5 key challenges facing solar installation firms

Growth in the global solar industry has accelerated dramatically. But many solar installation firms are struggling to grasp the opportunities this growth presents. Alan Shelly, Chief Operating Officer at Simply Workflow, looks at the challenges solar firms are facing.

In the UK in 2021 photovoltaic energy systems supplied more than 4 percent of the entire electricity demand. In the first six months of 2022, the UK saw an 80 percent increase in new solar PV installations over the same period a year ago. In April 2022, the UK Government committed to a five-fold increase of the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity by 2035. The sector is enjoying a similar trajectory in Ireland, where Government targets are for 20 percent of the country’s electricity to come from solar sources by 2030.

This is a global trend that shows no signs of slowing down. We’re seeing a jump in the number of solar installation firms in the UK and Ireland. But there are several challenges they need to overcome if they are to take advantage of this significant market.

Increased demand and an unsettled global supply chain have had a knock-on effect on inventory management

China currently controls over 80 percent of the world’s solar panel production. In the context of a global ramp up in demand, the UK is just one of many countries vying for a finite supply of solar panels. In this climate, having complete control over inventory is one of the toughest challenges solar firms are facing.

Efficient inventory management is a delicate balancing act. Author Jerry J Weygandt called it a “double-edged sword that requires constant attention”. On one hand, firms need to have a wide variety and quantity of stock available. But this is costly: it requires a large upfront investment, storage fees, insurance costs, potential stock damage and even stock becoming obsolete as newer models emerge. Of course, on the other hand, a firm with low stock levels faces stock outs, lost revenue, and lost competitive advantage.

Disparate systems mean lack of data visibility and a joined-up approach   

We regularly work with clients who use multiple systems to process data throughout the entire customer lifecycle, from lead management and qualifying paperwork for funding, through to technical surveys and installation. Because each step is managed in a different system (or in some cases, no system at all) firms are facing the risk of missing information or data disappearing as it moves from one system to another as the job progresses. With no joined-up system, inefficiencies inevitably occur.

Appointment scheduling is a key area where misplaced or insufficient data has an impact. In 2020, 25 percent of field service operators were still using spreadsheets for job scheduling; other firms used whiteboards and other manual methods. At a time when firms are facing unprecedented demand for their services, these methods are not fit for purpose.

Health and safety compliance in the solar industry is heavily regulated 

Operating in the solar industry requires specific expertise and rigid safety standards. The industry is highly regulated and for good reason. Field engineers need to comply with all regulations to ensure their safety, but in a time-pressured environment errors can easily be made. Most solar firms are still using legacy, paper-based forms for keeping track of on-site safety, but this approach is prone to error or misplacing of vital forms.

Worker shortages and inefficiencies threaten solar firms’ ability to scale their operations

Solar installation firms are facing a combined challenge of a shortage of experienced engineers and an inability to efficiently manage their field engineers. For firms to be able to grow their operations and respond to increased demand they need to be able to do more with less staff, at least in the short term. Firms are under pressure to drive performance and increase their output, but with limited visibility of their team, this can be difficult. Managing a large team of hundreds of engineers operating throughout the country is a significant challenge, and as demand for solar panels increases, this will stretch firms even more. In this tense environment, standards could drop, health and safety practices may fall by the wayside and the customer experience could suffer.

Enhancing the customer experience to gain a competitive advantage

Wrapped around these four major challenges is the increased focus on enhancing the customer experience. Every firm operating in every sector is facing a heightened emphasis on delivering a seamless customer journey. For solar firms, this starts at the lead generation stage right through to installation. All the challenges we’ve outlined above – stock management, system efficiency, safety standards and team management – are all necessary to ensure a better customer experience. In what has become an increasingly competitive market, providing a good customer experience can be a key differentiator.

The good news is that systems like Simply Workflow now exist that help firms overcome these challenges. With functions like appointment scheduling, health and safety checklists, inventory management, and a CRM system all in one place and in the cloud, solar firms can dramatically reduce their reliance on paper and streamline many different systems into just one.

If you would like to find out more about how Simply Workflow can help your business click here or contact us today