Distributed U.S. solar energy is expected to be a $30 billion market by 2020.
But despite this rapid growth, there is also a downside. As shown in the above chart, Soft costs stack up to almost 60% of the total cost of typical residential projects. Commercial projects present a similar case. Customer acquisition, financing, labor and operations, installation and servicing of these projects make up the majority of the total installed cost and the lifetime cost of these assets, including 20 years of maintenance.
Success in solar relies on human effort, which presents challenges that software companies such as Enact have been working to combat through software.
To improve your business when distributed solar energy is so soft-cost heavy, it is important to keep in mind customer management, analytics, financing, operations and asset servicing. The chart below displays some of the steps that installing companies take to size a project, get the savings estimate and contract with a fund with which most of these projects are financed, especially on the residential side.
There are many steps necessary to complete a project, whether it is a small residential or large commercial installation. However, there are always several fundamental practices that can be implemented through streamlined software.
Customer management starts with customer relationship management (CRM). When you start a scalable business, it is important to manage leads, create reports and develop workflows. CRM software like Salesforce exist to help manage these practices.
Software helps with streamlining design choices, whether it is residential or commercial roofs, ground mounds or parking lots. Software also allows laying of panels on the roof or the ground, sizing up the system and looking at production of the solar system. Enact is also developing new design tools to account for shading, tree heights and complex inverter string sizing.
Once you have sized the system and worked through your utility rates, kilowatt hours and demand charges, the most important piece for most companies is to make an accurate prediction of savings. Solar is a growing business in which there is not yet a regulation or compliance for predicting the savings. However, accuracy is crucial. It is important for customers to know exactly from where their savings are coming. Software can make it easy for the installer to calculate savings quickly for customers.
Financing analytics is a key driver for solar growth going forward. It is a new mechanism and is different from loans and PPAs. Customers want to know what the financial advantages are for homeowners and business owners. They are also concerned with the benefits for a landlord versus a tenant, and how the returns are different. Software can help streamline this complexity.
Traditionally, installing companies have had to go to different portals or websites for different loan options, which makes it hard to scale your sales teams in many regions or states. Software like Enact can simplify this by offering APIs to different lenders on the same program. You can pull in your local credit union and a PACE option and have it all on one platform.
Software can not only automate the solar sales process, but also project construction. For example, Enact has an end-to-end operations platform to help businesses design a customized workflow. You can have all of their contracts and documents uploaded electronically and set up for electronic signing. They can also design workflows for outsourced construction teams, versus in-house teams, so that all company members know exactly who is working on what project. Additionally, you can share notes, transfer ownership of projects and set up alerts and notifications to keep track of deadlines for site surveys. These features make for very easy reporting.
The need for solar software is increasingly important, especially in helping to scale rapidly growing companies.
Q&A with Deep
SPW: Do you offer online training for your software?
Deep: We have found online webinars are the best way to start and we have weekly webinars of fixed times for all our existing users as well as new customers who are looking to join in. The most effective training method is to actually do in-person training, one-on-one. We have support centers out of San Diego and Charlotte, North Carolina, where we can book times with our expert users and they will run with you on calls.
We encourage project level training where if you are stuck on a specific project, we are on standby to pick up the phone and help you when you are developing those proposals. If you do not have internal IT teams to help with questions about technology, we are your friend, helping you build your tech teams.
SPW: Does Enact allow third-party design software to be integrated within it?
Deep: The answer is yes. We have different levels of integration. For residential companies we have been asked to plug in shading type tools and we have done that. For commercial companies, we are now launching a service with a very large imaging provider where you can now download files for your project or get 3-D images as well, high-resolution. Enact does not do any engineering, but we actually have lots of companies who are in our ecosystem who partner with us and do that. We are helping drive more business to them or work with any company that our installer customers bring to us. We don’t provide the service of design sets, but we make it easier and simpler. We reduce the access costs for information.
We also have a national service now where the software pulls up property data for any address in the U.S., which is publicly available through a single click. Publicly available data includes some interesting things like mortgage and lender information, as well as the building’s square footage of the parking lots, roof, and so on. We’re pulling all that data and making it easier for users to work with it and reduce their times to deliver on the projects.