Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Windy Wyoming
Thanked 37 Times in 36 Posts
Rep Power: 10
RE installation is a killing field. I have four friends, all very capable and hard-working, whose solar PV businesses crashed and burned in the ugliest way imaginable. And that was open field (commercial, residential, recreational, whaddever) in a place ideal for solar and wind power. Aiming for a tiny niche of what is already a niche market ... oof.
As others have noted, sailors tend to be DIY-types, anyhow. The cost of the panels and controllers is very high, so many people supply the labor themselves. Now, RE dealers generally obtain their products at 50-75% retail cost; they resell them at retail-plus. Markup covers the biz expenses, then they charge a bit extra for labor (often as low as $25/hr).
Insurance, certification, licensing, manufacturer's training. You better have some or all of the above, and that's a lot of up-front time & cost.
Marketing: word of mouth is great, I live by it; but for something as niche as marine solar, would-be customers have to know about your services BEFORE they buy the panels and bolt them on themselves. The professional option has to be dangling in front of their eyes from the start. Because you will NOT survive installing panels the customer purchased.
Incidentals: Amazing how they add up. "Gee, these brackets won't work with that solar arch. I need to drive forty miles to get the right size." That's fifty bux in stainless and ten in gas you just swallowed -- and you WILL swallow it. Two hours wages vanished, plus two more hours in the truck. You can go broke just maintaining a stock of wire and crimp connectors.
Call Backs: The very worst. Unpaid materials, unpaid labor, and a pissed-off customer. You're putting delicate electronics in a brutal marine environment, and not everything about its care and feeding is within your control. Stuff breaks. You have to go fix it.
Not trying to discourage you at all -- RE is growing faster than any trade in the US, and as a nation we have lots of catching up to do. The business potential is enormous, and now is the time to get trained, get established, and start building a client base. But I'd cast a wide net -- highway departments, oilfields, telecoms, WalMarts -- whoever wants PV, be ready to improvise and adapt. If you aren't a licensed master electrician or structural engineer or a great welder, find reliable ones and court their help. You can corner the boating market as a sideline, but I wouldn't sit by the phone waiting for yachties to call. Luck!
Albin Ballad 30, Fionn