Category: Article Roundup

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

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

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

Problems, Forecasts and Whether or Not To Follow Elon Musk

Article RoundupIndustry Issues
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

Maintain Growth, Get Revenge & Worry Less

Article RoundupIndustry Issues

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 RoundupIndustry Issues

Below is a list of some relevant articles I’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 recently 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

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