By Gregory Daurer | Oct 09, 2022
Pleasanton, California and San Antonio, Texas
Wood lists off the types of customers that have installed solar panels manufactured by SEG Solar. There are big-box retailers seeking to lower their carbon emissions by placing panels on top of their stores to assist with their energy needs. There are utility companies in places like Oregon, Florida, and New York generating power for customers using their own array of panels spread out over a local landscape. And there are everyday homeowners reducing their electrical costs via panels on their roofs.
"We have a lot of commercial rooftop projects in Washington, D.C., New Jersey, California, Massachusetts," adds Wood. "Lots of utility [customers] in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida."
Presently, the company owns factories in Vietnam and Thailand, which produce panels bound for the United States -- a country that sets prohibitive tariffs on imports from China. But SEG Solar runs a factory in China, as well, which supplies customers in Spain. "The U.S. and Spain are our primary markets," says Wood. Right now, the factories utilized by SEG Solar produce a variety of monofacial and bifacial panels -- meaning, respectively, they generate power by utilizing either one side or both sides of the panel (the latter being the standard type in the U.S.).
There's another location where SEG Solar expects to have a factory soon: Houston, Texas. In terms of future employees, Wood says, "We anticipate having a total of 300 people when we open the facility in Texas -- and that will eventually become 500 people." The opening may take place as early as 2023. Still, Wood says, "I don't anticipate seeing any solar cells made with any type of scale until probably after 2025 -- maybe late 2025, early 2026."
The company chose Houston because it has a port through which import materials can travel. Furthermore, it's a central point from which to service customers in Florida and California -- as well as within the state. Woods notes how, "Texas, itself, is one of the largest utility solar markets in the country, as well as having very robust commercial and residential solar markets." As an example of one existing Lone Star State project, Wood points to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. "The airport is covered in our solar panels," he says.
In terms of deciding to manufacture domestically, Wood points to the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 as the primary instigator. The recently passed legislation provides incentives for businesses to manufacture in the United States, in order to achieve the government's long-range energy goals. That includes securing "America's position as a world leader in domestic clean energy manufacturing," according to a statement from the Department of Energy, as well as becoming "a net-zero economy by 2050."
In terms of achieving that goal of increased domestic solar production, there's a major hurdle for a business like SEG Solar: "The supply chain in the U.S. doesn't quite exist yet" to provide the industry with necessary parts domestically, says Wood. He anticipates domestic supply-chain manufacturers arising in tandem with the appearance of additional solar panel producers, providing solar panel producers with solar panel glass and solar cells.
But what attracts customers to SEG Solar's products, presently? Wood points to a variety of factors ranging from the company's 25-year warranty on panels for homes to its vetted supply chain (avoiding any Chinese-made material for panels for the U.S. market) to its recycling program and the environmentally conscious construction of its panels. Furthermore, the panels undergo a battery of testing from third-party outfits. "Those companies do very rigorous testing on our solar panels" says Wood, ensuring that the panels, for instance, are able to withstand all types of weather extremes and that they perform with top-rated efficiency.
Additionally, there are customers who've already developed trusted relationships with Wood, who has spent over a decade in the solar industry, prior to the formation of SEG Solar. "Those relationships carry forward," he says.
SEG Solar developed out of a trading company working with the Chinese-incorporated business, Seraphim; Wood helped launch the distribution of Seraphim's panels within the United States. SEG Solar is now its own standalone company, although it will continue to share some resources with Seraphim until 2024. "No Chinese citizen owns any part of SEG Solar," says Wood. In terms of the facilities that SEG Solar now owns overseas, Wood adds, "Those are [factories] we've acquired through our own profitability."
Through its overseas factories, its upcoming Houston facility, and its domestic and European customers, Wood envisions his company continuing to "grow and get more market share and build brand recognition by offering a quality product."
Challenges: It's still somewhat unclear how government incentives for domestic solar manufacturers will work. "There's still a lot of unknowns on how to qualify for some of these," says Wood.
Opportunities: "The demand for solar panels in the U.S. is very high, but the supply chain [within] the U.S. is very bad," says Wood. He cites glass for solar panels, as well as solar cells, as being needed domestically. That might provide opportunities for brand-new American companies to step in and fill the breach.
Needs: "The biggest need for our businesses is good people," says Wood. "Employment is becoming more and more competitive right now."