At Least the Solar Coaster has a track….
Artie Perri is the Sales Manager for CED Greentech Long Island. He has been with the company for over 3 years. He is also Chairman of the Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association & an Adjunct Professor at Suffolk County Community College. In this article, Artie details his views and experiences during this time in the solar industry. Artie is a respected member of our community and as always we welcome his voice and opinion.
As the calendar turned this past January, many said this was the year of “clarity,” a play on the year 2020 and the “vision” many set for themselves, families and businesses. The images that accompanied an emerging “pneumonia-like” virus were nothing the world hadn’t seen before. Masks on citizens and sanitation crews scrubbing a metropolitan city halfway across the world have been a scene once played out before, just not in our communities. By March, most of the United States was locked down, sheltered in place and put on “pause.”
In what was a whirlwind of dizzying events, that far away vision came into focus in each of our lives. There were many firsts and unprecedented actions that unfolded. While the loss of life from the Coronavirus has touched many, the existential threat posed by this pandemic has impacted every one of us.
For weeks, the only facts that any of us could count on was that anything can change at any given moment. News 5 minutes old, would be replaced over and over each and every day. As a professional in the solar industry, knowledge is what drives our businesses and our value propositions. For weeks on end, we had no answers—or so we thought.
Each year the solar industry has grown accustomed to facing a new or reoccurring challenge. These challenges over the years have dubbed our industry the “solar coaster”; a ride with many twists and turns, ups and downs, some thrilling and some gut-wrenching. The solar industry, whether we knew at the time or not, was built to face this new threat and the challenge’s posed by COVID-19.
One day, after several weeks of what felt like being on an endless loop di loop section of the Solar Coaster, a familiar notion presented itself. This notion manifested itself in the form of a playful comment one morning. With all the everchanging events unfolding, the tragic death toll, the economic paralysis, the constant worry and fear for our loved ones, I offered to console a colleague by saying, “At least the solar coaster has a track.”
Every successful entrepreneur often has that magic moment in their journey that ignites a desire to fill a need by providing a product or service. For weeks, after exchanging safekeeping messages about loved ones, my colleagues and I were discussing how the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and our industry would play out. One fact that emerged quickly was the Pre-COVID-19 market was not going to look the same Post-COVID-19. We all would be entering a new market once we were “unpaused” or shelter in place orders were relaxed. Those that chose to, would see that this new world required all of us to hit reset on our business and focus our energies on coming out of this challenge stronger than before.
Hitting the reset button on a market or business was scary at first, but knowing the solar industry has a track—or familiar formula to help us coast back stronger reignited the passion in many of our entrepreneurial colleagues, installers and strategic partners. What was such an uncommon, unprecedented and unique threat could easily be overcome by such a common set of principles we already had programmed within our solar DNA and businesses.
Looking Toward the Future
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo mentioned early on that there is no going back to “normal.” He then followed up by saying we need to reimagine NY and our communities. When we reopen, we will need to bring it back better than before. For a moment the Governor was talking like a solar industry entrepreneur. Each and every one of us does our jobs because we believe in what we do, we are changing the world for the better. We have been reimagining our communities for a long time. For the first time, a goal or mission statement that we all share was broadcasted globally.
Seizing on this energy, solar industry folks across the country resurrected many of their policy asks which now would find a home and high likelihood of adoption. Virtual permitting became crucial to not only the building and trades industries, but to municipalities that needed to generate revenue. Having touchless or virtual permitting would enable HOAs to scale efficiencies while maintaining CDC guidelines and in turn allow solar and building trades to expedite their permitting process. Shortening the sales cycle for the installer, consumer and municipality was a win, win, win. COVID-19 was the catalyst in taking our common ask of virtual permitting and inspecting, mainstream.
Pre-COVID-19, it wasn’t uncommon for many of us to wake up at 4 am, jump on a plane, have a day’s worth of meetings and fly back within 24 hours. A government-mandated shelter in place or pause order due to COVID-19 changed all of that. For the first time, it was socially acceptable to facetime/video conference in place of a physical 1 on 1 meeting. The smarter entrepreneurs in our industry quickly realized what that would do to efficiency and profitability. For the first time, an 8 hour day of zoom meetings would yield more progress with customers than knocking on doors or jumping on planes. With this social barrier removed, it allowed our industry to expand our reach overnight. Video calls or conferences, a common tool for solar folks, were now mainstream. End users, developers, elected officials all could cover more ground than before and find the time for meaningful and productive conversations.
The economic and personal tragedy that we experienced and continue to face, revealed once again that our people and partnerships are our most important asset. As Joe Kennedy said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This unprecedented crisis forced us once again to look to the common core of our business—the so-called guardrail of the solar coaster. Our employees, strategic partners, suppliers---the very people that make our industry run, were the key to our recovery and reimagined world. As we hit reset on this market, the better teams and partnerships will not only get us through the tough times but will grow our businesses exponentially in the years to come. Unprecedented tough times have a way of forging tighter bonds amongst our true partners and friends while breaking down the superficial ones.
The uncommon occurrence of COVID-19 was and will be an ongoing threat to our families, businesses and communities—at least until a vaccine is developed. The weeks in which we all felt stuck in an endless loop was only the beginning of our transition into the new market and world with COVID-19. This unique threat will be beaten, by staying true to what has gotten our industry this far. We now come out of this with a shared common mission statement of reimagining our communities, solar has been doing this since day one. Through advocacy with the aid of technology and transparency, we all now share the common desire to improve the way we work within our communities and municipalities. Most importantly of all, we all now hit restart on our businesses for the better, with our most valuable people and partnerships by our sides.
Who knew that the arrival of something so unfamiliar and distant, would provide us the energy and vision to re-focus on the closest common fibers that have contributed and will continue to contribute to the success in our personal and professional pursuits.