Nearly every defining metric of the industry has dramatically changed for the positive in the decades since, from costs (the price per watt is nearly 200 times less) to adoption (less than one gigawatt to more than 400 gigawatts in 2017), with industry growth soaring way beyond International Energy Agency projections.
One of the reasons for that growth is the ever-growing financial benefit to go solar, and the ever-shrinking time for customers to obtain a return on their solar investment, says Sun First Solar CEO Kim Fink.
“Panels are constantly getting more and more efficient,” she says. “As a result, the people who are buying solar were initially focused on the environmental benefits and now are doing it for that reason but also because it makes financial sense. People now are also focused on cutting their expenses, with most seeing a return on their investment within around five years, and that’s been a huge change.”
But with all that searing industry momentum comes one significant hurdle: an increasingly crowded field of competitors, Fink says.
“We’re likely the oldest solar company in the Bay Area, period,” she says. “When he first started, there were very few people doing it, and he was going door to door to inform and educate people about what it was. And over the years, we’ve seen a lot of startups emerge. But we’ve stood the test of time.”
Fink says Sun First Solar’s 34 years in the business is a testament to its “one-stop shop” approach. That means that while an array of businesses offer services within one slice of solar service, such as site audits, permitting and cost-benefit analysis, Sun First covers the entire process from start to finish, and promises an approximately five-year return on investment for its customers.
That’s especially important on two fronts, Fink says. “You have to have an extremely knowledgeable staff who know how to install effectively on all types of roofs, particularly to manage the increasingly larger demand for electricity in each home these days,” she says.
Fink says Sun First stands out in the crowd because of its longstanding in-house installation team, which is often sought by third party providers to do installations. “So many companies are subcontracting out everything and not wanting to employ their own crews because it’s labor intensive and costly.”
That team is the backbone of the company, Fink says. Sun First Solar’s 24 employees regularly go on outings together, from rafting on the American River to bowling later this week. “Not because they have to but because we all want to,” she says.
The family-owned company is also focused on engaging with the community beyond solar, with many staff members regularly volunteering in Marin. People have noticed, as Sun First Solar was been named 2017’s Small Business of the Year by the City of San Rafael and thus garnered a Spirit of Marin Award from Bank of Marin in October. The firm also landed “best solar” honors in the Marin Independent Journal’s Readers’ Choice competition.
“We’ll take it,” Fink says with a laugh.
Check out the drone video below featuring solar installations at home and buildings all over Mill Valley and Marin, including the Good Earth Natural Foods store in Tam Junction: