Power Failures, Dynamic Pricing and The Future of Small Contracting

Article Roundup

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?

Industry 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 our interviews with solar company owners as well as a roundup of some recent articles about TOU. While the articles are by no means exhaustive we think they point to some interesting issues related to what the interviews discussed.

INTERVIEWS

Future/Markets

Three owners we 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 Roundup

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

Do Americans Support Net Metering?

Industry Issues

Solar net metering, or a system that grants homeowners full retail credit for the extra electricity their solar panels add to the grid, is a key issue for the industry – often times legislation about it can make or break rooftop solar success in a state.

But do American consumers support net metering? After some poking around I found that there is quite a bit of evidence that many of them feel favorably about it.

I found that polling was a good way to find out how American feel about it. Below is a (not exhaustive) lineup of polling results from 2014-2017 both nationwide and for 7 states.

NATIONAL
2015 poll: “Across party lines, roughly nine in 10 Americans support solar power, and according to a poll commissioned last spring by The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC), 69 percent of Republican likely voters and 80 percent of Democratic likely voters would be “unlikely” to reelect a politician who failed to raise the solar net metering cap.”

2016 poll: Survey of 1,000 people conducted by the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies found “75 percent of Trump voters support “action to accelerate the deployment and use of clean energy” — including solar, wind, energy efficiency, and community renewable projects… Solar net metering also polls extremely well. When asked about their thoughts on giving homeowners “full retail credit for the extra energy their rooftop solar panels produce,” 60 percent of all voters reacted favorably. According to the results, 60 percent of voters agree with the following affirmative statement: “Some people say net metering is fair because it encourages the development of solar resources, and other customers benefit from the extra solar energy that goes onto the electricity grid.” Another 31 percent agree with the statement that net metering is a cross-subsidy: “Other people say net metering is unfair because solar customers use the electricity grid, too, and need to pay a fair rate for their use. They say that otherwise, solar customers’ use of the electricity grid becomes subsidized by non-solar customers.” However, no matter where voters sit on the political spectrum, a plurality or majority think that net metering is fair.

CALIFORNIA
2015 poll: Poll co-commissioned by  California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) and Brightline Defense “shows that 90% of Californians favor rooftop solar power as a way to generate electricity, and 88% feel that more should be done to encourage rooftop solar power. The vast majority of voters polled (80%) disapprove of utility proposals to reduce compensation to customers who install their own rooftop solar power systems through a program called net energy metering, and 83% believe utility companies have no business trying to eliminate the competition from rooftop solar panel owners.”

2015 letters: “A group of sixteen farms and agricultural businesses sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) today declaring their support for the continuation of solar net metering…The letter was signed by sixteen different farms, throughout California from Lakeside to Redding. The Fresno County Farm Bureau, Good Nuts, and Swett Orchards also sent letters of support for net energy metering to the CPUC.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE

2015 poll: “found that failing to protect net metered customers in Nevada would diminish Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s vice presidential appeal… Governor Sandoval appoints NV Energy’s regulators and decides on legislation that impacts the utility. At the same time, his closest political advisors are top lobbyists at NV Energy. Upon learning this, the number of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire that were unwilling to vote for him jumped approximately 30 points, from 26 percent to 53 percent. After learning that Governor Sandoval has failed to take a leadership role thus far to protect solar jobs against attacks from NV Energy, the number increased to 56 percent. Traditional Republicans were among the most affected, with a jump of 38 points from the initial question. Keep reading

Problems, Forecasts and Whether or Not To Follow Elon Musk

Article Roundup
Article roundup for April/May 2017!

Tax Uncertainty Disrupting Solar Deals

By Brian Eckhouse

This article calls attention to serious problems posed for solar finance by the possibility of  lower corporate tax rates under the Trump administration. Eckhouse talks about how uncertainty about corporate tax rates – as in whether they will dip below 20 or 25 percent – may jeopardize developer/investor deals. He quotes an energy finance analyst: “I’ve heard of a number of sponsors who’ve had to end deal negotiations this year because the terms would have pushed the project under water. They all blame stipulations added by fears of tax reform.”

Two Part GTM Solar Summit Keynote:

‘We Are at a Pivotal Moment in Solar Going Mainstream’
‘We Could Install 3,000 GW of Solar Power by 2035’

By Eric Wesoff

GTM senior VP Shayle Kann’s keynote speech for the recent GTM Solar Summit highlights both challenging developments and good news for the solar industry. Kann talks about the problems due to recent oversupply for upstream companies and a downturn around growth in the residential market. But he also predicts that the market is on the way to becoming mainstream in the US. He talks about significant growth globally and domestically and a diversified and comparatively affordable market. Kann also points to significant upcoming challenges for the major solar states in the next 10 to 20 years around overgeneration and depressed pricing. He argues that expanded grids and flexibility are two keys ways to ramp back up from what he calls this “duck curve.” Kann finishes with the argument that overcoming these kinds of barriers will be worth it as the global market could grow to the installation of 3,000n GW by 2035.

Residential Solar Market Turmoil Intensifies As California Declines 41 Percent in First Quarter

Keep reading

Is Battery Storage a Good Bet for Solar Contractors?

Industry Issues

The current US market in residential battery storage is small but growing steadily. While there are a number of companies offering batteries (some looking to move into the US market from overseas), economic factors and some limitations with the current tech may prohibit fast growth in the near future.

The relationship between energy storage providers and residential solar install companies in the US has some good possibilities for both markets, though it would behoove installers to proceed with caution given some of the complexities and possible pitfalls of moving into batteries.

Below I’ve highlighted some key points from a compilation of articles (with links) about battery storage and solar.

Homeowner Interest

  • In 2016 Enphase surveyed almost 600 US homeowners (who had solar or were thinking about solar) to identify the relationship between the solar and backup generator markets. The survey showed that only 2% of those surveyed felt that battery backups met their needs. The majority (whether green minded or not) wanted multiple days of backup power, and they want it for less than $10,000, something that only generators can provide. Some quotes: “reliability and cost are more important than any other factors” and “when it comes to backup power, practicality trumps image, even amongst green-minded customers.”
  • Sonnen just began production of sonnenBatterie products for the US market and its VP of Sales for North America stated: “The U.S. market represents significant opportunity for sonnen as we look to expand and encourage energy independence globally…We’re seeing a rapidly growing number of homeowners interested in achieving energy independence, and a large portion of those are seeking smart storage and software capabilities for better efficiency and management of their renewable energy output.”
  • This article sums up the main factors driving the growth of homeowner interest in energy storage. It discusses net metering 2.0, devaluation of exported solar pv, net zero export limitations, time of use rate structures, buy all sell all programs, residential demand charges, and net metering credit expiration.
  • A report on an Australian homeowner who was the first Tesla Powerwall user in the country stated: “Six months on, he has cut his daily power bill by nearly 90 per cent and said his family had become “smarter” with their use of appliances…But Mr Martin cautioned battery units, which are charged using renewable sources such as solar and wind, were still a costly option. ‘The thing that is common to these battery banks is they still don’t make sense from a pure financial perspective,’ he said. ‘Pretty much none of them will pay for themselves before the warranty expires.'”

Size of the US Market

  • GTM’s Shayle Kann testified on the state of energy storage at the CA Energy Storage Summit 2016:
    • Volumes are small: “Residential deployments in the U.S. are measured in the hundreds, not thousands — because there is ‘just not an economic case for residential energy storage yet.’”
    • ISO level or state policy support is needed: “There are a bunch of different ways that states are starting to provide mechanisms for behind-the-meter energy storage to have a real value proposition. The first are net energy metering and rate reform.”
    • The FREC proposal provides needed rules and regulations: “there are lots of wholesale markets where energy storage doesn’t play a big role not just because of economics but because of the lack of clarity of rules and regulations. The system wasn’t designed with energy storage in mind and therefore it’s tough to get these projects built and financed.”
    • Proceed with caution: “I think energy storage is in an interesting place,” but “it’s got all the makings of a bubble,” noting the “attention, excitement and investment being paid to a market where not that much is getting deployed yet — and that should give everyone pause.”

Keep reading

How To Rock Your Solar Customer’s World

Interviews


Customer experience is crucial to a solar company’s success and continued growth. Meeting (or exceeding) their expectations is top priority for many solar contractors.

We interviewed Erin, a woman who got her solar panels through SolarCity about 3 years ago, to get her feedback on her installation experience. Erin is a NY suburbanite in her mid 30s who is very Internet and social media savvy (she is a successful blogger at Emma Westchester blog). She is signed up as a “Solar Ambassador” which means she gets cash back for her referrals.

Erin walked us through her experience getting the installation and told us that, overall, the whole process was seamless and professional. Below are some particular insights we found interesting.

The Phone Interviews

The rep’s ability to be patient, clear and detailed throughout the initial interview(s) was key for putting her at ease and helping her make the commitment. It was very important the he could anticipate all her questions and have answers, documents to send and links she could view right away (both on the call and afterwards). Erin’s questions for the rep ranged from technical and financial to questions like “why don’t people use this more?” and “who is using it in my area?”

The Paperwork

The paperwork, which she had been dreading, was “a breeze” because it arrived in a packet with where and how to sign clearly laid out for her and a self-addressed/pre-paid envelope she could use to just drop it back in the mail.

During The Installation

Keep reading

Maintain Growth, Get Revenge & Worry Less

Article Roundup

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across so far for Feb/Mar 2017:

Can Residential Installers Make a Profit From Solar Price at $2.50 per Watt?

By Eric Wesoff (for gtm)

Wesoff walks through some highlights from a recent numbers crunching presentation done by Barry Cinnamon at the IEEE PV chapter in Palo Alto, CA. Cinnamon is always worth listening to, given his long experience in the industry and uncanny ability to deliver relevant insights to small and mid sized residential installers. Here he talks about strength in small markets, the future of maintenance and hardware and customer acquisition in the long tail.

