Leanne Kim, Forme Solar Electric

For the 10th anniversary of the Top Solar Contractors list, we’re sharing Q&As with the people who make the industry run every day. Read more interviews here.

How did you get started in solar energy?

Although I was born and raised in California, I have spent a lot of time abroad. I went to study law in China for an advanced LLM degree, only to realize how much we took our planet for granted. Every morning before I walked to class, I checked the AQI (Air Quality Index) to make sure the air I would be breathing that day wasn’t in the “RED-UNHEALTHY” zone. As a result, I experienced firsthand that the environment we live in can become extremely toxic if we don’t do something about it, not tomorrow but today. I decided to travel through Asia and over the years I could visibly see how the air quality deteriorated over time. Here in the United States, we need to be a leader in renewable energy and hopefully help drive the movement globally.

What prompted you to transition your business from solar repair to residential solar installation?

Due to our thriving solar repair business, we quickly learned that high-quality residential solar installations were highly sought after by people who realized that solar is more of a long-term benefit. And funnily enough, the individuals who could best articulate the benefits were individuals who had solar energy for a few years. These individuals happened to be the ones most likely to need repair services.

We found that most solar customers had simple requirements: a quality solution with a reliable organization. No one doubts the benefit or the technology. The only way we saw how to solve these requirements was through execution. Our foundation in solar repair enabled us to excel at it. Deliver what is promised, when promised, communicate well and focus on the end customer.

What is your favorite part of working in the solar industry?

I get the most pleasure from seeing our customers proudly showing off their electric bills after going solar! The combination of joy to see their investment pay off and their pride to know that they are producing their own clean energy is unbeatable, and I never tire of it.

For the first time, we are starting to renew the way we think about how we use energy. We are smarter about what kind of power we use and what options are available. We are all committed to a better, more renewable solution for our planet. Knowing that we are part of fundamentally changing our customers’ lives and energy use for the better while putting money back in their pockets is truly an honor.

What has surprised you most about the solar industry over the past 10 years?

What surprises me most about the solar industry is simply the lack of change in the way we present and market this technology. For too long, solar sales organizations have focused on selling at the highest possible price per watt and then convincing homeowners that they will see savings in the not-too-distant future. As a result, many homeowners are scarred and disillusioned when it comes to the benefits of solar energy. Between extreme price pushes and impossible promises of “free” solar energy, consumers have zero basic expectations of the cost and/or performance of solar energy. The result is a highly skeptical and fractured market with no consistency or uniformity of expectations. In this environment the consumer continues to lose and that is not the way we should go.

What are your solar predictions for the next 10 years?

We are going to see an ecosystem where the energy produced by solar panels can be easily stored and then passed from one house to another. With the adoption of solar and battery backup, we should see a dramatic change in the way people can store, consume and share electricity with others. I believe we are seeing the start of the decentralized power grid and the emergence of the microgrid at the neighborhood or city level, which is good for consumers, the environment and our national security.

How did you/your company stand out in the past year?

The primary goal for most of our clients was to find a business they believed would be stable and consistent even amid crazy recessions like COVID-19. Our ability to weather COVID-19 with our diversified services such as repair and EV installations has been very reassuring to people as most companies in our industry focus only on installation and only repair the systems they have installed themselves.

We also realized that looks really matter and we couldn’t compromise on aesthetics. Appearance is one of the biggest drawbacks of solar energy. To fix this, we had to make sure all our installations were built to have the best looking system possible. We use all black mounting equipment as standard and include black end caps to ensure a polished look.

How do you help improve the industry?

By leading by example. While this statement may seem purely ambitious, it’s actually not hard to do. We strive to be a company that delivers on its promises and does so with the utmost empathy and integrity. We are all consumers and we make sure to wear that hat when we think about our customer experience. That is it. Walk in the customer’s shoes and you’ll find the right way to treat your customers. The industry is plagued by anecdotal evidence of solar companies abandoning their customers right after installation, and we need to change that story by being the exception. When we finish a solar installation, it’s not the end of a project, but rather the beginning of a 25-year service relationship.

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