For most solar consumers, solar distributors are (and will continue to be) a largely hidden part of the value chain: When you receive quotes from local or national installers on EnergySage, you’ll have the opportunity to compare different types of equipment from different manufacturers. But where do the installers themselves — the companies that provide you quotes via EnergySage — get the necessary equipment to complete your solar installation? In many cases, the answer is a solar distributor.
- Solar distributors are a major component of the solar industry.
- Though invisible to most solar shoppers, they factor heavily into the value chain overall.
- Solar distributors generally sit between equipment manufacturers (Panasonic, Solaredge, etc.) and the solar installer — helping to store and deliver equipment as/when needed by residential and commercial contractors.
- Major North American distributors include BayWa r.e., CED Greentech, Freedom Solar, Wesco, and Soligent.
Manufacturers vs. installers vs. distributors
Solar panels can take many different paths to find their way onto your rooftop, but we’ve included a relatively simplified illustration below, highlighting the primary functions of manufacturers, distributors, and installers:
VALUE CHAIN EXAMPLE: Residential rooftop solar
Solar distributors: major players and functions
Distributors play a critical role in the solar industry by helping the right solar solution get to the right installer at the right time. For instance, a solar distributor can alleviate the need for individual solar installers to carry large amounts of equipment inventory. Instead, solar contractors can wait to purchase the equipment they need until a homeowner moves forward with a project. This helps drive down carrying costs for installers–e.g., less of a need to own and operate their own warehouse & distribution center for solar equipment–which means lower prices for you.
Major solar distributors sell to all segments of solar installers: residential installers, commercial installers, and utility-focused entities. Some of the biggest distributors in the US include, but are not limited to:
- BayWa r.e.: Munich-based company focused on agriculture and energy; provides solar products and services across the spectrum (and around the world). Leading solar distributor in North America and worldwide.
- Wesco: publicly-traded company on the NYSE. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA; provides products across several categories, including inverters, racking, solar modules and ‘balance of system’ equipment (Editor’s note: balance of system (or BOS) equipment is a catch-all category for things you need for your solar panel systems like cables, copper wiring and end caps for racking, that aren’t included in other equipment categories.). Also offers its customers ‘value-added services’, such as supply chain optimization, inventory management, and sourcing.
- CED Greentech: one of the largest distributors in the U.S. Headquartered in San Diego, CA, and part of the Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED) company. Helps its customers design, finance, sell, and install solar PV and energy storage solutions.
Recent developments: what’s changed in the solar distributor landscape?
In the early stages of solar in North America, solar distributors often occupied a clearly defined niche within the industry: purchase inventory, house inventory, distribute inventory…repeat. As the solar industry has matured, however, distributors have evolved to meet the evolving needs of solar installers. Today, many distributors have expanded their offerings — seeking to stand out in new ways (beyond just, you know, storing and distributing inventory). These services range from solar panel system design to supply chain management to financing to information management.
In addition, distributors in adjacent markets (such as electricity distribution) have started entering the solar market — increasing competition for established industry veterans. And in recent years, distributors have also grown significantly through acquisition – with players like Baywa, Wesco, and others scooping up numerous companies in myriad deals (some smaller, some larger).
Bottom line: what does it mean for you?
The bottom line for you? It is unlikely you’ll know the name of your solar distributor, but the distributor that your solar installer works with will undoubtedly influence the eventual solar energy solution you select for your home or business, especially the price you pay. To see the price of different potential solar solutions to meet your needs, get started with a free account on EnergySage today! You’ll receive custom quotes from installers in your area without the hassle of having to find and call those installers on your own. When you get quotes, ask your installer who their distributor is – and let us know what you find out in the comments below!