Using and paying for electricity used to be simple; just find your nearest home power outlet — maybe spend a few minutes searching for that elusive charging cable — and juice up. Enjoy a continual stream of available power from your local utility with a fairly consistent, reasonable monthly bill.
For more than a century, we’ve benefitted from the rapid industrialization that spurred the development and interconnection of transmission lines, power plants and transformers in the 1920s to form the U.S. electrical grid. But now, we often watch our phone batteries die in homes that are too hot or too cold to keep up with the extreme outside temperatures and rising energy bills that hurt our wallets. Critical upgrades, the adoption of new energy generation and storage forms, and the impacts of severe weather driven by a changing climate are clearly compromising our grid’s stability.
Having experienced many of these new challenges as consumers themselves, solar and energy storage installers have an opportunity to educate homeowners about growing grid issues and how solutions exist to help them lower costs and increase their resiliency. Here are a few important points to include in your sales and marketing in light of today’s homeowner pain points.
Explain why the grid is strained
First, homeowners need to understand what is leading to more grid outages and expensive electricity costs and how these trends will continue. It doesn’t hurt to get basic with science and explain how severe heat waves from a warming planet are increasing water evaporation, leading to a vicious cycle of devastating droughts and intense storms. You can point to some of the events of 2022 to demonstrate how climate and weather-related disasters have increased five-fold over the past 50 years.
To better understand the economic and reliability advantages of solutions like residential solar and energy storage systems, homeowners also need to consider how these more frequent and intense natural disasters result in billions of dollars in damages and leave thousands living without power. Extreme weather cost U.S. taxpayers $145 billion in 2021, a cost expected to increase annually. Homeowners should realize that heat waves and freezes put further pressure on our grid by driving up demand for air conditioning and heat. And, while our transition to electric vehicles will help cut carbon emissions, it will require much more electricity. While consumers may look to grid operators to address these issues, most are failing to make sufficient plans to update our grid to enable the reliable supply of all this necessary additional power.
Help homeowners take control of their energy
As homeowners face more outages and higher electricity bills, installers can point out that changing electrical infrastructure provides opportunities to mitigate these challenges by taking resiliency and cost into their own hands.
While “behind the meter” has traditionally indicated the point at which the grid ends at the home’s electric meter, the advent of residential solar, energy storage systems and “smart” appliances such as refrigerators or thermostats connected to the internet means that today’s grid extends well into the home. As houses both draw electricity and push it onto the grid, homeowners become active players with opportunities to understand and control their energy production while helping to strengthen and decarbonize our nation’s grid.
At this point, homeowners realize they have options but will rely on installers to lead them through the process of ensuring greater power reliability and lowering their costs. Here are three steps to help them navigate their choices.
1. Determine their needs
To be a good guide and help close more sales, installers must consider the needs of each household. Are your customers looking for power reliability, lower energy bills or both? Is electricity expensive in your city? Are they seeking to decrease their carbon footprint? Are you a geographic region where natural disasters or outages are common? It might be worth getting into the weeds and considering what specific appliances they would like to keep powered and for how long in the case of a typical grid outage. Understanding your market conditions and determining each customer’s needs will help direct you in how to best fulfill them.
2. Know your local options
You can benefit from being an expert in your local utility programs and operations. For example, what are the rules for installing a grid-connected solar array or battery storage? What programs and incentives are available? Does your utility offer smart meters to help homeowners understand and control energy use? Including this information on your website or in your other marketing materials may be helpful as prospects do initial research. Other terms you may want to define or touch on include:
Net metering: If net metering is available in your area, homeowners should understand that they can sell their extra solar energy back to the utility for credit. The main message is that they are only charged for their “net” energy use, which appeals to customers looking to reduce their electric bills.
Time-of-use rates: Many homeowners may not realize that electricity costs more when demand is high. Educate them on how shifting their energy use can help them save money while enabling grid operators to better balance supply and demand.
Demand response: If you work in some parts of the country where the grid is constrained during peak hours, utilities and grid operators may be willing to pay homeowners to reduce their energy consumption for a limited period of time. Offer to assist homeowners in signing up for a demand response program with a flexible energy management system or smart appliances to save money. Homes with solar and energy storage even can be aggregated into a virtual power plant (VPP) and called on to discharge into the grid during peak hours. This could be an additional chance to help your customers make some cash.
Incentives/tax credits: When putting together project quotes, don’t forget to factor in federal tax credits and additional local incentives. Doing this work upfront for homeowners can remove any cost-hesitation barriers for customers by showing them how savings opportunities really add up.
3. Assist in making the best choice for each household
Use the information you learn from understanding customers’ energy wants and needs to help them choose the best fit for their particular situation. If electricity costs are a significant concern, installing solar on someone’s home in an area that allows net metering, employing increasingly easy-to-install smart meters, and abiding by time-of-use information can help customers manage their utility bills. If a homeowner is worried about keeping their lights on in a storm-prone area, perhaps a small battery or generator is the right solution.
Position yourself as a knowledgeable, trusted expert
While the thought of the next record-setting heatwave or hurricane can be frightening to consumers, the possibilities enabled by smarter homes and power grids are exciting. We face challenges in this new world, but installers can provide the information and tools to improve life for their customers.
Installers must stay up to speed with today’s solar, energy storage and home energy management systems in order to offer the best solutions to alleviate growing customer concerns around their electricity. While education takes much time and effort, installers that are proactive in learning about evolving market technologies and customer pain points will be most successful. As the world tries to reduce carbon emissions to combat the effects of climate change, there is an excellent opportunity for utilities, installers, and homeowners to work together to achieve mutual benefits.
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