China’s Slowdown, Digitalization and FERC’s Ruling

Article RoundupIndustry Issues

China’s Domination of the PV Industry: Veni, Vidi, Vici

By Paula Mints for REW

After discussing China’s domination of global solar PV manufacturing in some depth, Mints goes on to discuss the government’s efforts to slow down its market. She points to DG capping, pausing in utility-scale deployment, reduction in grid curtailment and a move toward a bidding scheme. Mints predicts that a slowdown in China would mean flattening and possible shrinking for the market globally and that it would behoove solar players around the world to brace themselves for some serious repercussions which, given the size of the Chinese market, will be slow in coming, but inevitable.

Key quote: “The lesson is that the solar industry is still young, still immature, still struggling to find balance and that planning ahead requires an acceptance of the ever present risk of market collapse.”

Intersolar session accentuates fragmented value of solar across the United States

By Kelsey Misbrener for SPW

Misbrener reports on the policy session at InterSolar called “Net Metering in Flux: Where States Are Heading on NEM Changes,” featuring a number of speakers. Speakers discussed how utilities are trying to push fixed demand charges on solar customers, without a whole lot of success. They looked at how abrupt and poorly planned shifts away from net metering decimates smaller installers, as in HA, while carefully executed changes, as in NY with the use of the VDER solar model, correctly value solar after NEM is phased out.

Key quote: “There is no established value of solar nationwide, and there likely won’t be in the near future.” Keep reading

How a Buyer Persona Can Help You Write Solar Power Blog Posts

Blog WritingSolar Marketing

In a crowded marketplace full of solar contractors well aware of the usefulness of blogging it’s important to use targetedSolar family information to differentiate yourself. Buyer personas help do that.

In this post I answer three main questions:

  1. What does a buyer persona have to do with my solar power blog?
  2. How can buyer persona data help me write posts?
  3. How can I apply this data to particular prospect profiles like homeowners, facility managers and CEOs?

The Buyer Persona and Your Solar Power Blog

A buyer persona is a profile of your ideal prospect. It’s a description of a hypothetical person that includes things like demographics and background, needs and concerns, and favorite ways of using the internet, having fun and shopping. It also has information on opinions about solar energy, keyword searches and, for the business buyer, responsibilities at work and who they interact with around buying decisions.

In solar there can be multiple personas: urban and suburban homeowners, business owners, facility managers, CFOs and government and educational administrators, etc. These profiles can be further segmented based on level of interest and depth of knowledge. Philip Hall of Borrego Solar also suggests considering factors like viability around financing and ability to service them based on where they live.

What does this have to do with your solar power blog? Well, the more specific and comprehensive your profiles, the easier it is to create blog content that speaks to them. And the more closely you address the needs and problems of each of your prospect types, the more they’ll see you as a trusted source of industry knowledge who really understands them. As a result, they’re more likely to turn to you when they’re ready to make the jump to solar. Overit calls developing your buyer persona the process of connecting “at the right time, in the right place, with the right message in the right place.”

The more closely you address the needs and problems of each of your prospect types, the more they’ll see you as a trusted source of industry knowledge who really understands them.

Rocket Fuel For Your Solar Power Blog Posts

Here are a number of tips for using buyer persona data to enhance your blog writing.

KNOW WHERE THEY ARE IN THE BUYING PROCESS

Keep reading

6 Blog Posts That Will Surprise Your Solar Prospects

Blog WritingSolar Marketing

Sometimes you need to change it up. Throw a bit of a curve ball. Give your readers something new solar electric billto chew on. Solar energy blog posts that are slightly unusual can serve as a breath of fresh air for your prospects and can help drive more traffic to your site by being the kind of content that encourages social media sharing.

An SEO solar energy blog is terrific because it allows you to reach your prospects anytime and anywhere. It provides them with something of value before asking for anything in return. Blog posts positions you as a consistent source of interesting information and allow you to showcase your expertise in the industry using your unique voice. There are a number of solar blogs that do a great job of driving traffic by offering technological and financial information about solar and pertinent discussions about its practical applications and advantages.

But it also helps to surprise your prospects, make them think a bit differently or even just make them laugh. Here are six blog types to consider.

