By Gabe Abbott, VP of strategic partnerships, Sense
The business shutdown in response to COVID-19 has reverberated in the solar industry. SEIA reports that solar companies are concerned about construction and supply chain delays, permitting delays and customer acquisition. Today’s economic climate adds another stressor to a long and sometimes uncertain solar sales process, but it can also be an opportunity to rethink business strategies for longer-term growth.
Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people will ever make, so major investments in homes are understandably big decisions for consumers. With costs for solar systems around $20,000 and the expectation that they will last 20+ years, consumers are making a significant financial and personal commitment when they go solar.
Because this is such a major investment for customers, the sales process tends to be a lengthy one for solar providers. Each sale requires a lot of door-to-door canvassing and cold calls with often lengthy waiting periods for consumers to make a final decision. On average, it costs $3,000 for solar companies to acquire a new customer.
Going solar in the United States is anything but a smooth and streamlined process. Between design and permitting, unique HOA requirements, installation scheduling and utility permission to operate, customers often wait months between when they agree to purchase solar and when they’re finally able to get online.
With the long lag time between buying and seeing a return on their solar investment, many customers get cold feet. Some installers Sense has interviewed reported that up to 30% of customers cancel the deal between the sale and installation.
It is critical for solar installers to take a longer-term view of their business, especially now as customers are scrutinizing each investment. Solar installers have an opportunity to build trust early in their relationships with customers and become a long-term energy partner, demonstrating to customers that they can understand and analyze their total home energy picture, not just simply put panels on their roofs.
For example, after customers install solar panels, it’s common for them to behave as if their electricity is unlimited and become more careless with using appliances and devices. They need to better understand how much power their solar panels are producing and how their behavior can reduce energy usage and save money. One way to do that is through a Home Energy Monitoring System (EMS) that can shed light on what devices and appliances are on, what’s off and how much energy the home is using.
We suggest solar installers follow these tips to help customers get the most from their solar energy and look for opportunities to reduce usage and save money:
- Meet with the solar prospect and assess their solar goals such as:
- Spending less on energy overall
- Reducing or eliminating their utility bill
- Addressing environmental concerns
- Provide a detailed proposal and cost estimate and consider including an Energy Monitoring System (EMS) to bridge the gap until approvals and installation are complete
- Install an EMS upon contract signing to measure the home’s current energy usage
- Show homeowners how they can monitor home energy usage while waiting for the installation to be completed and/or permission to operate
- After installation, use EMS and fleet management tools to track solar production and energy usage and identify energy saving opportunities for the customer
- Offer an in-person home energy consultation to help customers discover energy hogs and identify opportunities for load shifting
Today’s more sophisticated installers understand that solar sales are not a one-time process and that they can provide a broader range of services — like energy upgrades, EV chargers and energy storage. With the build-out of smart home divisions, or as customers make room-by-room upgrades with various smart home devices to improve energy efficiency and connectedness, solar installers have an opportunity to become long-term home energy partners to their customers.
Introducing a Home Energy Monitoring System early in the sales process and installing it prior to solar installation, or at least after installation and prior to utility PTO, gives customers confidence that their provider wants to be transparent and is thinking about their total energy picture.
Good Faith Energy, a solar installation company in Texas, has seen its business flourish in part due to a growing and diversified product offering.
“You can no longer be viable strictly as a solar company. I think we will see businesses disappear within the next couple of years as solar prices continue to plummet. We have made data collection at the center of our value proposition,” said Good Faith Energy CEO Mohammed Abdalla. “An energy monitoring system is going to give you granular level data on all of your appliances and granular level production data on solar for every panel in the system and every appliance in the home and true empowerment and cutting the middleman out, which is the utility, of course.”
There’s an emotional value to early engagement that translates to business value. Making customers more aware of their overall consumption can prevent the industry-wide problem of consumption increases after buying solar, which erodes customer lifetime value and leads to dissatisfaction with both the purchase and the provider.
A positive customer experience is very important for another reason. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers trust referrals from people they know. People are four times more likely to buy a product or service when referred by a friend. Satisfied customers who see their solar provider as a long-term partner can become a valuable source of referrals.
By taking a long-term view that emphasizes partnership with homeowners, solar providers can keep customers engaged throughout the installation process and beyond.
Gabe Abbott is VP of strategic partnerships at Sense. Prior to joining Sense in 2018, Gabe was a founding member of the Locus Energy management team, which built the largest residential solar monitoring and performance analytics business in the U.S, monitoring more than 150,000 individual solar projects. For more information about improving customer satisfaction and solar rooftop values with EMS, download this white paper written by Frost & Sullivan for Sense.