WORKING IN RE
bought a bargain from an internet company
or on e-Bay, and now need help installing the
system. Invariably, I tell them that they
should have thought about that before clicking the Buy Now! button.
On-the-Job Training: You will need considerable experience installing systems in
order to be marketable and valuable to your
customers. You certainly do not want to experiment without your customer’s knowledge
and permission, especially on your first few
jobs. But where do you get that experience?
That’s easy. Offer to work for an established business, at no cost to them. Surprising advice? Consider this: Why would any
company pay to train potential competition,
even at minimum wage? If you are going to
get experience with a seasoned RE company,
you will have to do it at your expense, and
be grateful for the opportunity.
In the small wind-turbine business, some
manufacturers require a newcomer to join a
work crew for two or more actual installations, all expenses paid by you, before they
will allow you to install their equipment.
And why shouldn’t they?
Keep in mind that their
name is on the product,
not yours. Any blunder by
an installer can damage
their reputation. The same
is true for the local RE business you may train with.
Any irate customer will call
the boss in the middle of
the night, not the multi-thumbed trainee who
cross-wired the system.
HUDSON VALLEY COMMUNITY COLLEGE
If you think this
through, you’ll realize that
the training relationship
must be of value to the
trainer, not just to the
trainee. Offer your undivided attention for the
duration of the installations they allow you to
“crew” on. That means no
cell phone chatter or e-mail on their time. In addition, you might try to
sweeten the deal by committing to purchase your
future customer equipment needs from them for
a stated period of time.
Before hanging out your shingle, get some hands-on experience working for an estab- This way, they will contin-
lished installer — even if you have to work for free. ue to see you as a value to
their business instead of a
threat of competition,
siphoning off their job leads.
And who knows? If they’re so wildly successful that they outgrow their labor pool,
they may begin referring work to you. ●
Breaking Into the Industry
Getting your own installation business started
may involve working for the competition.
By Mick Sagrillo
You finally see the writing on the wall:
Because of rising energy prices,
renewables have come of age. Even
the mainstream media are taking notice.
You’ve always aspired to a career in renewable energy (RE), making a difference for
your children and grandchildren. But how
exactly do you start?
You can set up a shingle advertising your
business and wait for customers to break down
your door, but you may
starve in the process. At
the very least, you will
lose a lot of weight.
Basic Skills: Now is the
time to sign up for workshops in renewable energy technologies. While a
workshop or two certainly
does not qualify you to
install a renewable energy
system on a customer’s
roof, it may be enough to
let you experiment safely
on your own home.
Hands-on work is critical
to understanding what it
takes to install systems,
especially if your training
course consists only of
web-based learning, sit-and-listen workshops, or
“lab” work. While all are
valuable, none of these are
a substitute for actual
hands-on work in the field.
I’d also suggest that
you expand your workshop palette to include
complementary technologies. For example, if you
want to install photovoltaic systems, make it a point to learn
something about solar water-heating or
wind-turbine installations. The additional
training will help you develop a holistic
approach to your future customers’ energy
needs, and make you that much more valuable in the marketplace.
Read, read and read. A wealth of information can be gleaned from publications like
SOLAR TODAY that feature renewable ener-
gy systems in a realistic manner. Keep up
with manufacturer and vendor websites,
especially regarding new technology developments and their applications.
Dealing vs. Installing: Don’t think you
can earn a decent living just selling equipment. This is difficult at best and will break
your bank at worst. There are simply too
many web-based companies that sell at such
There’s no substitute for actual
hands-on work in the field.
volume that it is nearly impossible to compete with their prices. Anybody can give
away equipment, but you cannot pay your
expenses, let alone support your lifestyle, by
selling products at cost.
Your value to the marketplace should not
be bargain-basement products and prices,
but your expertise, something that all too
many web-based sales companies sorely lack.
I get numerous phone calls from folks who
Mick Sagrillo owns Sagrillo Power & Light, a
Forestville, Wis.-based consultancy specializing
in educational workshops and consulting on
small wind systems. Contact him at