SunBug Solar provides full-service installations to residential and commercial customers in Massachusetts. The company prides itself on giving workers a meaningful stake in company decisions through employee ownership opportunities. While it faced challenges during the rollout of the state’s SMART incentive program, SunBug foresees continued growth in the residential and commercial markets that will lead to new hires.
“We believe that for solar to gain traction in the U.S., the customers who choose to install it must have a good customer experience,” notes SunBug Solar CEO Cheney Brand. To provide customer-focused, full-service installations, SunBug employees are involved in every stage of a solar project, from system design to ongoing operations and maintenance. Brand notes that customer education is important throughout the project process, from explaining the financial benefits to discussing the specifics of customers’ system design.
SunBug Solar’s workforce is made up of about 65 employees. SunBug maintains six installation crews made up of two licensed electricians, with one serving as a crew lead; and two electrical apprentices, with one serving as a roof lead. It has two offices in Massachusetts, each comprised of solar designers (who handle system design and system sales) and an operations department in charge of system monitoring, procurement, interconnection paperwork, and incentive paperwork, along with electrical and building permits. The commercial team is comprised of business development roles, project managers, site designers, and interconnection experts. Finally, the service crew provides maintenance and operations for SunBug’s installations, in addition to service work for new customers.
The most difficult positions to fill at SunBug are licensed electricians, notes Andrea Mitter-Burke, Director of Operations. Shepoints out that because of the competing construction industries, it can be tough to find electricians with solar experience. Massachusetts considers all aspects of a solar installation to be electrical, and therefore requires a licensed electrician to perform solar installations. This often leads to greater difficulty hiring solar installers. But Mitter-Burke notes that “due to our methodical and careful searching, SunBug has found fantastic electricians and stayed in ratio all along the way.” The company has not faced as many challenges filling other positions such as solar designers and business development roles.
One of the biggest challenges SunBug Solar faces is the uncertainty created by the rollout of the SMART incentive program, a successor program to the SREC and SREC II programs. The SMART program supports an additional 1,600 MW of solar in Massachusetts by offering compensation to solar power producers for the amount of energy their system produces. However, customers and solar companies were unsure when the program would begin, and some of the details of the program remain confusing and vague, creating a slowdown in the market. In fact, the National Solar Jobs Census reports found that from 2016 to 2017, solar jobs in Massachusetts decreased by 21%, and continued to decrease 11% in 2018.
Now that the SMART program is in place, SunBug Solar foresees job growth in the near future. The commercial team is growing at a faster pace as SunBug continues to develop more projects. Additionally, as solar+storage becomes more prominent in the industry, Brand foresees the potential need for storage system design experts and a sales team dedicated to storage.