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!
I like to think there are many ways in which Run on Sun stands out in the ever growing sea of solar contractors. But there is one particular feature which every client seems to comment on - our non-sales approach. I can’t count the number of times I have sat down at a kitchen table to discuss how solar works and whether it makes sense for that home, to hear remarks on how different the experience is compared to other solar pitches they’ve heard. The thing is, when someone from Run on Sun comes to your home to do a solar assessment, that person is not a sales person. We don’t have outside sales agents and we definitely don’t employ any “hard sell” tactics. As a small company, every employee is a solar professional who has taken the time to educate themselves on the intricacies of the industry. And perhaps more importantly, every Run on Sun employee truly takes pride in helping people go solar, for the right reasons.
Explaining more than selling
Some people might argue over what exactly are “the right reasons". The bottom line is this: we believe solar is an amazing solution to many problems the world faces today. From reducing the carbon emissions and water use over traditional power sources, and increasing the number of jobs with a living wage that cannot be outsourced, to providing property owners with huge savings over time — going solar is a great thing to do. But we can only accomplish growing this great solution if we do it ethically. The solar industry will only suffer by putting solar on spaces that aren’t good candidates and cause financial strain or debt for clients that would have been better off without solar.
In fact, our goal when we walk into a solar assessment is not to get a contract signed. Rather, the goal is to assess the solar potential accurately and make sure the client feels they have any and all questions answered about the process of going solar. And for clients who turn out to be great solar candidates, obviously we aim to help them save money, achieve some energy independence, increase the value of their property, and enjoy the peace of mind that using green energy provides!
During an assessment we work with clients to determine what the best solar system would be to meet their real energy needs as well as what would be their best possible investment. Then we take the time to explain exactly how we made the determinations that we did. Sometimes, as some of our Yelp! Reviewers have shared, that assessment leads to the unfortunate conclusion that solar is a poor investment for the client and we make sure to explain why. Perhaps external factors make the upfront cost too high such as re-roofing or electrical panel upgrades, or maybe the shade of that lovely oak tree would make any solar output too limited. Maybe your usage needs are just too low to justify all of the fixed costs to install. In these cases, the sad reality is that there are solar companies who would gladly install a system anyways and lock you into a contract which could cost you incredible amounts of money with little to no return.
As consumers ourselves, we’d rather make our own educated decisions especially regarding large purchases and investments. Being pressured into something is seriously a turn off. If you are influenced more by hard sales tactics, we likely won’t be the ones putting solar on your roof as there are plenty of other companies who have motivated salesmen knocking on your door. But at least we can go home feeling good about the work we do every day.
So if you’re interested in going solar but the thought of dealing with salesmen is revolting, never fear! Run on Sun would be happy to walk you through the process today.
Run on Sun’s solar module maker of choice, LG Electronics, has announced that it will invest the equivalent of $435 million to triple its production of N-type solar modules, sold under the brand name NeON.
According to press reports (h/t PV-Tech), LG has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the South Korean city of Gumi to expand LG’s existing module production facility there (pictured at right).
LG’s roadmap would see it increase production from today’s ~1Gw to 1.8 GW by 2018 and a full 3 GW by 2020. If it can reach those targets, LG would become the largest producer of N-type solar modules in the world, overtaking present leader, SunPower.
Lee Sang-bong, President of LG’s energy business center was quoted as saying the expansion would place LG’s solar business in a “much stronger position” and allow it to be a “dynamic engine for growth” for LG.
“LG has been actively involved in the solar energy business for two decades and we believe that mainstream consumers are more than ready to give solar more serious consideration.”
This is great news for LG’s end customers - like the clients of Run on Sun. N-type panels, like the LG315 panels currently being installed by Run on Sun, have an enhanced performance warranty, produce more of their rated power when hot, and suffer significantly less Light-Induced Degradation over conventional solar modules. The significant increase in production offers the hope of lower prices for these premium modules over time, making top-of-the-line solar affordable for “mainstream consumers.”
But you don’t have to wait to get your hands on these best-in-class modules - we are installing them today! Just give us a call and let’s show you how with LG solar modules, Life is Good!
The new year is well underway (Happy New Year!), and so it is timely to revisit the question of financial incentives to Go Solar in the Run on Sun service area. (You can read more detail about all of these incentives on our Solar Financing page.)
Beyond a doubt, the most significant incentive for going solar is the 30% federal tax credit. Previously set to expire at the end of this year, the federal solar tax credit was extended late last year, continuing at the present 30% through 2019.
