In today’s world of endless information at our fingertips it is unsurprising that most people interested in solar begin with online research. It is also undeniable that the amount of information available to consumers is enormous, and helps people to be more informed than ever prior to investing in a solar system of their own. But as the solar industry grows, the accuracy and transparency of online information seems to be deteriorating, and nowhere is that deterioration more dramatic than from the mind-boggling number of companies engaged in solar lead generation.
As a home or business-owner innocently entertaining the thought of going solar from the safety of your laptop or smartphone you will likely come across a majority of search results from solar lead generation companies. There are a number of reasons this is problematic. First and foremost, when clicking on these results, and worse giving out your personal information for free solar quotes, you may have no idea you are engaging with a lead generator — rather than a qualified installation company.
For a solar PV installation company it is expensive and time consuming to reach consumers with an interest in purchasing a solar system. Installers are often happy to fork over cash for supposedly “qualified leads” to avoid this uncomfortable piece of the business. Thus, lead generation for solar became a lucrative niche service, and their business model seems to be working, given the number of new companies offering to sell us leads (an actual local installer) every day. Some lead gen companies are nothing more than telemarketers cold calling the masses. Others use search engine marketing techniques to capture people who are shopping around for information.
Here lies the crux of this post. The few supposedly “qualified” leads that we have received (as an inducement for us to sign up) have had two possible outcomes. First scenario: we call and introduce ourselves and mention that their interest in a free solar site assessment was brought to our attention via company X — and they promptly hang up! Or second scenario: they tell us they mistakenly clicked on something and now solar companies won’t stop calling.
We’re in this business to help people reduce their carbon footprint and electric bills. The last thing we want to do is harass people! That’s why as a company, Run on Sun does not buy solar leads.
Frankly we are worried about the reputation of solar as an industry if misleading click bait and telemarketing is how we are going to present ourselves to consumers. Online lead generators are essentially poaching customers away from local installers, taking a cut, and then selling the lead back to multiple installers who then descend upon the hapless consumer! Lead gen companies do not add value in the process and in many cases, create confusion or set up unclear/unrealistic expectations for the potential client. It stands to reason that a telemarketer with no experience in solar installation will not be able to give accurate answers to your questions.
Some online lead gen companies also have calculators (see right) meant to give you a sense of how much you could save with solar but these calculators are almost always inaccurate. Only a proper site visit to assess the many factors specific to your property along with an assessment of your usage history will lead to an accurate proposal detailing your return on investment and savings analysis.
We cannot stress enough our recommendation to simply do a bit more sleuthing on the website or company asking for your information before clicking on that “Have Solar Installation Contractors Contact You” button. Are you looking at an installation company, or just a lead gen mill? Do they have qualified installers on their staff (and preferably are NABCEP certified)? Are there positive reviews from past clients in your area?
When you’re ready to invite qualified installers to your property to do a formal assessment, contact the companies you have found to have a solid reputation by clicking on their online assessment request form or giving them a good old fashioned phone call. Avoid the lead gen trolls, and maintain control over the process!
It is official! One million solar systems have been installed across the United States providing more than 27 gigagwatts (GW) of clean energy over the past 40 years! This incredible milestone becomes even more impressive when you consider that projections have us reaching 2 million installations in just 2 years.
Every day at Run on Sun we are proud to be part of the solar movement helping our communities access clean renewable energy. Solar is no longer a fringe technology, nor is it a solution for the future. It is powering homes and businesses nationwide today, and the more solar we install, the more jobs and economic growth we support.
On Tuesday, May 3rd at 10AM EDT solar supporters across the nation are participating in a social media “thunderclap". Join us in celebrating and sharing this historic achievement and what it means for our energy future by spreading the word across your networks. Working together to raise our voice in unity shows our business leaders and lawmakers that solar is here to stay. We are #MillionSolarStrong! Join the SEIA organized movement and thunderclap here.
Second only to the flame-out of oft-maligned Solyndra, the bankruptcy filing this month of once high-flying SunEdison has gotten a great deal of press, particularly by those who follow the financial side of the solar industry closely. But what does it really mean for residential, non-profit, and small commercial solar clients? In a word - nothing, and here’s why.
SunEdison, is a developer of utility-scale solar projects, that is, projects that sell energy directly to a utility rather than offsetting the energy loads of a local customer.
SunEdison Alamosa PV Plant
In recent years SunEdison expanded aggressively, creating two captive subsidiaries known as yieldcos to purchase the parent’s projects at a premium, sell the energy and pay investors dividends from those projects - thereby enticing more investors, which provided more capital to purchase more projects, thus paying more dividends and on, and on.
Until it didn’t.
Possibly the straw that broke the investors’ back, however, was the deal that SunEdison announced last July to purchase Vivint Solar at a 52% premium. To a lot of folks this seemed like an odd move - Vivint is a major player in the residential solar space where it competes against SolarCity (and us!) - not a real fit with a developer of mostly utility scale projects. That deal spooked investors, liquidity became an issue, and the Vivint deal dissolved into litigation in March.
