habits for the better while putting money back in their pockets is truly an honor.

What has surprised you the most about the solar industry in the last 10 years?

The thing that surprises me the most about the solar industry is just the lack of change in how we present and market this technology. For too long now, solar sales organizations have focused on selling at the highest possible price per watt and then convincing homeowners that they will see savings in the not-too-distant future. As a result, many homeowners have been left scarred and disillusioned when it comes to the benefits of solar. Between extreme price gouging and impossible promises of “free” solar, consumers have zero baseline expectation of solar cost and/or performance. The result is a highly skeptical and fractured marketplace with no consistency or uniformity of expectation. In this environment, the consumer continues to lose and that is not the path we should be on.

What are your solar predictions for the next 10 years?

We will start to see an ecosystem where the energy produced from solar panels can be easily stored and then passed from one home to another. With solar and battery backup adoption, we should see a dramatic change in how people can store, consume and share electricity with others. I believe we are seeing the start of the decentralized electricity grid and the rise of the neighborhood- or city-level microgrid, and that’s a beautiful thing for consumers, the environment and our national security.

How’d you/your company stand out in the last year?

The primary goal for most of our customers was to find a company that they felt would be stable and consistent even amidst crazy downturns like COVID-19. Our ability to weather COVID-19 with our diversified services like repair and EV installations was very reassuring to people because most companies in our industry only focus on installation and will only repair the systems they installed themselves.

We also realized that looks really matter and we could not compromise on aesthetics. Looks are one of the biggest objections of going solar. To solve for this, we had to ensure that all of our installations were built to be the best-looking system possible. We default to using all-black mounting equipment and including black end-caps to ensure a polished look.

How are you helping to improve the industry?

By leading by example. While this statement seems purely aspirational, it is actually not hard to do. We strive to be a company that executes on its promises and does so with the utmost empathy and integrity. We are all consumers, and we make sure to wear that hat whenever we think about our customer experience. That’s it. Walk in the customer’s shoes, and you will find the right way to treat your customers. The industry is plagued with anecdotal evidence of solar companies that abandon their customers right after installation, and we need to change that narrative by being the exception. When we finish a solar installation, it is not the end of a project, but rather, it is the beginning of a 25-year service relationship.

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