Interview with Scott Schwarzer – Pamlico Solar
In today’s interview we have Scott Schwarzer, co-owner of Pamlico Solar .
| Can you introduce yourself and maybe tell us a little something about yourself and the company?
My name’s Scott Schwarzer. I’m the co-owner and general contractor for Pamlico Solar. I was born and raised in Oriental, North Carolina, which is right on the Pamlico Sound, which is where we get our name. My brother, who’s a licensed electrician, and I came together to start the company in February of 2021.
| So, you started in 2021, was that the time of Covid?
Yeah, it was literally right after the Covid pandemic. So, it was a weird time. We were kind of glad we didn’t start it before 2020. But right after that, solar continued to pick up and kept moving. So we were able to find work and do a lot of sub work over the last year, which kind of got us to that point where we got a bunch of experience and built the infrastructure of the business.
| So, you just started this company. Did you have any previous experience with solar or is it something like a new thing you wanted to try?
My brother had installed probably four years beforehand, and I personally did not have experience. Actually, I went to NC State, graduated with a bachelor’s in biology and I worked in a cancer lab.
We always knew he wanted to do something, so we got together and, since in North Carolina, they required a general contracting license for solar, I ended up taking on that and getting the license last year.
| Was it hard starting a company? It was just the two of you in the beginning, right?
Yes. It was totally difficult, we joke about it all the time. We couldn’t have picked a harder company to start. You’re mixing roofing with new age electrical systems. So, it’s been a grind, but it’s been very rewarding at the same time.
| How long was it just the two of you?
We started February of 2021. I think we started picking up full-time work in October. We brought on our first employee in June of 2021.
It was him and I in the beginning, just cold calling and getting our name out there, and also calling other companies to see if they needed installers. From there, we finally got on-boarded with a larger company, and we started installing for them full-time. That’s when it really picked up.
| Are there a lot of companies doing solar in your area? Was it hard getting your name out there?
North Carolina Is the fifth state for solar installations I think, so there’s a lot of competition. The companies that are here, that are similar to ours, have been in the business for 10+ years.
It was definitely hard to get the name out. When you’re that new, you have to build trust and integrity. We just had to keep hitting and keep opening the doors. But once we really picked up, we were getting fed a ton of jobs and fulfilling those orders.
| Can we maybe talk a bit about all the services you offer? I see on your website you’re doing surveys, installing solar panels, energy storage generators, charging stations and project management. Can you talk us through each of these and expand a bit more?
So, our approach there is really knowing that solar can be up and down. This year has started out pretty slow, so we want to be able to offer more than just solar. We’ve gotten into the home standby generators, which is also really a big thing here in our coastal region.
We haven’t done as much with the energy audits but that’s something that we’re looking into. But as well as that, we do a lot of main panel upgrades, just to keep a diverse workflow coming in.
| What are your plans going forward and expanding the company?
Right now, the main focus is on sales, but, at the same time, we don’t want to grow too quickly. We’re not in tune with the sales blitz because we want to make sure we’re delivering on what we say.
So, we’re really looking at a steady growth and then diversifying into an alternative energy company, because we foresee the batteries becoming a big thing. People are going to need a battery to reap the benefits of solar and net metering and we want to be the company that helps them do it.
| What are some of these net metering changes in North Carolina specifically?
For the time being, it’s really just rumors about them not wanting to continue to offer a one-to-one net metering rate.
So, batteries are the way to go but they’re pretty expensive still. They’re expensive and their output isn’t as high as I think they could be. Of course, we anticipate this to change in the future and, once that happens, we’ll be having a more stable grid because the utility will be able to pull from those batteries as well.
| You say you do solar installations mainly for the individual homeowners? What is the process like? If someone comes to you and says “I want to build a solar system”, how do you guide them through the process?
Well, first and foremost, you really need to make sure that they have the roof structure as well as the sunlight availability to have solar and, of course, make sure they don’t have a lot of trees.
Once you get these “basic requirements” down, you need to go into education mode; our main job is to educate them and make them understand what solar actually is and what it involves. Only then do we move into sizing the system and figuring out what is the setup that offers the biggest benefits for their specific situation.
For example, we have a bunch of utilities that don’t offer net metering. So for those customers, you’re not going to go for a hundred percent offset because they’re not going to reap the benefits of that. This is where you need to think about the batteries.
As you can see, installing a solar system is not just dumping some solar panels onto someone’s roof, there is a lot to take into account before you even step foot on the roof.
| You did a lot of these solar installations… What was the one that stood out, was the most memorable, that you can think of right now?
Yeah. I can always go back to that first one. I mean it was probably the third time I’ve ever been on a roof in my life. I just remember getting up that ladder halfway and being like, man, either I’m going up or I’m not doing this solar thing at all. I mustered up the courage and went up the rest of the way! It was like exposure therapy, usher fear right out of me. It was great!
After getting the job done, my hands were torn up but it was an amazing accomplishment. So, that’s definitely the hardest one I’ve ever done.
But installing solar systems is definitely not an easy job. And this is why we really want to train our employees so that they’re doing everything right, as safely as possible. This is our number one concern.
Another thing we’re seeing with the market is a lot of young people really aren’t considering this as a career. What they don’t know is most of the licensed electricians are over 50, if not in their sixties, seventies.
We’re seeing that and really want to focus on training our employees so that they do see this as a career and something they’d like to do long term.
| Do you think that getting qualified installers is maybe one of the biggest challenges you will face in the future?
Yeah, I would say so. I think we, as a world, are moving towards more leisure, more things sort of being done for you, which is great; nothing wrong with that. But, younger generations are not as inclined to do the job we do.
At the same time, we need to create a good environment for them to do so, to make it worthwhile for them. At the end of the day, they aren’t going to risk their life to make 17 an hour? It doesn’t make sense.