Today, all stages of solar project development—from customer identification to asset management—require work on the computer. Once done in Excel and CAD programs, software tools were created specifically for the solar industry to manage leads, create sales proposals, design projects and track operations.
“While there has been a lot of innovation in the solar software market recently, installers are still asking, ‘How does all of this fit together?’” said Conlan O’Leary, CEO of Sighten. “Most installers need and prefer for that functionality to be rolled up and put into a seamless package.”
And that’s exactly the direction the solar software market is moving—toward comprehensive software packages. Offerings in this space include MODSolar, ENACT, SolarNexus and others. But there is one caveat: Some software makers, like Energy Toolbase, have created platforms distinct from others in high functionality for a specific use. In its case, Energy Toolbase provides in-depth utility rate analysis and avoided cost analysis.
“I think a lot of end-to-end platforms clearly address the residential market, and the whole industry knows there is huge demand and growth opportunity there,” said Adam Gerza, vice president of business development at Energy Toolbase. He said software choice among developers is a function of their business class. “That light-weight, end-to-end solution is a great fit for a ma-and-pop, long-tail installer doing everything in one place.”
Large developers, such as SunRun, SolarCity and Vivint, have developed their own internal software programs that handle projects from start to finish. But regional outfits without resources to develop customized software have been left to piece together disparate programs that often have trouble talking to each other. End-to-end offerings have straightened the project path, simplifying a solar installer’s work, said Michael Palmquist, CEO and co-founder of SolarNexus.
“There’s no shortage of CRM systems, but CRM is generic, not solar specific. So there has been demand for it to all come together,” Palmquist said. “It’s interesting and gratifying to see the market move toward what SolarNexus has been providing. That was always our notion. We’re going to try to simplify the IT landscape for solar companies by providing them a solar-specific CRM, project management, quoting platform.”
Yet ENACT CEO Deep Chakraborty said thousands of solar contractors still do not have software that does internal workflow processes. His company has developed software that manages every detail from when a client gains a sales lead through to design and even financing.
“You have to show up on a customer’s doorstep. You still have to show the proposal and convince a costumer. The human effort is required, but everything you do to make these things happen, the automation in ENACT makes the process faster,” he said.
Even offerings billed as “design software” often do much more than just design. Aurora Solar, for instance, provides financial analysis, generates sales proposals and develops single-line diagrams for permitting paperwork.