US residential solar market picking up despite COVID disruptions

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Image: Vivint Solar.

Sections of the US residential solar industry are on track to shake off the economic effects of COVID-19 and record positive figures for the remainder of the year.

That is according to a group of industry stakeholders taking part in a webinar hosted by banking firm Roth Capital Partners earlier this week.

Sunlight Financial, which has partnerships with nearly 1,000 home improvement contractors and solar installers, has seen “remarkably strong” volumes in the last two months, CEO Matthew Potere said during the call.

“What's interesting is, as we look across [US] regions, there are some modest differences, but we're continuing to see strong growth,” he added.

The encouraging projection was backed up a survey carried out in early Q3 by SolarWakeup managing editor Yann Brandt. Among the respondents – of which 22 were solar installers – 81% said they are somewhat or very positive about their current business sentiment, while 50% of surveyed installers have already reached pre-COVID sales levels.

But installers are remaining more cautious into Q3, with 57% estimating a 10-20% drop in business year-on-year. During Q4, however, 42% of surveyed installers expect a 20% rise in business compared the same quarter of 2019 – a period that saw the largest ever amount of installed residential solar capacity.

“Generally speaking, there is positive sentiment that is rising through the end of the year,” said Brandt. “In conversations with installers and others, they're not always calling it a reduction in business; they're calling it a delay in business.

“The trough has increased backlog, so if you had access to internal books you actually would, in many cases, see overall… similar numbers year-over-year. But everything is dragged out and delayed.”

The survey results follow ominous warnings about the outlook of the US residential solar industry published last month by SEIA and Wood Mackenzie. Their Q2 Solar Market Insight report predicts a 25% decline in US residential solar installs 25% in 2020 compared to 2019, before they recover by 26% in 2021. Projections for both 2020 and 2021 are down significantly from SEIA and Wood Mackenzie’s pre-COVID-19 forecast. 

However, while the near-term impacts from shelter-in-place orders will be felt most acutely in Q2, the study notes that many large installers report healthy sales pipelines that they expect to fulfil into Q3, assuming shelter-in-place orders are largely removed.

According to Gexpro strategic account manager Chuck Norris, some solar installers are struggling to bring their install rates up to match their sales rates, which reached “astronomical” levels in the last month.

“There are plenty of contractors that are suffering still,” said Norris during the webinar. “However, whatever they're missing seems to be getting picked up by others who are outperforming and who are pivoting and changing their strategies.”

Norris suggested that many companies are even beating their forecasts for the year despite the ongoing pandemic. “I think Q3 and Q4 are getting to be where they will be pretty close to where we thought they would be in January,” he said.

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