Bad news for Pasadena Water and Power customers - we have just learned that PWP’s solar rebates will be dropping by 1/3 effective August 1st! Here are the details…
As we have noted many times in the past, Pasadena has one of the best solar rebate programs around - decent rebates, a well managed program, and good communications. Consistent with that approach we have just learned that the solar rebates are going to be reduced effective August 1st. That means that rebate applications submitted prior to then, and which are deemed complete when submitted, will qualify for the current rebate. Once the rebate is reserved, you would then have a year to complete the project.
Here are the current and upcoming rebate rates:
Potential residential or commercial clients, your rebate will drop from 45¢/Watt to 30¢/Watt. That means that for a typical residential project of 5 kW, the rebate will drop from $2,250 to $1,500.
Non-profits will leave even more money on the table if they miss the August 1 deadline. For a typical 40 kW school project, the rebate will drop from $36,000 to $24,000! Ouch!
If past is prologue, this drop in the rebate amount will create a stampede as folks try to lock in the current rebate rate before it steps down. If you are in PWP’s service area, please don’t wait, give us a call today!
(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.
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…
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!
So how are folks first connecting with a solar installer? For folks in SoCal, this chart will come as no surprise…
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…
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.
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…
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.
Almost a year ago, Run on Sun agreed to participate in a study sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) - the premier lab looking into all aspects of renewables generally, including solar. The study, known as SEEDS - Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies - is a Department of Energy-funded, industry-wide effort to “identify the drivers and barriers to the adoption of residential solar power." To achieve their goal, the research team, led by Principal Investigator Benjamin Sigrin, asked residential solar installation companies to provide them with lists of both clients who went forward, and contact information for people who, for whatever reason, did not.
We now have some results and they are fascinating. (One caveat - we do not know from the report provided to us the sample size for the industry as a whole or even the number of our clients who responded. If we get that data we will update this post.)
In this first of two parts we will look at what the data has to say about those consumers who chose to become Run on Sun clients. In Part Two we will see what the data says about “those who got away.”
There can be lots of reasons for choosing to go solar, but for almost everyone the high cost of energy is a major driver - especially during the summer. So one of the interesting charts that we are able to share with you shows just how high that cost is for most of our clients:
(In all of these charts, the red bars represent the results from Run on Sun clients, while the grey bars are the overall averages for the survey as a whole.)
The largest segment of our clients are spending in the $100-200/month range during the summer, with a median of $235, compared to the national average of $183.50. (If your bills are lower than $100/month, a solar system will take a long time to pay-off economically.) But another 50% or so are seeing bills well above that, with some over $800/month! Ouch! If your bills are anywhere near that high, you need solar NOW!
While support for solar is overwhelming among Millennials, very few of them own homes where they could be installing solar. So what is the age of most solar adopters?
Not surprisingly, the bands between 45 and 65 are the most heavily populated, with the median age of Run on Sun clients coming in at 55 - just slightly younger than the overall median age of 58. While the survey didn’t evaluate attractiveness, we are quite confident that not only are they younger, but Run on Sun clients are way better looking, too!
Run on Sun’s clients tend to be more affluent than most…
Part of that is no doubt due to where we operate - Pasadena and the surrounding cities tend to be more affluent than many other parts of the country. Another factor would be that since we have been in business now for 10 years, some of our earlier clients were purchasing systems when the installed price was twice what it is today, thus requiring a greater household income!
Going forward, as growing numbers of people with more modest means realize how much solar costs have declined - and how high their energy bills are going - we would expect to see more participation on the lower end of the economic scale.
A final point regarding the rest of the market. Much of the industry is built around leasing - which we don’t do for a host of reasons - and that has historically been viewed as the way for people with lower household incomes to get into solar. But today, with PACE financing and solar-specific loans (as well as the return of home equity lines of credit) becoming more broadly available, we will be able to help folks with lower incomes get into solar without getting stuck with a lousy lease.
Ok, didn’t see that coming! Again, part of this might be where we do business as the Pasadena area is pretty progressive these days. That being said, we welcome prospective clients of all political persuasions! Really!
We know that going solar is a bright idea but does it follow that the smarter you are the more likely you are to do so?
This is my favorite graph of the bunch!
While the overall market is centered around folks with a bachelor’s degree, the majority of Run on Sun’s clients have professional degrees (e.g., lawyers) or Ph.D.’s! As a recovering lawyer myself I find this result gratifying. Part of the motivation for founding Run on Sun arose from when I was looking to have solar installed at my own home and was dismayed by the lack of knowledge from the people who were trying to sell me a system. I figured then that there would be a niche for a company that could answer a potential client’s questions in a sophisticated fashion that wasn’t tied to a sales script. Ten years later and it looks like we have filled that niche!
Given all that education, it should come as no surprise that our clients really do their homework before deciding to go solar…
This is a very telling chart, both as to Run on Sun and to the overall industry. The majority of our clients have spoken to at least 3 companies before deciding (something we always advise them to do), with more than 20% contacting 5 or more! That is a lot of research! Which suggests to us that the more research you do - the more likely you are to choose Run on Sun!
But it is a bit startling to realize that over 40% of the general market only speaks to one company. We suspect that means that some pushy salesperson shows up at the door and they don’t leave until the hapless homeowner has signed on the dotted line - most likely to some no-money-down, lousy lease!
In contrast, we don’t do business that way, which is why none of our clients come from that segment. That probably means we are leaving money on the table, but we like the fact that our clients know exactly what they are doing when they choose Run on Sun!
Of course the most important question you could ask of folks who have gone solar is: Would you recommend going solar to your friends, and beyond that would you recommend the company that you chose. So how did we do?
* The net promoter score measures the percentage of respondents that were considered promoters (responses greater than or equal to 8) minus the percentage that were considered detractors (responses less than or equal to 7). The net promoter score is useful for assessing market performance compared to other installers.
On that first question we did amazingly well! Over 92% of our clients would recommend going solar to their friends and neighbors as compared to just 63% for the market overall.
But what about Run on Sun specifically?
That result is also terrific with 85% of our clients saying that they would recommend us, compared to just 52% of the overall market. That being said, we constantly strive to improve, and we would really like to get that “would recommend score” up to 100%! (And the industry as a whole needs to do quite a bit better at meeting expectations.)
So that is what we know about our clients who responded to the survey. In Part Two we will take a look at those that got away. Watch this space!
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!
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!
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