Who says solar marketing is boring? Surely not the folks at SolarEdge who got folks talking last year with their Solar Gangnam Style holiday video. Well they are back at it again this year, check it out:
Nicely done, folks, You’ve inspired us (again) to try and have a little more fun with our marketing efforts. Hopefully some of that will be apparent when our new website rolls out in January (very excited!!!).
In the stage version of The Sound of Music, there is a song about the perils of romance among the affluent titled, “How Can Love Survive” – sadly it was cut for the movie. But I’ve always liked that song and I was reminded of it while reading a piece over at greentechsolar that debated the question: Will smaller solar installers survive? Lest you have any doubt where we come out in this debate, the answer is simple: heck yeah! But let’s see why…
The debate was held last week at the U.S. Solar Market Insight event in San Diego and was reported on by the always interesting Herman Trabish in a piece titled, “GTM Debate: Will Smaller Installers Survive in Tomorrow’s Solar Market?” (H/T solarwakeup.com) The debate featured Vivint Solar’s VP Thomas Plagemann squaring off against SunPower’s Residential Solar VP/General Manager Martin DeBono.
Plagemann’s comments reflect all of the arrogance and self-importance we have come to expect from such major players:
“In this business, we have to take three essential steps,” Plagemann said. “Find and acquire customers, design and install systems, and finance the systems.”
Financing has to come first, he explained. “A typical equity finance fund of $50 million, at $2.50 per watt and 5 kilowatts per system, means 4,000 systems. Using small installers to get that scale cedes control.”
Vivint has installed home security systems nationally for twenty years and keeps that control. “We acquire customers. That’s what we do. We took that customer acquisition engine and applied it to solar. Our success in the last twelve months is the answer to this debate.”
We note that Vivint has mostly done its work outside of the California market, so that $2.50/Watt number is not reflective of their presence in our fair state. Indeed, when we last looked at CSI data for the first half of 2013, Vivint did not even crack our list of the top 16 installers. Here’s that graph:
But even if they aren’t (yet) big in CA, is there any doubt that you could have gotten the same response from someone at SolarCity? Their goal is to make solar a commodity with a standard set of offerings - if your roof fits into that model (and your FICO score is high enough) - you are golden. Just don’t look for any real care and attention to detail.
Speaking for the little guy was DeBono from SunPower (with just a little irony given the size of SunPower). He noted that:
“Small business is the second most popular institution in the U.S., after the military,” he said. People want to buy from small businesses.” In the home building industry, 40 percent of new homes are built by large national builders, but 60 percent are built by small local builders. Solar installation will break out the same way, he said.
“Large solar installers can leverage the advantage of scale as long as everything is uniform,” he argued, “but variance is the rule in solar, and variance is anathema to scale. For customers that don’t fit into a box, local installers are the answer. Variance will cap the rise of national installers.”
DeBono went on to note that forming a partnership with SunPower provides installers with leverage and a national brand.
We agree that establishing partnerships is essential, though we might question the degree to which SunPower is a national brand in the way that matters most - consumer consciousness. Toward that end, we believe that partnering with a company like LG Electronics - which truly is a national brand and has the ad budget to prove it - makes more sense for small installers. But how do you get access to the other essentials of the business?
Run on Sun has been exceptionally fortunate to have partnered with Focused Energy, who is much more than a premier distributor. They have not only been our primary supplier since we first connected a few years ago, but they have offered us support, flexibility and insight that has made them an essential part of our success. If you run a small solar business and you haven’t connected with them yet, we would encourage you to check them out.
As we have said many times, solar has to be more than just another business. We have to be better. At the end of the day, that is why the small installers will survive: because we care more, and that translates into greater value for our clients.
Bonus for sticking around to the end:
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to record an interview for the Disruption! podcast, hosted by Roger Willhite. We talked about my book, Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step, the origin and future of Run on Sun, and larger solar industry trends.
In case you are not familiar with Roger’s work, you should check out his website, Second Silicon, which operates under the tagline, “Get absorbed in Solar” - a sentiment we strongly endorse!
