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Swing and a miss - Why some consumers don't go solar

06/08/16

  02:18:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 797 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Swing and a miss - Why some consumers don't go solar

(Editor’s Note: This is our second of two articles looking at data provided to us by NREL researcher Benjamin Sigrin as part of his SEEDS investigation.  To read more about that project and our first post analyzing this data, please see: Who Chooses Run on Sun?)

While some 400,000 California homes and businesses have gone solar, there are still many folks out there who think about solar but ultimately don’t pull the trigger.  The SEEDS data provides some interesting insights into the reasons why that might happen - and in the process, provides some pointers for what we as an industry can do better.

How did we get here?

To get a handle on why consumers don’t become solar clients, it is first important to know why they were looking into solar in the first place…

Prompted to consider solar

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the number one reason that non-adopters cited for looking into solar was to save money on their energy bills.  After all, that is what most advertising in the industry is focused on, “Save money by going solar!"  Which is fine, as far as it goes, but there is the risk that some of those ad claims create unrealistic expectations among consumers.

Some of the other initial motivators are quite interesting, including seeing solar being installed on another person’s home.  This is classic secondary-adoption behavior, and it suggests that we are moving away from the pioneering, early-adopters and into the general public.  But unlike those pioneers, the general public is likely to be far more skeptical regarding claims by solar sales people!

What company did you say you’re from?

So how are folks first connecting with a solar installer?  For folks in SoCal, this chart will come as no surprise…

How did you connect with a solar installer

Nearly 60% first made contact by having someone show up at their door!  This gives rise to the following likely scenario: consumer has been suffering from high energy bills when an aggressive salesperson shows up on their door, promising amazing savings (and frequently at “No Cost to You!”), and then doesn’t leave until the hapless homeowner signs on the dotted line.  The likelihood of this scenario is bolstered by this graph that we used in our initial post…

How many solar companies did you look at?

More than 40% of all solar consumers spoke to only one solar company!  Clearly for a sizeable percentage of consumers those high-pressure tactics are effective in closing the sale, but we are very concerned that they are breeding a backlash that will damage the industry in the long term (more on that in a future post).

The second most common way to first come in contact with an installer is via a recommendation, although that only occurs one-third as often as finding a stranger on your doorstep!  As solar becomes more mainstream, we expect the number of first contacts by way of recommendation to go up, and hopefully the number of uninvited house guests to decline.

The bottom ranked means are particularly depressing as they include conventional advertising, review/research websites (like Yelp or Angie’s list) and the ever popular, but obviously ineffective, website forms.

Coming up short

These are all the means by which prospective clients are getting into the solar sales funnel, but where are they dropping out?  The survey data provides some insights there, too…

Stopped from going solar

Money, it seems, is still the number one impediment to going solar - and this despite the availability of zero-money down leasing programs.  (Perhaps people are looking more closely into the fine print of those programs and realizing that they aren’t the great deal that they are cracked up to be?)  However, the dataset of folks who did not go forward reaches back several years, and prices (and consumer access to financing) were more daunting years ago than they are today.

Which makes the second reason cited a greater cause for concern: nearly 40% cited the inability to find a “trustworthy and competent installer!"  To be sure, there is no shortage of installation companies out there, so it is in the trust and competence areas that we are failing as an industry to meet more than a third of consumers’ expectations! 

While we like to think that we score well on both counts (and our clients would agree!), we think there are some simple ways for consumers to overcome this hurdle.  First, do some homework - if you want to find a competent installer, go look where they hang out: the NABCEP website.  Second, talk to your family, friends, and co-workers.  With 400,000 installs in California alone, you already know people who have gone solar, so seek them out and hear what they have to say.  And finally, get more than one bid!  A solar installation is a major purchase (no matter how it is financed) so it is in your best interest to shop around.

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Comment from: loridawn  
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loridawnExcellent information, Jim!! Great article and data! I, too, find it surprising that the second issue stopping people from going solar is “Finding a trustworthy and competent installer.”
06/08/16 @ 16:43
Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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