Jayson Waller is the definition of a self-made entrepreneur. He began his career working in sales for AT&T and Verizon before starting a home security business in Mooresville, which he has shifted into one of the nation’s leading residential solar panel installers in the nation.
PowerHome Solar ranks sixth in U.S. residential solar installations, according to the industry publication Solar Power World, and is the leader for the Southeast and Midwest. PowerHome reported $185 million in revenue last year, CEO Waller says, and employs 800 across 14 locations. It ranked 100th on last year’s Inc 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies, posting 3,307% revenue growth from 2015-2018. Ernst & Young named Waller its 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Southeast.
The company started in 2015 as PowerHome Technologies, a home security installer. When Waller saw a competitor having success in solar installations, he made the same switch, rebranding as PowerHome Solar.
“I was really excited about the opportunity,” he says. “I thought it was the future, this is where energy is going, to renewables.'”
At the time, PowerHome had 15 employees. “I had to learn everything,” Waller says. “It’s a construction company, but you’re not making any money until you complete the job. It’s a really cash-poor business.”
PowerHome ended its first year with 30 employees and $3 million in sales and posted a loss of $1 million despite signing 1,800 customers in the Carolinas.
“I was on a family trip with my wife and kids, worried and thinking about how I might have to shut it down,” Waller says. “But I thought about it and prayed about it and decided — no, we can do it.”
To keep the company afloat, Waller says he sold his Lake Norman-area house and “pretty much everything [he] had” in 2016, which he invested in PowerHome. He and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Klink didn’t collect a paycheck for 20 months.
Those sacrifices paid off. In 2017, two shrewd executive moves jump-started PowerHome’s immense growth. First was expanding to Michigan, where the cost of energy is 60% higher with only 15% less sunlight than North Carolina. The second was switching from Canadian-made solar panels to an American supplier shortly before President Trump imposed a 30% tariff on solar imports. Waller says the switch helped the company double in size. While a little more expensive, the American-made panels were better quality and more appealing to consumers.
“Customers didn’t mind paying more for American-made panels with better quality and better warranties,” he says. “[the switch to renewable energy] just makes sense, and when it’s American-made people love that.”
Waller says the business is 99% residential, but has commercial partnerships with five NFL stadiums, including the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium and Detroit Lions’ Ford Field; the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Stadium; and North Carolina State University’s Carter Finley Stadium.
Waller says the residential solar industry’s leaders, including Tesla and Vivint Solar, focus more on the West Coast, where solar power has a longer history.
The company’s marketing efforts have focused on educating consumers about affordability. “The misconception of solar power is you fork out $30,000 to have it installed and then you eventually pay it off through savings. But that isn’t how it works,” Waller says.
He says there are ways to finance installations so customers are charged a fixed monthly fee that’s similar to the price of a typical monthly energy bill. The 30% federal tax credit, state incentives and renewable energy certificates, along with reduced utility fees, can lead to savings ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars annually. The panels come with 30-year warranty but last 60 to 70 years, he says.
Solar power only has 2% market penetration in the U.S., but he says it’s expected to grow to as much as 20% over the next five years, he says.
He’s looking to “double or triple” PowerHome’s growth in its existing states over next few years. Adding charging stations for electric vehicles is part of the company’s business plan, along with an eventual public offering.
“We’d like to take it public someday,” he says. “The employees have really bought in as part of the business have have been working really hard and helping it grow, we want them to have some ownership too.”