On Oct. 7, Vivint Solar opened its newest office in Santa Anna, Calif., as the company continues its rocket-paced expansion. Brendon Merkley, Vivint Solar’s chief operating officer, discussed the expansion and the company’s plans to challenge SolarCity as the U.S.’s largest residential solar installer.
Vivint Solar opened up a new office in Southern California over the weekend to support its growth in that market, coinciding with the launch of the Solar Decathlon at Great Park in Irvine, Calif., at which Vivint Solar team members will volunteer to show visitors the homes.
“It's part of a similar plan to continue expanding the reach of the company and the product offering,” explains Vivint Solar Chief Operating Officer Brendon Merkley. “It's an area we weren't serving with existing offices and we wanted to extend the reach of the company to Orange County we plan to hire initially a few dozen employees across sales teams and install technicians. That will likely grow to 50-60 employees in the near term,” he says.
Vivint Solar is an offshoot of Vivint, the home services company, which offers home automation, energy efficiency and security services across the U.S. As such, Vivint Solar has a unique opportunity to cross-sell or market its solar service to the parent company’s existing customers or to up-sell multiple products to homeowners at the same time. It’s likely one of the things that have helped the company’s mercurial growth, as has its marketing approach, which includes face-to-face meetings with potential customers.
“We started out 2013 with confidence and limited operations and we've really exploded those out to 15 offices,” Merkley says. “Today that puts us as the second largest developer developing about 5 and a half to 6 megawatts a month right now, about 1,200 customers per month.” In California alone the company has already installed 5,000 residential solar energy systems in 2013.
The expansion into Southern California is the just that latest for the company since it got into the solar game in 2011. “It's been surreal, I was employee number 1.” He adds, “I'm not sure when we got 900 employees, but the last two years have been fast and furious.”
Like its biggest competitor in the residential solar market, SolarCity, Vivint offers solar as a service to homeowners through third-party ownership (TPO) options, like power-purchase agreements (PPAs). Under these options homeowners can go solar without high up-front costs and then pay for the system through a PPA or lease payment that’s designed to be lower than what they pay for electricity on the grid. Vivint used the PPA agreements in its markets, which currently include California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.
Once the new Santa Anna office fully ramps up Vivint Solar will have roughly 950 employees and perhaps more, according to Merkley. He says considering executive and other staff, like call centers will bring that number up further.
The company anticipates overtaking SolarCity as the U.S.’s largest solar installer, but Merkley says, “We're not sharing expansion plans at this point. We hope to continue growing like this and we do plan to [have] more office openings, I won't say when, but we perceive lots and lots of opportunity in existing markets and new markets where you can expand the company operations,” he says.
Part of the reason the company is able to expand so fast is that Vivint Solar isn’t seeing intense competition. “This space is very, very new and there's a lot of white space in the market and a lot of customers and rooftops to approach. The service offering is very, very attractive to customers and there are lots of them who do not yet understand that solar is approachable and affordable and can save them money,” Merkley says. “We occasionally see or hear of competitors, but it's not an overly competitive market per-say.”