Solar energy company powers through pandemic, sees brighter future
Jason Davis for Crains Detroit Business – December 28, 2020
The following write up on POWERHOME SOLAR and Jayson Waller comes from Jason Davis of Crains Detroit Business.
• POWERHOME SOLAR expected to clear $350 million in revenue
• Company Workforce has grown by 124 percent this year
• Company co-founded by Birmingham resident
A solar energy company that could be considered still in its infancy is seeing major growth in Michigan.
POWERHOME SOLAR, co-founded by Birmingham resident Jayson Waller, began offering service in the state in 2017. Since then, POWERHOME SOLAR has grown to 8,000 customers in Michigan, Waller said. The company, based in Charlotte, N.C., has about 30,000 total customers since it began offering the panels in 2015.
POWERHOME SOLAR is looking to widen its footprint and double its workforce in Michigan by the end of next year, according to Chief Sales Officer Ben Brookhart. The company currently has 300 employees in Michigan.
“The solar industry is absolutely booming right now,” Brookhart said. “The industry is at the forefront of the jobs market right now. It’s the future. The big companies like Amazon and Google are talking about getting to 100 percent clean emissions. They need renewable energy, and POWERHOME is the place to get it.”
In Michigan, the company operates out of offices in Troy and Grand Rapids. POWERHOME SOLAR has about 15 field energy consultants in each district, Brookhart said. Based on current growth and future projections, Brookhart believes the company can add another team in the city of Detroit. He said there’s also an opportunity to expand past Grand Rapids on the west side of the state. “When people think Michigan, they don’t think of solar energy.
Michigan has one of the highest cost of utilities in the country,” Brookhart said.
Consumers Energy Co. in October raised its rates more than 9 percent, according to a report published by the Michigan Public Service Commission. DTE Energy Co. at the same time raised its rates by 4.7 percent, the MPSC reported in August.
The cost of installation for POWERHOME SOLAR panels is between $15,000 and $25,000 before any tax credits or incentives. POWERHOME SOLAR is offering customers $2,000 to make the switch, along with a 22 percent federal tax credit in 2021.
“When you have high utility costs, it presents an opportunity for people to put solar power on their roofs to produce energy and drive down costs,” Brookhart said. “A lot of our competition doesn’t believe the market is good for solar. They don’t want customers to be able to own their power, because then the utility companies are losing customers. The utility companies raise their rates every year, and you can’t do anything about it.”
POWERHOME SOLAR in five years of operation has made its mark. The company, with operations in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, is projecting $350 million in revenue for 2020. That’s an 88 percent increase from 2019 and a 240 percent increase from two years ago.
The company this year has added 8,000 customers, representing a 23 percent increase from 2019 and a 100 percent increase from 2018.
Waller believes the pandemic has played a part in POWERHOME’s success this year. “People have obviously been home more this year, so we doubled down on TV ads,” Waller said, declining to disclose what the company spent on advertising.
Utility companies, such as DTE and Consumers Energy, have continuously opposed net metering and reimbursing customers at a higher retail electricity rate. The companies in the past have argued it amounts to other customers subsidizing solar projects.
“The issue is the grid has problems. That’s why we see power outages,” Waller said. “Electric cars are here and they’re coming. They’re being built (in Michigan). People in Michigan want to have those cars. As long as (the utility companies) don’t allow solar energy, then people will have to pay premium costs to the utility companies. Only 2 percent of Michigan residents are allowed to have solar power. That’s a problem.”
In its first year, POWERHOME SOLAR earned 110 customers and $3 million in sales, but saw $1 million in losses, Waller said. In 2016, the company saw $14 million in sales but lost $2 million. POWERHOME SOLAR fronts some of the installation costs before receiving payment from customers.
As its customer base has grown, so has its workforce.
The company has more than 1,700 employees, up from 756 last year and 585 in 2018. POWERHOME in 2015 started with 15 employees, according to the company website. Waller said some employees from other industries joined the company prior to the pandemic. He said the ongoing pandemic has helped POWERHOME find some outstanding employees.
“Before, we were kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel for employees,” Waller said. “Because of the pandemic, with so many people looking for new careers, we’ve been able to hire really top-notch players. They believe in our movement. They believe in change for the future.”
Waller said during the pandemic POWERHOME executives came off the company payroll for at least three months. The company also worked with vendors to push some bill payments out in order to stay in operation.
Because of the pandemic, the company had to cut its annual Christmas party. POWERHOME usually hosts holiday parties with live entertainment. That’s not possible this season, so it planned to hold a virtual party to recognize employees and award $200,000 and other prizes.
The money for the prizes comes from the funds usually earmarked for the party, Waller said. “Obviously, the year didn’t start off great, but we found a way to persevere,” he said. “We’ve pretty much doubled in size in employees and doubled in revenue. We’re giving people the ability to own their power.
“The prizes we’re giving away can have a great impact on their lives. With our company being deemed essential, we’ve been blessed to be able to stay open and keep everybody healthy, so we’re just trying to give back to our employees.”