1. Use an infographic

Solar energy infographicA blog post that showcases a well-designed, relevant infographic can help readers learn and remember the information about solar more easily, particularly the more complex or tech heavy stuff. Plus an eye-popping visual story rarely fails to grab attention. You can hire a pro to build it or do it yourself with tools like PowerPoint, Canva and Piktochart or with HubSpot’s free templates. You want to make sure the blog post has an SEO title and short paragraph to give the graphic
context, as well as a call-to-action. And infographics can easily be repurposed (whole or in parts) for social media channels like Twitter and Pinterest.

Topic ideas
  • The three main types of solar installations
  • How solar energy works
  • Commercial financing options for solar
  • A rooftop solar installation: step by step
  • Local, state and federal incentives for going solar
  • Four reasons why businesses go solar

2. Make them laugh

Every once in a while (or every week!), give your prospects something to laugh about. Create an ironic or tongue in cheek post, curate a roundup of funny images (the Internet is full of them) or post a funny comic strip or video. These also provide great images for social media. Keep reading

How To Market Your Solar Case Study

Case StudySolar Marketing

Solar Case StudyCase studies are incredibly popular with marketers. The Content Marketing Institute noted in 2016 that: the top goals of B2B content marketing are lead generation and sales and that 82% of them use case studies to reach these goals, second only to social media channels.

Why? Because they’re terrific social proof that your product works. They validate your company and build serious amounts of trust with homeowners and businesses alike. Surprisingly, I have found that very few solar companies use them, or don’t have any residential stories beyond some photos. So to have compelling, well-written success stories that speak to both homeowners and business buyers would clearly separate you from your competitors.

And once you do have a solar case study, how do you use it? Here are strategies for marketing your case studies to prospects.

On your solar website

Have a separate case studies page. You can call it “Case Studies” or “Success Stories” (one solar company calls it “Our Work”). Make it easy to view them in this section with one or all of these tactics:

  • Include a quick summary overview of the solar case study with the option to click further to read the whole document. This summary can be like SunPower’s popup box with a short list and image or HubSpot’s short paragraph summary with image, key quote and stats
  • Allow them to either view all of them or to group them by type: residential or commercial, or by industry
  • Offer the option to actually download and print the study to retain your document design and branding (great for commercial buyers who want to pass it around the company)
  • Use the title and a short paragraph to compel the prospect to click further by highlighting key benefits or addressing  prospect concerns. Solar Design did when they titled their residential case study Protecting Your Home’s Roof When Installing Solar and a commercial case study titled Solar Reduces Operating Cost of a Retail Business, Increases Profitability
  • Include a mix of written and video case studies, giving your prospects as many options as possible to be engaged

Consider putting a solar case study directly on your home page, whether in video form, as a teaser paragraph and image with call-to-action (CTA) to view more, in a tasteful slide-in CTA  or as a customer testimonial. Keep reading

Analysis of a Solar Case Study: 9 Biggest Mistakes

Case StudySolar Marketing

As I take a look at solar cases studies out there I’m surprised to see that, more often than not, they’re missing important Case Study Mistakeelements that are the difference between a customer story that works and one that misses the mark. A solar case study
can be one of the strongest parts of your marketing toolbox, but only if it avoids some of these important errors.

No engaging lead

You want to grab the reader’s attention right at the top with a compelling first few sentences. Copyblogger describes it as, “Leave them begging to know the end in the very beginning.” It’s the difference between something dry lifted from your About page:

“Solar ABC is a leading provider of residential and commercial solar solutions, known for our efficiency and first-class customer service”

And something more bold or thought provoking:

“Few universities in the world are as passionate about environmental stewardship than University of SJ.

“How do you use your home to help secure your grandchildren’s future?”

“What can a retiree do to make her bills more predictable?”

No storytelling

Lift Communication reports that when a story “creates a meaningful emotional connection with your audience…the Case Study Storyperceived value of your products and services increases…[and] they’re often inspired to buy.” A solar case study is the perfect opportunity to use your non-sales type of voice to convey just how much value you bring to your customers. So there has to be a good story. With some drama.