With the demise of the Vivint deal, rumors of bankruptcy grew, culminating in its filing for Chapter 11 reorganization on April 21. The announcement - ironically one week after coal giant Peabody Energy did the same thing - generated some pretty scathing coverage:
While certainly not the level of vitriol directed at the failure of Solyndra, those are still tough headlines (and interesting articles, should you be inclined to dive deeper).
So while there is a great deal of buzz about the problems facing SunEdison, they really have nothing to do with the markets that our clients occupy. We, along with the other local, independent solar installers out there, are still doing just fine, thank you! We have never purchased products from SunEdison, so none of our product warranties are affected.
In the end, this story does highlight one consideration for potential clients to consider as you mull over the trade-offs between a smaller, local company and a large, national chain. If even the biggest firm can fail, as SunEdison has shown, so can the other giants out there. So if there is no guarantee that either the large or the small company will still be around in ten years, where would you rather place your bet: with the small company that takes the time to get the job done right, or with the giant that is bragging to its investors how it takes a day or less to install a system?
At the end of the day, size may matter, just not in the way you would originally think!
While difficult economic times are not far removed from our collective consciousness, Californians as a whole are feeling optimistic about how things are going in the state. Generally speaking, when economic times are good, Californians are more willing to take affirmative, collective action for the common good. In particular, at times like these we expect to see concerted action on improving the environment, whether through water conservation (a big topic these days), regulating greenhouse gas emissions, or other air quality improvement measures.
So it came as a complete shock when we learned that Barry Wallerstein, the long-standing Executive Officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (the AQMD) - the agency responsible for providing breathable air in the Nation’s most polluted region - was unceremoniously fired from his post. What had caused his sudden ouster? Was there some scandal at the AQMD on Mr. Wallerstein’s watch? No. Was the air quality in the LA Basin deteriorating, due to some AQMD ineptitude that was laid at Mr. Wallerstein’s feet? Nope. So what changed? What was behind Mr. Wallerstein being sacked? In a word: politics.
This is not good!
Before I go further, a bit of background. In the early nineties I was the Director of Clean Air Programs for a statewide non-profit environmental organization. In that role I was a frequent participant at AQMD workshops and Board Meetings, first in El Monte and later in Diamond Bar, trying to push the staff and the Board to do more to protect public health.
Are we headed back to this?
The early nineties was a time of recession, and its lingering effects emboldened many polluting interests to lobby heavily against the allegedly “job killing regulations” coming from the AQMD. For the relatively small cadre of environmental activists who engaged in that debate, we were generally outnumbered and always outgunned. When I or one of my colleagues would address the Board, it was not uncommon for us to be booed by industry allies in the audience. We referred to it as “getting dissed at the District.”
Barry Wallerstein was a senior staff member during my tenure, not yet the Executive Officer, and far from an environmental booster. More often than not, we were arguing against positions taken by Mr.Wallerstein. Far too often, in our view, he adopted the position advocated by industry at the expense of the environment.
This is the man that the new Board deems too enviro-friendly to continue in his post?
How did this happen?
The short answer is that a recent change in AQMD Board membership gave the Republicans on the Board a 7-6 majority. But to really understand what is going on here, you need to know who is on the Board and how they voted. Here’s the tally, along with a link to their bio page and the source of their appointment:
|Name||Vote||Source of Appointment|
|Dr. William Burke (Chair)||Retain||Speaker of the Assembly|
|Mike Antonovich||Fire||Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors|
|Ben Benoit||Fire||Cities of Riverside County|
|John Benoit||Fire||Riverside County Board of Supervisors|
|Joe Buscaino||Retain||City of Los Angeles|
|Michael Cacciotti||Retain||Cities of Los Angeles County, Eastern Region|
|Dr. Joseph Lyou||Retain||Governor|
|Larry McCallon||Fire||Cities of San Bernardino County|
|Judy Mitchell||Retain||Cities of Los Angeles County, Western Region|
|Shawn Nelson||Fire||Orange County Board of Supervisors|
|Dr. Clark Parker, Sr.||Retain||Senate Rules Committee|
|Dwight Robinson||Fire||Cities of Orange County|
|Janice Rutherford||Fire||San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors|
One thing here is unlike the others. All of the sources for pro-business votes - the cities and county representatives of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino - voted against clean air and for the polluters. All of the sources for pro-enviroment votes, save one - i.e., the cities of LA County, the Democrat-dominated legislature and governor’s office - voted for protecting the environment. So who is the odd man out? That would be LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, a true dinosaur on environmental issues - who has been on the AQMD Board since my days appearing there!
How can that be? The LA County Board of Supervisors is 3-2 Democratic, and has been since 1993. So how on earth has Mr. Antonovich managed to remain as the representative of the millions of people in LA County before their most important local public health agency when he routinely votes - as he did here - against their best interests? Are the three Democrats on the Board just too lazy to take on the job themselves, happy to leave the AQMD workload to Mr. Antonovich, even if it imperils the health of their constituents?
