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!
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!
Longtime readers of this blog will know that we have been following the progress of the Solar Impulse team for many years. Headed by adventurers/pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the Solar Impulse project was about building an airplane that could fly around the world powered only by solar power!
The original craft, Solar Impulse 1, flew across the United States back in 2013 as a proof-of-concept design that could set the stage for the around-the-world attempt. That audacious enterprise begin in March of 2015 as Solar Impulse 2 launched from Abu Dhabi on its way around the world. Last summer, SI2 made it to Hawaii, but the effort needed for that extended non-stop flight from Japan damaged the batteries and required some redesign and retrofitting before the mission could proceed. But this Thursday, April 21, was finally the day, and SI2 departed from Hawaii, headed for a landing at Moffet Airfield outside of San Francisco - a 62 hour flight!
For those who haven’t been following the mission, since there is only one pilot on-board, he can never really sleep during the flight. Instead he takes power naps of 20 minutes at a time, assisted by self-hypnosis to quickly bring about a state of relaxation. In addition, the pilot does yoga and the limited exercises afforded by his incredibly small and cramped cabin.
But how does the plane itself - which is only powered by sunlight - manage to fly at night? By an ingenious combination of electric and potential energy storage. During the day, SI2 follows a flight profile of climbing from 5,000 to approximately 28,000 feet. Sunlight charges the batteries through a collection of more than 17,000 monocrystalline silicon solar cells. Then at night, SI2 begins a gentle descent, mostly gliding from its lofty height, to begin the process all over again.
So how did it turn out? As these great images make clear, pilot Bertrand Piccard, made it safe and sound. The revised systems performed with out a hitch, and SI2 cruised past the Golden Gate Bridge on its way to a successful landing.
Ah to have been in the San Francisco Bay area yesterday! What a beautiful and inspiring sight!
The Solar Impulse team still has a great deal of work ahead of them including crossing the United States (they will be flying into New York City which should be something!) before crossing the Atlantic as they complete their mission of showing the world the true capability of clean energy.
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