People of the 10th anniversary Top Solar Contractors list: Mark Hagerty, Michigan Solar Solutions

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?

I have always had a love of science and nature. In about 2003 I started investing in solar, wind and fuel cell stocks. During my research, it became apparent that from every direction solar was going to explode.  There were technological innovations, rising electric rates, favorable bills being promulgated by governmental bodies and our grid was vulnerable to both cyber and physical attacks. We needed to transition our grid from a centralized architecture to a distributed architecture. Only solar had the potential to supply the peak loads when we needed them.

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

My favorite part has been watching everything come together. Solar was something that only the rich could afford and large incentives were needed for them to do so. Now someone who only cares about the return on investment can see the value of solar even without any incentives.

Watching batteries going from a pipe dream to mainstream has been fun to watch. What was a vision is now a reality. Because of market forces, solar is beating all other means of power generation and nobody can stop it.

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

The biggest surprise is where pricing is at today. We used to have to sell a system for $8+/W.  Now we are quoting commercial jobs for around $2/W. The first solar panels I bought were Evergreen Solar 200-W panels for $4.55/W; almost $1,000 for a solar panel. Now we can sell a 400-W solar panel for less than $1/W.

What are your solar predictions for the next 10 years?

With the utility industry’s unrelenting fight to save their archaic business model, they will hasten their demise by incentivizing customers to install batteries. They will not mean to do this, but with increases in grid access fees, for back-feeding solar over-generation, this will happen by default. The market will find cheaper ways to procure lithium or find a replacement. Batteries will become part of every solar install.

Also, ten years from now the trailblazers will be converting their solar panels from making electricity to making hydrogen. This hydrogen will allow a home to run on a fuel cell. Fuel cell technology is where solar was back in the early 2000’s.

Lastly, 10 years from now, building integrated solar will be commonplace. The roofing, siding and windows will all generate electricity. Electrical panels will start becoming available that will have built-in grid-tied inverters. The roofing, siding and windows will simply terminate in the electrical panel.

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

We took the shutdown as an opportunity to reorganize our complete company. With the growth rate we have enjoyed the last several years, we needed to reorganize. We have the best customer reviews of any installation company in Michigan, by far. Because of the rapid expansion the last few years, we were starting to become disorganized and not giving the service we all have the internal need to give. This caused a very high degree of stress since none of us were used to dealing with upset customers.

How are you helping to improve the industry?

We try to raise the bar for the quality of service across the state. We promote our free “How to Pick a Solar Contractor” pamphlet. This highly suggests customers check the BBB, Google reviews and multiple other review sources. It also lists the insurances and licenses that customers should demand proof of before hiring anyone. We have at least four blogs a month with topics like, “No, Solar is not Free” to combat deceptive advertising, which seems to be running rampant in our industry. The majority of our competitors are very good, honest companies that have become friends over the years. But like any industry, there is that one guy who only cares about money. We have a program where we help customers that they have hurt. We fix systems, answer questions and teach them how to monitor their system.

How do you maintain consistent quality on rooftop solar projects?

Our field services manager, Karl Hercula, has a strong passion for quality. He is a very hard worker who doesn’t think twice about having one of his crews redo something that wasn’t done right. He is given complete autonomy to make these decisions. He is highly respected by me and his crew leads because of his energy level, his degree of integrity and his in-depth knowledge of everything that pertains to doing a high-quality job.

When SolarWorld was around, they had a program to become and stay a Platinum Installer. Part of this was using our co-op dollars to hire a third-party survey company called GuildQuality. The surveys would be sent to every job and the responses would go to SolarWorld and we would receive a copy. We noticed a change in the personality of the company because of this. When everyone knows they will receive a report card, they tend to try a little harder to exceed customers expectations. Even though SolarWorld is no longer around, we have continued with GuildQuality because of the value their service provides in helping us continuously improve.

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