INNOVATIONS Make Them AN INDUSTRY LEADER
By: Carl Kotala
It all started, as Executive Vice President Mike Little said, because they simply “answered the phone.”
In 2009, Little got a call from a client who asked for Moss Construction’s help building a solar plant. When Little asked the client why he called Moss – considering the company wasn’t doing anything with solar power at the time – the response was interesting.
“His reaction was, ‘I called you because this is a highly repetitive process, and you guys excel in managing that process,’” Little said. “He knew us from building huge hotels with tunnel forms, building high-rise buildings where you’re just stacking it up day after day, so it is a highly repetitive process.
When we went and looked at this job, what we saw was that he was exactly right. It was a highly repetitive process that was not being done very efficiently.”
After helping the client with two different projects, Moss Construction was contacted for another job – this one in New Jersey. That’s when the light bulb came on that solar energy could be a big addition to the company’s portfolio.
Seven years later, Moss Construction has more than 1,466 megawatts of solar experience, projected 2015 revenue of $1.1 billion, and is rated as one of the top solar contractors in North America by Solar Power World magazine.
“I think what’s made us successful is picking up the phone a lot of times and taking a completely different approach than the way other people approach solar projects,” said Edwin Perkins, vice president of the company’s solar division.
It’s that approach, along with industry innovative equipment such as GPS-guided pile drivers, lasers and other specially-designed tools – that has allowed Moss Construction to complete jobs quickly and efficiently while also keeping labor costs down.
In addition to doing projects in Florida, the bulk of Moss Construction’s work has been done in North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, California and Nevada. The company is also beginning work on projects in Hawaii.
“As we’re looking and thinking about how to make this better, we really just started applying the same principles that we use each day in building complicated projects, from the Marlins baseball stadium to a 50-story building to very complex, large hotels,” Little said.
“We started applying those principles and then we developed a philosophy that if solar was going to become competitive with other forms of energy, you were going to have to take a different approach. You were going to have to look at it as a manufacturing process versus a construction process.
“So every time we approach a job, we try to look at it not as a construction job, but as a manufacturing process, where in lieu of having a fixed assembly line that we move our product down, we have a fixed product that we move an assembly line down.”
LEARNING ON THE JOB
The company also goes to great lengths to not only learn from its mistakes, but to also take what is working and implement it into other projects.
A weekly call with all of the senior managers in the solar sector not only provides transparency for the good and the bad about each project, it allows for communication and a team approach to either fix a problem or make it better.
As an example, Little mentioned a project in Arizona where the pile production jumped up significantly, which of course begged the question about how it was being accomplished.
“The difference was a very simple approach,” Little said. “It reduced the number of set-ups, and more than anything else, it gave the team driving those piles a goal to hit during that day. By doing that, they were able to get a block completed that really drove that production up.”
And costs, at least in some areas, are going down. Little noted in 2009, the cost of a solar plant was between $7 – $8 a watt. Now, it’s less than $1.50 a watt. In other words, solar energy is becoming competitive with other forms of energy. As that has happened, the equipment is becoming more efficient and its cost is coming down.
INCENTIVES FOR SOLAR
“Basically, (the ITC) is providing an incentive to continue to grow,” Little said. “What we think that will do is fuel the growth for solar over the next four to five years in a very significant way, “and the more we put in place, the better we get at it, and the cheaper it’s going to be.”
The solar energy sector has become a big part of Moss Construction’s business, and with an EMR safety rating of just 0.65 (statistical zero is 0.55), it has proven to do it better, cheaper and safer than any of their competitors. And to think, it started off with one simple act a good businessman does every day. “Sometimes,” Little said, “you do good by answering the phone.”