In today’s interview we have Matt Liles, system designer and sales rep at Cotuit Solar.
| Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m Matt Liles. I am a system designer and sales rep at Cotuit Solar, based in Cotuit, Barnstable County. I got into solar after working for a couple years for a curbside composting outfit, just a few towns over. So, I’ve been working in sort of boots on the ground sustainability roles for the last 10 years.
| I saw in your biography you are also a bit of a musician…
Yeah I’m actually a drummer and play at a couple of bars around town. We got a couple other musicians here at the warehouse! At work parties, we’ve actually had some music sessions, so it’s quite an interesting group.
| That’s awesome, you don’t hear that a lot, especially in this line of work! So, how did you get started with Cotuit?
I actually first connected with Conrad, who is the founder of Cotuit, because he had posted a job opening for somebody to manage the development of his fleet of PV-powered catamarans, because he was originally a boat builder.
I was entirely not qualified for that, but he seemed like a cool guy and it seemed like a cool company. So that’s just how I first contacted him. And then I sort of pestered him for a few years while I was finishing up my degree at the University of Massachusetts. Eventually, he brought me on board to work on his composting toilet business rollout, which is another thing that we’re very slowly chipping away at, because Massachusetts regulatory bodies are entirely unfriendly to the idea of non-flush toilets.
That was the first project he brought me on for, and then I eventually just wound up working for Cotuit Solar.
| And what’s your role at Cotuit Solar right now?
I do system design. We mainly use Aurora Solar for designing systems, which I think a lot of installers do, at least a lot of the ones around here. So, I design systems and do the customer contact work pretty much up until all the permitting is in motion. And then we’ve got other team members who manage the other parts of the permitting process.
| How big is your team?
We’re about six or seven people in the office, five dogs, and about 10-15 people in the warehouse. We’re a small local outfit and we’ve got all of our professionals and licenses in-house.
| Do you know maybe something about the history of the company, the beginning stages etc. considering you’ve joined Cotuit later down the line?
It’s the oldest solar installer on the Cape. Likely, one of the oldest in the country! It was founded in 1988, which is long before rooftop PV solar was commercially viable. It was originally Conrad, building solar power boats and doing old pool heat systems, thermal hot water systems, anything solar that was around, really.
Then around the mid-2000s, the company sort of transitioned to PV because it’s just very economical for the homeowner and for the installer, and being able to net meter is what really made it work.
| Are you only doing solar installations or are there any other services that you provide?
As for the services we don’t do, that’s roofing and tree removal. We have in the past, but the demand for solar installations right now is so extreme around here because the cost of electricity is so high that we really don’t have the bandwidth to do that.
So, right now, we’re pretty much strictly focused on PV installations. Though we also do battery installations, unfortunately, there’s still not a huge incentive for the people to get them, as it’s expensive and there is no peak demand pricing here. We’re also not too thrilled about the current battery technology, but we anticipate things changing in the near future.
We’re not doing EV chargers right now, but are also planning to make that part of what we do, especially as the bi-directional charging EV setup starts to become more common, because that is really important to the stability of energy grids – being able to take some stress off of them during peak hours. If you’ve got even 10% of the cars in Massachusetts sitting idle in driveways at dinnertime, and they all have 10 KW batteries in them; that’s a really nice part of the future of flattening the intermittent sources of renewable energy.
| Bi-directional EVs sound like a great idea but is that enough energy, though? I mean, taking energy from your vehicle and using it to power your home?
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That is going to depend on the size of the batteries and the vehicles. Right now, most of them have roughly a 10 KW battery, which is $20,000-$25,000, typically when it’s all installed and everything.
So why not pay $25,000 and get an EV with a 10 KW battery and, besides driving, use it to keep your fridge on, keep some electric burners going or simply keep the lights on in your home! Of course, keeping your home heating system on for three days is not a realistic thing you can do with an EV, but if the entire neighborhood/community comes together and joins the EV movement, we can collectively take a huge load off the electric grid and help its stability.
| That makes sense, one single person can’t make too big of a difference, but if a lot of people get on board, this can make a difference. What about the competition over there? You say there is an increased demand for solar, are you seeing some new companies popping up, some of the old ones getting bigger?
It’s hard to tell, really. There’s something like 13 towns on Cape Cod, which is a peninsula off of the side of Massachusetts. Barnstable is one of them. So, our service area is really about an hour in any direction. In that area, there are a handful of small local installers like us, most of whom’ve been around for a while.
There are always some companies cropping up, but I think that the pandemic kind of strangled some of these, especially the ones that didn’t have the reputation and weren’t established.
That being said, everybody I talk to, always has at least three or four quotes. So, there’s no shortage of companies out there and, more importantly, there’s no shortage of demand!
It’s actually insane. Since the cost of a kilowatt hour was 24 cents a year ago, and is 38 cents right now, people are more and more open to the idea of installing a solar system on their home.
| What about the future of the company? Where do you see the Cotuit going in the upcoming years?
In my perspective, Cotuit Solar doesn’t have plans to do any significant changes in the future. We have been operating for 35 years and are content with our current approach. We prefer to maintain a small crew and manageable workload, ensuring that we consistently deliver high-quality work. Our main goal is to provide our employees with the means to support their families and meet their financial obligations while excelling in their job performance. Unlike other companies whose focus may be on acquiring market share and selling customer lists, Cotuit Solar follows a different business model.
While the technology we work with will naturally evolve based on advancements in the industry, such as practical battery solutions becoming more prevalent in the next decade, I don’t anticipate any major shifts in the overall organization of Cotuit Solar, unless an unforeseen event necessitates it.
Solar systems need maintenance for 25 years after you install them. So, you have to allocate some bandwidth and some finances for that, or else you’re not really doing right by your customers, and then that eventually puts you out of business.