His podcast series, Disruption!, has now recorded fifteen segments, and has included such well known solar industry players as Danny Kennedy, Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza, Frank Andorka, and Jigar Shah, to name a few. Heady company indeed, and we were honored to be invited to participate. (One interesting thing about the process - Roger lives in South Korea so the interview was recorded over Skype—pretty cool!)
In any event, here’s the interview - the opening audio features some sound bites from prior podcasts before we get started - how many of those voices can you identify?
Thanks again to Roger for including me in his wonderful series.
Thanks to our friend Yann over at SolarWakeup.com we came across this great infographic summarizing the State of U.S. Solar in 2013 and we thought we would share that with our readers along with our observations.
The folks at Greentech Media Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) compiled the report summarizing the State of Solar in the US, and you can download the Executive Summary here. Yet it is their infographic that really fired our imagination.
The graphic notes that “a solar system is installed every four minutes” in the U.S. which is a pretty amazing stat.
We have an even more amazing stat to share that will be part of our new website roll-out this January. While you wait, take a guess: If 2% of the households in America that wanted solar, added solar in 2014, how fast would that be?
Even as other markets around the country grow, California still leads the way. So let’s grow it even faster - how about allocating some of those AB 32 auction funds to refreshing the solar rebate programs around the state - particularly for non-profits?
Despite our progress - 12 GW of total solar capacity installed - we have a long way to go to displace coal. According to the U.S. EIA, as of 2012 there were 310 GW of coal capacity installed, making solar just 3.8% of coal’s share.
The U.S. will hit 13% of global solar installations - a 30-year high - by the end of this year and that share will grow over the next four years.
Of course, we invented this technology, we have abundant insolation resources and the people overwhelmingly want it - so all we need are the proper policies.
As we wrap up 2013 and head into a bright new year, let’s hope that we can push back the naysayers and the “not-so-smart ALECs” of the world and propel solar to reach its rightful dominance.
It’s holiday season and perhaps you’ve been wondering what to get that solar supporter on your shopping list - well, wonder no more, we’ve got the answer! Our book - Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step!
In the giving spirit, check out this added bonus: if you purchase the paperback version of the book to give to that “special someone,” you can download a Kindle version for your very own, absolutely free! Seriously, how cool is that? It’s like giving away your cake, but eating it too!
But what’s that you say, all of the solar supporters on your shopping list already have the book? Wow, well to that we have a couple of things to say: First - thanks! Second, hold on there a second… what about your favorite business owner - surely they could benefit from learning how to escape their ever increasing energy bills. Or what about your kid’s school? Just think of what they could do with the money they save by going solar? Why they could keep that marvelous music teacher and maybe even hire another art teacher - to say nothing of giving a raise to that awesome Algebra teacher! Or for that matter, you could donate a copy to a local library or even your alma mater (after all, you gotta Be True to Your School!).
Fine, you say, if the book is all you claim it is, then yeah, it would make a great gift - but how can you be sure? Fair enough, don’t take our word for it, check out these reviews:
To my knowledge, this is the only book that focuses directly on commercial-scale solar. That’s enough to make it well worth reading. It’s also well organized, well written, and written by a very knowledgeable and experienced solar business owner. Most people in the solar business are familiar with and look forward to the author’s excellent Thoughts on Solar newsletter, and I’m sure many of his readers were looking forward to the publication of this book. I was, and it beat my expectations. Good glossary too, and well indexed. Strongly recommended.
Doug, Verified Amazon Purchaser
There’s so much information that you need to know when thinking about installing commercial solar. As a solar pro, Jenal provides all of it to you, clearly and transparently. Through a combination of a fictional company going solar and Jenal’s added in-depth insights to each step, businesses and facilities will learn how to find quality commercial installers and what to expect during the installation process. He also covers financing, solar incentives, and key points to analyze in a solar bid.
Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza
Convinced now? Thought so! So click on the happy book cover to order your copy today! And Happy Holidays from all of us at Run on Sun!