Interesting quote: “I think what’s going to happen with the customer acquisition costs is that they’re going to start coming down, not because we found a better way to find customers, not because of technology and web funnel sites and direct mail. It’s going to change because the business model in the solar industry is going to evolve more toward local installers who, by necessity and inherently, have lower customer acquisition costs.”

Scaling and Streamlining Solar Business Growth

By: Chris Anderson, Amanda Bybee, James Hasselbeck, T.J. Kanczuzewski (for SolarPro)

SolarPro asked four executives at four separate solar companies to discuss strategies for efficiency and profitability. While Anderson of Borrego Solar acknowledges the difficulties of reduced incentives, he credits management and operational level improvements like value stream mapping, A3 problem-solving and increased validation and standardization as the secret to the company’s continued growth. Bybee of Namaste Solar attributes strong growth over the past three years to strategies around labor, procurement and financing as well as an employee owned company structure. Kanczuzewski of Inovateus Solar credits their success to an emphasis on core values, inclusive cross-disciplinary teamwork and clarification and improvements in their project proposal process.

Interesting quote from Hasselbeck of ReVision Energy: “The final, and perhaps most critical, piece of our company initiatives for efficient streamlined growth is identifying and leveraging key performance metrics.”

Small, Distributed Solar Companies Are Retaking the Industry. Here’s Why

Keep reading

Predictions, Tips and Interviews

Article Roundup

Below is a list of some relevant articles we’ve come across so far for Dec/Jan 2017:

The State of the Solar Industry

By David Brearley and Joe Schwartz (from SolarPro site)

The authors interview 9 movers and shakers in the solar industry on subjects ranging from policy wins and setbacks to the state of their particular organization and the international scene. Julia Hamm of SEPA talks about reprioritizing to be more in line with the changing face of the solar industry and Stephen Irvin of Amicus Solar Cooperative discussed the recent problems around EPC pricing and investor confidence and the creation of a Clean Energy Credit Union to help with financing. Rebekah Hren of NABCEP described the rise of the solar specialist while SEI’s Kathryn Swartz highlighted the impact of Elon Musk’s recent announcements about energy storage and roofing tiles.

As someone involved in designing software for the industry, I was particularly intrigued to read about The Solar Foundation’s push to help residential installers reduce soft costs.

Make the most of social media and digital marketing for your solar business

By Aimee Tuck of Corbae Creative and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 (from Solar Power World site)

Tuck and Wiseman compile some solid tips for capitalizing on social media and digital marketing. They point to the need to reserve most of your content for your website (best place to capture those all important e-mails), discuss how to tap the gold mine of insights Google Analytics can offer and walk through how to engage with email marketing and platforms beyond Facebook.

One thing they don’t mention is Pinterest. The more I read about it as a burgeoning marketing tool and visual alternative to a Google search the more I think it is something to consider (particularly given that for folks who want to target women between the ages of 25-45, it could be particularly helpful).

10 Predictions for Rooftop Solar in 2017

By Barry Cinnamon (from the gtm site) Keep reading

Residential Solar Software Reviews Roundup

Software

In their software solar contractors want things like accessibility, simple but customizable formatting, affordability and the option to opt out per month. Owners we talked to shared quite a bit about these criteria for the ideal apps for their day-to-day operations.

They also had some opinions about existing software that is specific to the solar industry. Here’s some info and feedback about some of the major players out there:

Aurora

  • 3D design system, shading analysis, financial analysis and sales proposal generation
  • Feedback from business owners: “Doesn’t have customized quotes yet, not as design saavy or accurate to the ¼ inch as I’d like, some glitches in the satellite imaging, but does have versatility to customize” while another owner “found the remote evaluation valuable” but felt “the rest didn’t cut it.”

Bright Harvest

  • Remote shading analysis and design
  • Review from one site of their service

HelioScope

  • DEMO
  • PV system design and evaluation
  • Business owner feedback: “High learning curve with a lot of steps, you need a draftsman to figure it out because a layperson would never be able to use it.”

EasySolar App

  • Design Platform and Mobile App

Clean Power Finance/Spruce

  • Bid building program
  • Business owner feedback: “Pretty much Excel with data mining features. Love it because it is simple to use and any employee can learn to use it easily. I’m able to manipulate it to meet the specific needs of my company.”

Periscope Keep reading

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Our Work in the Solar Industry

Create Velocity is currently in the process of creating BuildVelocity, office/field project management software for the U.S. residential solar industry, in close consultation with a number of rooftop contractors. We researched the needs of these companies by communicating with over forty experienced business owners to identify their most pressing needs.

Check out the link to BuildVelocity to learn more about it and request a demo.

We seek to help these solar contractors reach as many people as possible because we believe that the more homeowners and businesses have access to affordable solar power the better our planet will be.

Much of our blog is comprised of the results from our conversations with installers.