Solar company opens first showroom in Michigan

Facility gives customers a chance to see the products in action.
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Pole-mounted solar arrays inside the store help customers understand how the systems work. Courtesy The Green Panel

While The Green Panel has been engineering, furnishing and installing renewable energy systems for commercial and residential customers since 2007, the Brighton-based company only recently opened Michigan’s first solar showroom in Byron Center.

The purpose of opening a showroom for solar products was to make purchasing renewable energy products more of an experience like shopping in an Apple store and for The Green Panel to move away from in-home selling.

Adam Harris, owner and CEO of The Green Panel, said the company chose the location of its first showroom because of Grand Rapids’ aggressive renewable energy and zero carbon footprint platform.

“Most of the state is transforming into an aggressive zero-carbon platform,” Harris said. “Ann Arbor happens to be the No. 1 hotspot in the state right now … Grand Rapids is No. 2.”

The Green Panel began toying with the idea of opening a solar showroom about eight years ago, but the industry didn’t have enough traction at the time to make it feasible, Harris said. Renewable energy was still in its infancy and evolving in the business sector much more than in the residential arena.

At the time, solar installations for businesses were heavily incentivized by government institutions, but by 2012, many of those incentives were retracted.

There also was a lack of knowledge in the industry, Harris added. From an educational standpoint, institutions that now teach about renewable energy and producing people to work in that space didn’t exist at that time.

“The No. 1 thing we seemed to go through with every client, whether they’re a large Fortune 500 business or a small business or a residential owner, is being able to understand how solar works,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of preconceived notions about how solar actually interfaces with your electrical system.”

The last nine years, however, were marked by explosive growth in renewable energy, and a need to continue to educate consumers about the science and the benefits of renewable energy. To date, The Green Panel alone has done about 1,500 solar installs in the state of Michigan — 60% residential and 40% commercial — so the company once again considered the idea of opening a showroom in 2020, until the pandemic hit.

Ironically, COVID-19 proved quite beneficial for the solar industry, as it created opportunities for business owners to think outside the box, and Harris said he believes solar is an out-of-the-box type of industry. Putting in a showroom would create a platform with no in-home selling, where the customer can come in, experience the product and ask questions without feeling like they’re having their personal space invaded by a salesperson.

“If somebody comes to your house and sells to you — I hate to put it this way — there’s a sense of sliminess to it,” Harris said. “And then when they’re there, you may get some biased information on the product they sell and why their product is better.”

By bringing potential customers into a showroom and presenting examples of how systems work, Harris said The Green Panel takes the bias out of selling and focuses on the brand specifically.

“Most people in the industry have never touched a solar panel in their life, and it is the third-largest expense a customer will make in their lifetime, behind purchasing their home or buying their vehicles,” Harris said.

As customers walk into the showroom, they are drawn to a pole-mount solar panel system. Nine years ago, The Green Panel installed 18 poles — each with 16 panels — to power all the electric vehicles on Western Michigan University’s campus.

The Green Panel also is a supplier for Tesla, which aside from manufacturing EVs and EV charging stations, also develops traditional solar panels, less conspicuous “solar shingles” for homes and energy storage devices for overproduction.

Solar arrays on their own rely on utility power at night or when solar energy isn’t available due to weather and other variables. With a battery backup system, energy can be stored for future use, reducing or altogether eliminating the need to utilize any amount of solar energy.

“Any overproduction that that solar array produces goes back in the battery,” Harris said. “So, when you get home in the evening, you can interrogate this battery through your cell phone and say, ‘I want to use the power from the battery before I go to the grid.’”

An individual Tesla storage device has a 13 kWh output, and users can stack units together for more output. The output will continue even in the event of a power outage.

Tesla’s solar shingles are a viable alternative to a traditional roofing system in communities where zoning does not allow for residents to put solar panels on the front of their houses, Harris added.

The Green Panel also carries the SunPower array of products, which are mostly used in commercial applications. At press time, The Green Panel was installing a half-megawatt SunPower array for the Auto Owners building in Lansing.

On the fun side, the company carries electric powered motorcycles made by Vintage Electric Bikes out of California. Harris said e-bikes can get up to 45 miles on a charge and do 36 mph on the street.

Other brands the company carries are Panasonic Solar, SolarEdge and Enphase Solar. All products The Green Panel carries are made in the United States.

The Green Panel showroom is located at 325 84th St., Ste. 204, Byron Center. Regular hours are 8 a.m.-7 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

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