That drama is found when the prospects feel and understand what your customer went through before finding your (utterly satisfying) solution. So they need to hear about the stress of the summer electric bill that capped $600 a month in your customer’s older, less energy efficient home or concerns that a partially shady roof or byzantine town ordinance would get
in the way. A good story doesn’t omit these kinds of details.

A solar case study is the perfect opportunity to use your non-sales type of voice to convey just how much value you bring to your customers.

Poor quality photos or none at all

At least one photo of the client and one of the installation go a long way. HubSpot states that when there is an image paired with content, a reader spends more time looking at it than the text, retains 55% more info three days later and is twice as likely to share it on social media. And ideally these photos should be quality enough to do the installation justice, particularly given that aesthetic is sometimes a concern for home and business owners. You could also include the logo of the company for a commercial installation to add another nice visual and some extra gravitas.

Not easy to scan

A strong solar case study is scannable, as in your busy reader can skim through the main ingredients and get a good picture of the power of this story. This means headline, photos, snapshot, subheads, and bullets. And a nice compliment to this is professional looking design. Whether one page or four the story should be laid out to showcase it in the best possible way, which can include nice quality images and font and sidebars with quotes and tech info. This way the content and design work together to create an easy to scan, sleek looking document.

No quotes Keep reading

New Utility Law, Third Party Ownership and White Papers

Article RoundupIndustry IssuesSolar Marketing

Below is a roundup of info on the power of solar white papers, SunPower’s terrific commercial solar Solar Marketing Newswebsite, and two recent articles on industry trends.

Groundbreaking Law Changing Utility Business Models

By Jennifer Runyon for Renewable Energy World

In Hawaii Takes Historic First Step Toward Creating ‘Utility of the Future’ Now, Runyon reports on the groundbreaking law, the Ratepayer Protection Act, just passed in Hawaii. The law directs state utilities to alter their business models and charge based on factors related to customer satisfaction like affordability, reliability, renewable interconnectedness and efficiency as opposed to something like capital expenditures. The article goes on to assert that the main reason for the law is that utilities have made the process of using solar (plus storage) on the grid so difficult that homeowners may simply begin to defect and go off-grid en masse. If that happened, which is possible given that the state is committed to going 100% solar by 2045, it would threaten the viability of utilities in Hawaii. Runyon then describes the new metrics the Public Utility Commission would consider regarding incentives and penalties and characterizes this policy shift as one that could have global implications. I would also recommend a perusal through the article comments, which are quite interesting.

Key quote from State Sen. Stanley Chang: “At the end of the day the utility of the future has to be one that is performing all of these different metrics. That is the one that is going to survive…Otherwise the death spiral thing is a real thing.”

White Papers for Solar B2B Marketing

What white papers can do for a solar marketing strategy:

  • Help position a company as an industry expert and trustworthy advisor
  • Drive traffic to a company website via keyword optimized text and through uses on social media channels
  • Keep communication open with a lead during their deliberation process
  • Are used by salespeople to add weight to their sales presentations and function as leave-behinds
  • Can nurture a prospect at points all along the sales funnel:
    • Generating leads and educating early on
    • Demystifying the sales process and clarifying the benefits along the middle
    • Locking the sales in at the very end with facts and figures about technical considerations and ROI
  • Are often written for the various business decision makers such as technical factors explained for the lay person, the economics of solar for the CFO, how to find qualified contractors and assess bids for the facilities manager
  • Can be repurposed for blog posts, slideshares, and infographics

A white paper can nurture a prospect at points all along the sales funnel.

White papers fall into three formats: a soft sell persuasive essay offering a solution to a problem, a numbered list of insights about an issue, or a hard sell description of a product’s technical or business Keep reading

How To Sell Solar Without Buying Leads

Solar Marketing

A number of solar contractors have told me that buying solar leads are a waste of time and money. One owner explained “you just get the bottom rung shopper looking for the cheapest price they can How to sell solarget” while several others reported that most for-pay lead gen sites are either way too customer oriented or just plain “trash.”

