WITH ALL OF the government incentives pushing consumers to alternative energy sources, it has been a good couple of years for the solar-panel business. First President Bush extended various tax credits for people who go solar at home and work; then President Obama followed up by removing the caps on certain tax credits related to installing renewable-energy systems.
Contractors like Chris Page’s NYPV can barely keep up with all the new orders. He and business partner Adam Katzman install between six and eight systems each month, mainly in New York City. “I’ve got tons of work, I’m loving it,” says Page, who fell into the solar-panel business after graduating from college when other options didn’t pan out. The entrepreneur started NYPV with $3,000 of his own money, and the company has been profitable from the start, he says. This year, he expects revenues of $200,000 and $250,000, up from $35,000, which the company generated the year before.
SmartMoney asked Page about the ups and downs at his one-year-old company. Here are his condensed answers.
You have an undergraduate business degree from the University of Virginia, how did you wind-up on people’s roofs in Brooklyn?
When I moved to New York two years ago, I didn’t think this is what I’d be doing. However, I’ve always liked working outside and with my hands. Plus, I knew that I wanted to do something in the clean technology field. This seemed like a good compromise.
Business: NYPV, a solar panel installation firm.
Industry: Clean Technology
Location: New York
Year founded: 2009
Number of employees: 0
Web address: newyorkpv.net
Since you do spend so much time on people’s roofs, how do you go about finding customers?
We operate as a subcontractor for two different solar panel suppliers. They buy the panels, market them and sell them, while we exist to do solar power installations. In addition to fulfilling these operational tasks, our clients help us make sure we’re meeting various structural and code specifications. I don’t have the time or the manpower to sit down and navigate all the bureaucracy that is New York City. We exist to complement each other; they don’t want to get on roofs. In fact, some of them can’t even climb a ladder.
How has the enhanced federal subsidy for solar helped your business?
Our clients aren’t able to sell solar systems without those incentives. And if they don’t work, we don’t work.
A federal subsidy is in place for both residential and commercial consumers, does your firm have a focus?
Although our solar-company clients market to businesses, governmental organizations, schools and homeowners, we mainly handle residential installations. We also mainly stick to the outer boroughs of New York City. With solar systems, you need sunlight and in the city you have all of these tall buildings and less available space. But there are plenty of single family homes and two-to-three family units with flat roofs in the boroughs. Homeowners tend to be swayed by the notion of curbing their energy costs. Generally, residential users can recoup their solar panel costs in five to seven years.