Categories: "Solar Economics"

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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06/03/16

  12:59:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1298 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Who Chooses Run on Sun?

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.”

Pain Point

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:

Clients' pain point - those summer energy bills!

(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!

 

Run on Sun’s Clients are Younger (better looking, too!) than the Norm

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?

Run on Sun's clients are younger than the norm (better looking, too!)

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!

 

Income

Run on Sun’s clients tend to be more affluent than most…

owning solar makes you rich!

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.

 

Politics

We have argued in this blog that you don’t have to be a liberal to go solar, such as here, here, and here - but what do the data show?

Run on Sun - solar installer to the Left

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!

 

You don’t have to be Smart to Go Solar - but maybe it helps!

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?

you don't have to be smart to go solar - but it helps

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!

 

Looking Closely

Given all that education, it should come as no surprise that our clients really do their homework before deciding to go solar…

look (at many solar installers) before you leap!

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!

 

Happy Together

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?

Happy with solar

* 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?

Happy with solar from Run on Sun

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!

04/28/16

  05:17:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 504 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Ranting

SunEdison's Failure - Non-Event for Our Solar Clients

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.

Background

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.

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.

Bankrupt

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).

Meanwhile, back on your roof…

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!

01/13/16

  02:25:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 283 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar

Tripling Down - LG to Triple NeON Production by 2020

LG Solar Module Production facilityRun 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!

01/12/16

Who is Paying You to Go Solar in 2016?

Show me the money!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.)

Federal Tax Credit

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.

Utility Rebates

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.

Pasadena Water & Power

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.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

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.

Burbank Water & Power and Glendale Water & Power

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.

Azusa Light & Water

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.

Anaheim

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.

Southern California Edison

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!

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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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