Content marketing can offer an effective alternative to this frustrating way of generating leads. It operates on the principle that when you look to sell solar you bring leads to you rather than chase them because buyers prefer it that way. The data support this:

  • 81% of shoppers engage in online research before making a purchase
  • 77% of business buyers insist on doing lengthy research before agreeing to interact with a salesperson
  • 74% of B2B customers conduct more than half of their research online

Additionally, evidence shows that content marketing is more cost effective: the average cost per lead drops by 80% following five months of consistent content marketing. Given all this, I’ve rounded up some information about how solar contractors can effectively use engaging content to sell solar.

Evidence shows that content marketing is more cost effective: the average cost per lead drops by 80% following five months of consistent content marketing.

Low Cost, High Quality Lead Gen

Erik Curren of The Curren Group’s free ebook, Stop Buying Solar Leads and Start Making Your Own Better Ones, is a detailed, practical primer for the solar marketer looking to fully embrace the move from traditional solar marketing to inbound lead generation online to sell solar. Curren outlines six steps of the process: building buyer personas (ideal customer profiles), researching for keywords optimization (SEO), publishing highly readable and relevant blog posts, attracting traffic through social media and email, using calls-to-action effectively and capturing a visitor’s info through forms. What’s great about this ebook is that, like the Curren Group website and team, it takes the flood of information on digital marketing available on the Internet and funnels it through a solar specific paradigm. Very handy.

To access the ebook go to Curren Media’s Solar Marketing Resources page and download it at the bottom of the page. I would also recommend Curren’s excellent book, The Solar Sales Leap, for more detailed info on this whole process and more.

Key quote: “…now the only time a prospect wants to talk to your company at all is if he’s already expressed an interest in your solar offering and has already given your his permission for you to contact him about it… Consumers of all big purchases, including residential solar, now expect you to have their permission before you contact them. Without that permission, solar leads are nearly worthless.”

Spice Up Your B2B Content Marketing

Keep reading

Power Failures, Dynamic Pricing and The Future of Small Contracting

Article RoundupIndustry Issues

Opinion: More solar panels and battery storage at homes could prevent power failures

By Barry Cinnamon for The Mercury News

Cinnamon makes the link between power outage prevention and solar/battery backup clear. He states that while this tech provides electricity for households it also functions as a buffer for transformers by directing excess solar or battery power back to the local grids, rather than straight to nearby transformers (which can overload and fail). He points out that heavier demands for energy due to higher temperatures and more EVs are increasing power outages in CA and that modernizing local grids would address the problem.

Cinnamon states that encouraging homeowners and businesses to install BTM solar and storage systems would avoid the need for expensive grid upgrades that would otherwise fall on utility ratepayers. He highlights two important policies that would help lower the barrier to solar adoption: no limits on customer ability to install solar tech and the reduction of up-front costs of battery storage systems.

Key quote: “Power was out in my neighborhood for about 12 hours while PG&E deployed a crew to diagnose the problem and replace the transformer. But the blackout would not have happened if just one more home in the neighborhood had a solar or battery storage system.”

Beyond TOU: Is more dynamic pricing the future of rate design?

By Herman K. Trabish for Utility DIVE

In this article Trabish assesses the merits of dynamic pricing, often in comparison with time-of-use rates, by citing consulting groups and various consumer advocates. His research highlights the limitations of TOU rates with regards to reducing peak demands. He states that these rates offer too small a daily price differential.

Trabish points to the merits of dynamic pricing, “alerting customers to steeper increases in per-kWh rates in advance of specific peak demand events,” which results in increased reductions when highest demand days occur. This system guides customer usage more effectively because it closely aligns actual pricing and costs with price signals. Not only does this aid consumers, it also helps utilities more easily assimilate renewable energy and lower their generation and distribution costs.

Trabish’s research does demonstrate, however, that advocates are mixed on the suitability of dynamic pricing. He points out that while consumers show a willingness to adjust to different rate structures, issues like off-peak price to peak price ratio and rates set up to be revenue neutral present problems. He Keep reading

What Does Time-of-Use Rate Structure Mean for Solar Contractors?

Article RoundupIndustry Issues

Time-of-use rate structure impact the solar industry now and in the future. Some key issues seem to be how TOU policy changes in a given state would affect the sales process and proposal generation, the impact on customer savings and if and how software and other tech should address it.

Below is a compilation of excerpts from my interviews with solar company owners as well as a roundup of some recent articles about TOU. While the articles are by no means exhaustive I think they point to some interesting issues related to what the interviews discussed.

