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In it for the Long Run: Treepublic on Building a Sustainable Business

Mar 19, 2020

Omar Nasser is president of Treepublic Energy, one of the leading providers of rooftop residential and commercial solar in the greater Los Angeles area and a Solar Power World 2018 Top Solar Contractor. A clean energy company since 2008, Omar joined forces with Enphase Energy in November 2018 and transitioned Treepublic to using Enphase inverters exclusively. In the conversation that follows, Omar discusses what drew him to Enphase products and he describes several innovative, revenue-generating opportunities in the solar business that his switch to Enphase helped make possible.

Enphase: Omar, thank you for taking the time and being part of this conversation. We’ve had several discussions about how Treepublic has taken advantage of the products, services, and support Enphase offers, but you also expressed interest in telling some of your customers’ stories. Please tell us a bit more about that.

Omar Nasser: Thank you for the opportunity to share some of those stories! The solar energy business at Treepublic initially focused only on installing solar systems on existing houses. In recent years, even before we decided to make a full switch to only using Enphase microinverters, our team started leveraging the flexibility and reliability of Enphase microinverters in new ways. Since the microinverters are built on a distributed architecture, you don’t have the system-size limitations or the single-point-of-failure issues inherent in string inverter systems.

As a solar installation company that’s been operating since 2008 (and using Enphase since 2011), we’ve seen many of our would-be peer companies come and go. While our business used to consist entirely of first-time residential installations, over time, as certain competitors went out of business, we started getting calls from folks with ‘orphaned’ solar systems. Our service calls on these orphaned solar systems uncovered many different ways in which solar systems fail over time. Many of these older systems have reached the financial break-even point, which is a small consolation for system owners. But as with other home appliances or systems, there comes the point at which an upgrade is in order.

Enphase: Tell us a little more about these orphaned solar systems. What drives system owners to call you in the first place? How do you diagnose issues? What kinds of systems or configurations do you find?

Omar Nasser: We find all kinds of issues on orphaned systems, and most commonly it’s the homeowner who recognizes that their electric bill has crept up, or that the number of kilowatt-hours for which their utility typically reimburses them has crept down. Solar module failure is one cause for system performance degradation since, in traditional string inverter systems, a single module can drag down the performance of the rest of the modules attached to the affected string. More commonly, old high-voltage DC systems, long since out of their warranty periods, suffer from inverter failure issues over time. There are many houses out there with string inverters installed by companies that have gone out of business, and with string inverters from manufacturers that no longer exist. It’s a double whammy. Instead of leaving these homeowners stranded and telling them they are out of luck, we walk them through the electrical and financial calculations of upgrading to modern inverter technology. Since most of these folks understand and enjoy the benefits of solar, they have no qualms about modernizing and breathing new life into their systems. In those cases, we uninstall the legacy string inverter system and retrofit new Enphase microinverter, and our customers are consistently satisfied with their decisions. They also love the ability to monitor their refreshed systems with the Enphase Enlighten mobile app.

Enphase: I hate to ask, but what do you do with the legacy Enphase microinverter-based systems on which first-generation micros have failed?

Omar Nasser: The early generation of Enphase microinverters also had some issues, and we’ve been able to serve affected customers through the Enphase Upgrade Program. In this case, Enphase provides the customer several options: buy the latest generation of microinverters at a significant discount and have us replace them, upgrade both the inverter and module to a new Enphase Energized™ AC Module (also at a discount) or the option to join the top of the waiting list for upcoming Enphase IQ 8™ microinverters which will allow the solar system to keep producing energy when the grid is down. Regardless of why they choose new Enphase microinverters, our customers are thrilled to have the peace-of-mind that comes with the Enphase 25-year microinverter warranty.

Enphase: Your customers benefit from updated and upgraded solar systems. In what ways have you and Treepublic benefitted from this new retrofit or upgrade business?

Omar Nasser: Simply answering the phone calls from the owners of orphaned solar systems call has put us in touch with hundreds of new contacts. It’s not great that this happens in the first place, but when we don’t just send those folks packing (“not my installation, not my problem”), we are allowed the opportunity to earn their trust as new customers. I don’t look at a rip-and-replace job for an old string system, for example, as an opportunity to maximize our profit margins. The installation work certainly costs money, but we provide our retrofit customers a detailed sunk-cost analysis on various kinds of retrofits and build cash flow statements that include residual value to show a shorter payback period given that a system will produce more energy after the upgrade. In many cases, our customers future-proof their systems by selecting more powerful Enphase microinverters to get more performance today and leave the option to add more powerful modules later.

Enphase: It’s great to hear that homeowners take advantage of the option to spread their investment in upgrading their solar systems over time. Is there anything similar that your customers do when it comes to installing their first solar systems today?

Omar Nasser: There are other ways in which we use the flexibility of the Enphase system to give our customers more options for new solar installations. For example, we serve an area with many expansive homes, and while our competitors will pitch a 72-module system (as many as will fit), our team has the option to say: let's do this in two phases. With the modularity of Enphase microinverters, we can offer a 24-module system, allowing customers to see how much that system offsets their bill, and they can then choose to add more modules as necessary later. With the Enphase architecture, you don’t have to lock a customer into a fixed-size central or string inverter, which would have to be oversized (read: more expensive) or removed and replaced if it is too small for later additions. Our customers also like the idea of having a simple path to upgrading their homes with Always-On Enphase Ensemble™ energy management technology and Enphase Encharge™ energy storage, so their solar systems can keep producing power and charging batteries during Public Safety Power Shutdowns, which have become more frequent in California.

Enphase: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Omar Nasser: Part of our conversation was about orphaned solar systems, whose installers and manufacturers have long since gone out of business. I have a theory about how the longevity and quality of the equipment used by an installer is directly proportional to the longevity of that company. Many of the systems we service were installed by companies who made solar equipment decisions that did not serve them well, and those companies are no longer around. Too many truck rolls and service costs over time cause installers to go out of business. Our experience with the nearly 9,000 Enphase microinverters we have deployed so far has been outstanding. Failures are extremely rare, the occasional RMA is rapidly processed right from the mobile app, the support team consistently answers calls in under 90 seconds, and we can see the health of any of the microinverters in our fleet from a central dashboard at the office. Enphase offers the kind of quality on which installers who are in the business for the long haul can depend.

Enphase: Thank you for taking the time and sharing so many details about Treepublic. And thank you for being a great customer. The team at Enphase is grateful to have you as one of our installation partners.

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