The credit applies to solar installations in every utility’s territory, so no matter where you live in the U.S., this credit applies to you. (NB: this is a tax credit, not an income deduction, so you need the tax “appetite” to take full advantage of this incentive - check with your tax advisor.) For residential clients, the basis for the credit is the full cost of your solar project, less any rebate that you might receive from the utility. Commercial clients, who must declare any rebate as income, do not need to deduct their rebate from the system cost when calculating the basis.
Once common everywhere, utility rebates are going the way of the dodo—with one or two notable exceptions. We have rank ordered the local utilities below, based on the reliability of their rebate program.
The big winner, again and by far, is the solar rebate program operated by our own Pasadena Water and Power. Year in and year out, PWP offers rebates to its customers in a transparent and consistent manner - something that cannot be said of any of its neighboring utilities.
As of this writing, PWP is offering a rebate of $0.45/Watt for both residential and commercial customers, and a rebate of $0.90/Watt to non-profit customers (who cannot take advantage of the federal tax credit). Alternatively, PWP also offers a performance-based incentive that is paid out over two years based on the actual production of the system. Residential and commercial customers are paid 14.4¢/kWh, whereas non-profit customers are paid 28.8¢/kWh.
LADWP offers a rebate, if you have the stamina to receive it. Vexed with the most bureaucratic process to be found this side of Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, applying for and receiving a rebate from DWP often feels like a reward for a life well spent.
That said, LADWP is currently offering rebates of $0.30/Watt to residential customers, $0.40/Watt to commercial, and $1.15/Watt to non-profits. Just don’t hold your breath.
These two municipal utilities often feel like one and the same given their similar approach to rebates - which is to say, now you see ‘em, no you don’t.
Unlike their neighbor to the east, neither BWP nor GWP is able to maintain a rebate program throughout the year. Instead, both open their rebate windows on or about July 1st (i.e., the start of their fiscal year) and then hand out money until it is gone, at which time the window slams shut until the following July 1.
Burbank’s program operates under a lottery, which last year opened on July 1 and was exhausted by August 15. In addition, BWP imposes restrictions on the azimuth and pitch of rebated systems, despite their being no technical justification for doing so.
Glendale’s program is even less transparent, and the installation/rebate process is outlined in a 23-step ode to inefficiency.
We will revisit both of these program in mid-June to provide what guidance we can to the residents of these two cities.
The “Solar Partnership Program” in Azusa is fully subscribed. There is a wait list that solar-hopeful customers can get on in the hope that at some point there will be rebate funds available - with no guarantees that there ever will be.
The Anaheim Solar Incentive Program was fully subscribed as of October 1, 2015 and is now closed, with no published plans to revise the program in the future.
SCE’s rebates, which were part of the larger, California Solar Initiative, have expired and no new funds are anticipated. Of course, SCE customers still have the highest electricity rates around, which provides its own—albeit perverse—incentive to Go Solar!
UPDATE - 12/16 - Congress unveils a potential 5-Year Extension!
On Tuesday, Congressional leaders unveiled a behemoth spending bill (as in 2,009 pages!) that includes an extension for the solar tax credit. As proposed, here are the details:
To be sure, this is not yet a done deal and Congress could balk on passing the bill, so watch this space! Better yet, use the form below and tell your Representative to support the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016.
We have written about how the federal Investment Tax Credit - which provides solar system owners a credit on their taxes worth 30% of the system cost - is set to expire at the end of 2016 and the havoc that will cause in the industry. We have been skeptical that the present Congress would act to extend the credit. But activism is always better than skepticism, and right now there is a chance to act to save the ITC!
It is a classic Congressional tradition - horse trading some call it, logrolling is another term of art - but at the end of the day it means compromise. It turns out that there are tax credits that Republicans love (e.g., credits to businesses for various types of purchases) and tax credits that Democrats love (e.g., the earned income credit and others that generally help lower income constituents). Turns out that there are enough of those credits on both sides (it is left as a challenge for the reader to determine which side of the aisle is supporting the solar ITC) to make it possible, maybe even likely, that a compromise bill could get through.
But there are many reasons why it might fail. Deficit hawks in the House might try to derail it over its cost. Democrats might complain it gives away too much to Big Business. In short, it is the sort of compromise in which everyone can find something to love, as well as something to hate. But can it pass? That’s where you come in.
Below is a form where you can get the contact information for your member of Congress just by entering your zip code…
Take just three minutes to look up your Representative and give them a call. When you get them on the line, tell them to support the longest possible extension of the solar ITC. Three minutes to save 30% on future solar installations - that’s what we call time well spent!