We decided to find out, so we sent the three Democrats on the Board this email:
Dear Supervisor –
I run a small business in LA County and am also the author of a blog, Thoughts on Solar, regarding the solar industry. I am preparing a post regarding the recent firing of AQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein and I would like an answer to the following question – your response to which will be included in my post:
The LA County Board of Supervisors has a Democratic majority and has had since 1993. Yet for all of that time, Supervisor Antonovich has represented the County’s millions of residents before the AQMD Board where he has been a reliable vote in favor of polluters and to the detriment of the health and well-being of your constituents – including his most recent vote to oust longstanding Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein. So why is it that Mr. Antonovich has been allowed to remain as the County’s representative to the AQMD Board?
Thank you for your consideration; I look forward to your reply.
That email was sent to the offices of Hilda Solis (First District), Mark Ridley-Thomas (Second District), and Sheila Kuehl (Third District). Only Ms. Kuehl’s office bothered to respond, and her spokeswoman’s response was terse in the extreme:
Thanks for reaching out to our office. Supervisor Antonovich is serving a fixed term and there will be a new appointment in December.
Director of Communications
Office of LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl
Of course, her response doesn’t address the question posed (though it is better than no response at all), but it does highlight an important fact. After a lifetime on the Board, Mr. Antonovich is finally termed out this November. Moreover, the other Republican on the Board, Don Knabe, is also termed out. Under the election rules, if a candidate gains an outright majority of the vote in the June 7th primary, they are elected. Otherwise the top two finishers face off in the November general election.
Despite their enormous power, elections for County Supervisor tend to be down-ballot snoozers with very little public scrutiny of the candidates. Once elected, as with Mr. Antonovich, they have largely remained in office for decades. Hopefully this year will be different. Given the enormous stakes for public health in the home of the Nation’s most polluted air, the outcome of the Supervisorial elections - and the subsequent appointment of the LA County representative to the AQMD board - is of the highest importance.
This is not a political blog, but this issue is just too important to everyone who lives and breathes in this Basin to ignore. We intend to return to the issue and seek to make representation on the AQMD Board an issue in the upcoming campaign. Watch this space.
UPDATE - 3/31 - The Solar Power World Webinar has come and gone, but the good news is that you can watch it anytime by going to the SPW website, register and then watch. To get started, click on the “Watch Webinar!” button. The whole event is worth a listen, but if you wish to cut to my presentation, it starts around the 25 minute mark!
Run on Sun Founder & CEO, Jim Jenal, is frequently quoted on topics related to solar power and the nature of the solar industry. Two media events this month demonstrate that continuing influence. Check these out…
Run on Sun has long had a happy relationship with the folks at industry magazine, Solar Power World, having been named to their “Top Solar Contractors” list three years running, but this upcoming webinar is a first for us. Directed toward other solar installation companies, the one-hour presentation offers the perspective from Jim and two other industry leaders on steps to take to develop a first-class operation. From the online blurb:
Technology is constantly changing; are you using the right tools to ensure your business is operating as efficiently as possible? The desire for great customer service stays the same; are your offerings and sales techniques making it easy for the customer to go solar?
Join us in a special 1-hour presentation in which several presenters explain:
- How innovative software can streamline your business
- Why PACE financing can help enable you to service more customers
- What best practices are most effective when working with clients (this is Jim’s topic!)
Readers of this blog know that Jim brings a distinct point of view to his writing, and this presentation will certainly be no exception!
SUNMetrix is a cool portal that is designed to allow homeowners to gather information about how to go solar, and check out highly rated solar companies in their area. Headed up by Simone Garneau, and winner of the SunShot Catalyst Business Innovation Contest, we are fans of the concept, and of Simone. When she contacted Jim about contributing to her upcoming blog post, he was happy to oblige.
The result is Are Solar Panels Worth It? and here’s an excerpt:
In the past decade, the expansion of the residential solar energy market has been nothing short of astonishing. Though it’s still early days, all key market metrics point to continued growth for the coming years…
For most homeowners though, the decision to go solar boils down to a single question: is it worth it?
…Homeowners, frustrated by their ever increasing utility bills, are looking for an alternative that will save them money in the long run. They are also looking for ways to help the environment by producing their own clean energy. Jim Jenal, CEO of the solar company Run on Sun in Pasadena, California knows this firsthand:“For most homeowners it starts with a desire to save money; however, even for the most cost conscious, the understanding that they are doing something good, sweetens the deal.”
With dramatic price drops in solar equipment, solar energy is more affordable than ever for homeowners considering the switch.
Of course, as we have written in the past, the answer to the question of is solar worth it, is… it depends! (Check out Laurel’s great post on Assessing My Home’s Solar Potential: Step-by-Step to see more of our thoughts on this key point.)
Simone’s post provides lots of good information, along with quotes from other industry experts - check it out by clicking here.
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