Guest post by Stefan Grosjean, CEO of Smappee
A recent report from IHS Markit indicates that smart energy monitoring services could become a popular and profitable new service for the residential market that many solar contractors serve. While smart home devices and energy monitoring may not have the profit margins of solar and storage, today’s increasingly innovative home energy management systems offer solar contractors a path to reducing customer acquisition costs as well as an ancillary revenue stream in an ultracompetitive market.
With IHS forecasting that smart home devices will be an $3.3 billion market by the end of 2017 and nearly tripling to a $9.4 billion market by 2021, what do solar installers need to consider when adding smart energy monitoring to their products and services offering?
With smart energy monitoring in your product portfolio, you are positioning yourself not just as a solar or energy storage contractor, but also as a smart home expert.
Since this is a new service that may be offered as a premium, it’s important to offer an advanced energy monitoring system that gives more than simple insights into solar functionality and total home energy consumption. Look for advanced monitoring systems that have submetering and load disaggregation capabilities. This allows homeowners to recognize specific home appliances, such as air-conditioning units, pool pumps and dishwashers, or to monitor a room.
An advanced meter, such as Smappee Plus, can also act as an “energy traffic controller.” When programmed with the customer’s local electric rates, the device can temporarily turn off hot water boilers or freezers during expensive peak rate times. The device can also intelligently direct solar kilowatt-hours to an energy storage unit or to dishwashers and other high-intensity loads when there is excess solar.
The advanced meter you add to your services should also have robust home energy management features, allowing users to automatically or remotely control lighting and other features with a smart home app. Similarly, make sure that your monitoring system is compatible with the most popular smart home systems, such as Nest and Amazon’s Alexa. Consumers will be more open to adding intelligent energy monitoring if the selected system is already compatible with these widely available connected home systems.
Finally, especially if you offer operations and maintenance services, make sure your advanced energy monitor has a cloud-based installer dashboard that allows you to remotely monitor multiple customer systems for any troubleshooting.
Growing your solar business with smart home services
After selecting an advanced smart home energy monitor, test its capabilities with your own solar home for a month. Get to know its functionality and all the ways you and your family use the system to save on your electric bill and utilize the connected home features. The more you and other salespeople personally know about your product, the more you’ll be giving a genuine testimonial for your solar customers and prospects.
Once you’re familiar with the product and its installation, there are several ways that you can use your experience to benefit your business and bring added value to your customers.
- Use advanced energy monitors to engage with past solar customers. If you’ve been a solar contractor for many years, you probably have a list of solar customers who may have never used a monitoring service or are using a basic inverter monitor. With an advanced energy monitor, re-engage with these customers and tell them you’re expanding your business with new advanced smart home services compatible with their existing solar system. Many advanced meters have no annual data costs, so the one-time fee to smarten their home with energy efficiency savings can be very appealing.
- Use advanced energy monitors as a gateway for other added services. Regardless of whether past customers are interested in purchasing an energy monitor, they may be interested in adding additional arrays for energy storage or to install an EV charger. Sending an email or direct mail postcard about your new energy monitoring system can also be a way to remind customers about operations, maintenance or solar panel cleaning services. Either way, you’ll be positioning your solar contracting business with more smart home and energy services expertise.
- Use advanced energy monitors to inspire referrals. Even if your past customers pass on purchasing an advanced energy monitor, you can offer it to them as a referral “thank you” gift when they refer two friends that enlist your services. With customer acquisition costs still hovering at nearly $3,000 per installation, giving away a relatively inexpensive energy monitor is a bargain that can significantly boost your solar customer acquisitions and generate more social media buzz about your brand.
- Use advanced energy monitors to differentiate your services. By providing advanced smart meters with Internet of Things (IoT) functionality, you can stand out from competitors as a smart home expert and contractor. Rather than offering monitoring as an extra, you can package your advanced smart meter into your installation business model, offering every customer subscription-free monitoring with connected home capabilities, differentiating your business from installers.
- Use advanced energy monitors as an energy assessment device. Many consumers who are unsure of going solar would love to “try it.” While advanced energy monitors can’t simulate going solar, they can be temporarily installed at the home of a prospect to give the consumer insights about how they’re using or wasting energy. After a month, you can return to the home and show the results of a month of monitoring. If the prospect’s energy usage is low or their financing falls through, they may still be interested by these smart insights and energy control and purchase the monitor. In the future when they buy an electric car, they’ll be more likely return to you for a solar quote or for installing an EV charger.
- Use advanced energy monitors as catalyst for solar installs. Once a customer’s energy monitor has been installed and they see the standby energy and consumption per device, they will typically reduce their energy consumption. Once they have, the customer will often move on to the next step and want to become CO2 neutral by producing their own energy. Having installed their energy monitor, you will most likely be first in line for you the customer will call to find out how they can produce their own energy, making advanced energy monitors a catalyst for solar installations.
- Future-proof your solar company. There are a lot of empty roofs in the United States and all over the world, but veterans of the “solar coaster” know all too well the boom-and-bust cycles of the industry. Advanced energy monitoring systems can help offset these cycles by expanding your business into the smart home and energy efficiency services arena. Since these devices work with Alexa, Nest and other connected home devices, you can become a go-to supplier of these consumer products—as well as EV charging stations and energy storage products—to your past and new solar customers.
Whether you incorporate smart energy monitoring into your solar business today or in the future, these devices are quickly becoming a standard feature for modern homeowners. By embracing this multibillion-dollar market and offering smart home products and services, solar installers will position their businesses for continuous growth.