Stay the Course, Manufacturer

Talan Products, Inc., WIRE-Net Member Since 1991

Solar Heating System

Fighting for a piece of the domestic Solar Energy pie requires patience, impeccable customer service, and basic business sense.

There's a big, beautiful, bright sun shining over Talan Products. Never mind the fact that the company is located in Cleveland, Ohio (which sees an average of 66 sunny days per year). The company is humming along quite nicely in the solar energy industry.

"We build solar attachment and racking system, or basically the metal parts that are the structural components for solar energy generating systems," said Steve Peplin, the company's CEO.

While Talan Products got its start in 1986, it wasn't until 2007 that the company turned its focus on the solar energy industry.

"It was basically a question of how do we grow our overall business," said Peplin. "We were a high growth company creating innovative products, and we saw that solar was very innovative in the technology it used. It was a disruptive industry. There was plenty of risk involved. And the [US and state] tax credits certainly helped the industry. If they did away with that tax credit, as they kept threatening to do, there's no telling where the industry would be right now.

Peplin has seen steady growth since Talan entered the industry, and projects further growth as solar energy and the marketplace continue to work out their many kinks.

"The solar industry is constantly evolving, it's always improving," he said. "Companies are looking for ways to take costs out while keeping quality in. It's a fast-evolving industry under of ton of price pressure."

Talan Transport

The Role of Public Policy

"The national energy policy and the investment tax credit helped the business," Peplin states. "But frankly, most of the big players in the industry are assuming those incentives may not be around in a couple of years, so they've developed business models to help them survive without the tax incentives (many states are setting "sunset" dates for state solar tax credits, and the U.S. solar investment tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2016).

"In my opinion, the tax incentives definitely help create business. Our solar business is doubling every year because solar is at such a high growth pace.

"I think Ohio's current stance on renewable energy is bad. The states that drop support for renewable energy are identifying themselves as dinosaurs. While other states embrace cool technology, Ohio is driving out solar incentives and our policymakers are looking backward."

All the states where Talan"s racking systems have been installed have renewable portfolio standards, or RPS (Indiana"s is a voluntary program; Vermont"s includes a "feed-in tariff", the first in the US). Talan"s racking systems have been installed in Texas, California, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Indiana, Vermont, and Colorado . . . but none in Ohio where they are based. Ohio recently "froze" its RPS while a study commission investigates the benefits and costs of the law, which was enacted in 2008.

Business Survival Instincts

But with all of the hurdles and roadblocks that are placed before manufacturers and suppliers in the solar industry, Peplin still has "early adopter excitement" for what Talan Products does.

"I love this business," he said. "We have great customers, we know a lot of the right people and we have a good reputation. We're just a good, solid company. We work alongside our customers and develop complex assemblies, tolerances and manufacturing methods with them. And our customers keep coming back."

"We work hard to become a critical member of our customers' team and treat our customers as partners," he says proudly. "We provide logistics, shipping, warehousing of panels, trans-shipping, job-specific quantities, whatever is required to become a close partner with the customer." Talan assists its solar customers with design for manufacturability, and also developed a network of 6-10 largely regional suppliers and partners who provide plating, welding, stamping, extruding and roll forming services for their solar customers. This has led to real manufacturing jobs in engineering, sales, purchasing, customer service, management, and machine operation—both at Talan, and with their suppliers.

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