INTERVIEWS

Future/Markets

Three owners I spoke with – from HA, CA and AZ – all agreed that TOU is the future of solar in America. The CA owner was at a conference for TOU and energy storage when I interviewed him and he told me that this was a big issue – and that CA would be one of the first to make the switch. The HA owner told me that for areas with net-metering (unlike HA which lost it in 2015) TOU is not relevant but that San Diego, AZ, HA were all moving to TOU. He estimated that the market for customers needing to address TOU when installing a solar system would soon include all of HA, southern CA and parts of northern CA and that by late 2017 these areas would be huge markets. However, another owner in WA state felt that, while TOU would be relevant in the future, it wasn’t currently important in his state.

Sales Process/Software

While the AZ contractor completely concurred with the sentiment that TOU is the future he felt that having it be a part of the conversation with customers was premature. At the moment he felt it meant having too many items to fill out (i.e. when do you use the most electricity, how do you use it, how can you adjust it, etc.) and that customers would be reluctant to provide that info unless they were genuinely interested. He thought that in 4-5 years customers would be more open to it, as the need to look at would be more pressing. He did feel that the current situation in HA was different than AZ due to differences around energy costs and politics – noting that  everything is more expensive there compared to AZ.

Another CA owner agreed with the owner above, saying that, while he used Energy Tool Base to do proposal calculations, he felt that asking detailed questions in an effort to have the consumer adjust usage was “going into the weeds with a customer.” He felt it was too complicated for most because it depended too much on the person’s follow, making the results too haphazard. He said doing proposals this way was marketing to 1% of the market.

In contrast, the CA contractor at the conference (above) felt that it would be helpful to have software where the salesperson could enter info regarding rates and time of day for a customer (plus other considerations like battery usage and rebates) during the sales process.

The HA installer felt adamant that the HA consumer needed to understand their home usage because it would be more beneficial to them – as well as to consumers in areas like San Diego and AZ that were moving to TOU. He felt that TOU was a vital part of accurately quoting systems and to show relevant ROI. He thought the ideal software would include a series of questions that asked about usage, i.e. Do you work from home and when? What time do you  leave the house? When do you run laundry? That data (which would also account for when the system pulled from battery backup) could be viewed by the customer and salesperson to discuss how to optimize ROI and run calculations if the customer made shifts in usage times, updating ROI each time. The software could then model a system to meet that calculation. He did say that you’d have to put on a clamp to measure usage – that the hard data would be the only way of modeling the system accurately for the proposal.

Solar+Storage, Troubling Petition and Weak Q1

Article RoundupIndustry Issues

Article roundup for June/July 2017…

Is California’s Weak Q1 a Sign of Residential Solar’s Future?

By Austin Perea for GTM

Perea offers a summary and analysis of the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report. He states, “national residential PV installations fell both year-over-year (17 percent) and quarter-over-quarter (11 percent) for the first time since GTM Research began tracking the market on a quarterly basis in 2010.” California’s troubles seem to be one of the biggest reasons for this downturn, troubles caused by a combination of weather and policy related issues as well as market saturation, customer fatigue and low cost customer acquisition challenges. Perea predicts a slow rebound, both in California and nationally, but points to the fact that, given the relative size of the size of the CA market, the state will have a significant impact on how things look nationally.

Elevate the Constraint: Advance your strategic projects by setting priorities correctly across your organization.

By Boaz Soifer for Baywa r.e.

Soifer asserts that companies get stuck in the same pattern when looking to update their strategic plan: they get the teams together, do SWOT analysis, a value stream map, customer journey analysis, strategic objectives definition and multi-year roadmapping. And then nothing really changes. He says things don’t change because each team or department is working independently to advance its strategic priority for the company, resulting in a failure to elevate the strategic priority of the key team, the one experiencing the company’s main constraint. He says a company needs to identify this main constraint (major area where things are not working and having the most negative impact), define what the constrained team needs to achieve its objectives, and have all other teams prioritize this team’s strategic objectives over all others. For example, if the team with the most important constraint is Project Management then “team leaders need to…look at the cross-team processes that can be created or improved to increase Project Management success.” Keep reading

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