Meg Cichon, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
July 27, 2011 | 3 Comments
San Francisco, Calif., USA -- During a trade show, it's a good sign when an exhibit has a big crowd. This year at Intersolar NA, a lot of these crowds formed to check out creative new applications or innovative online tools. Social media and other web platforms are growing industries that are taking business model innovation by storm – and the solar world has taken notice.
These innovations will often intertwine with social media and other web platforms to get off the ground or increase awareness. Watch the video above to see the latest innovations. “One of our goals with the Facebook app is the ability for installers to get more referrals...[we want to] stimulate discussion about solar in a broader community for more widely accepted adoptions,” said Tom Dinkel, CEO of SunReports.
Web platforms not only benefit the company, they can also benefit the consumer. “To be competitive in the years to come in this industry, we have to think of ourselves not just as a manufacturing company but as a solutions provider,” said Marcelo Gomez, marketing director at Unirac. Digital tools, such as iPhone apps that allow installers to view instructions digitally and provide virtual tools for installation, allow for faster return on investment because projects are completed faster, which lowers total cost of ownership for projects, according to Gomez.
Interact Through Participation
One of the big crowds at Intersolar was gathered around the Centrosolar America booth. Centrosolario, a video game in which users navigate levels to install solar panels on rooftops, was just released and visitors took notice. “Centrosolario shows you how to put together the CentroPack — a total, complete system for solar,” said Kelly Clonan, senior marketing manager at Centrosolar. The goal of the game is to complete the entire pack — the highest scores at Intersolar NA 2011 won $100. The game is now available for download and will soon be available for the iPhone.
This competition kick-started Centrosolar's new social media initiative. Not only could visitors play Centrosolario to win at Intersolar NA, they could also take a photo with the on-site character himself and post it on Facebook. The more creative the photo, the better. “We're trying to get our branding out there. Not just for installers but for outside media and internal employees. We're starting to get traction; people are starting to network on LinkedIn,” said Clonan.
Cater to Customer Needs
Meanwhile, Unirac is using a different strategy by listening to its current and potential customers. “We visit [our customers] on-site and understand the woes of their job,” said Gomez. “There was a time I was out with the CEO visiting a particular site and it was a windy day. We started to notice that their installation instructions were blowing on and off the roof,” he said. That was the inspiration it needed.
Unirac recently released two iPhone applications: a U-clinometer for installers to verify angle and pitch on a roof and a QR-Code Reader to cut down on paper waste from installation manuals and brochures. QR-Codes are a simple image, like a barcode, that a smartphone user can scan to download necessary information. “We have had about 250 downloads of both applications on a weekly basis. These are great numbers. And we start to see increases as we market more,” said Gomez. Mobile visits have gone up 1,000 percent since Intersolar NA 2011, with more than 700 downloads that week alone.
Accelerate Awareness and Educate
SunReports is taking a more direct social media approach with a new Facebook application. It takes performance data from a customer's residential solar panels and posts it on Facebook. The app relays the information in easy-to-understand terminology so those unfamiliar with solar can interpret the benefits without confusion.
“Solar tends to be a bit invisible once it is installed...So we take performance data and energy equivalents...and share it on Facebook with the branding associated for the manufacturer and installer,” said Dinkel. The goal is to stimulate referrals for the manufacturer and discussion amongst the general public. “If you post it on Facebook, you might get your friends asking questions about, 'Oh, I didn't know you had solar. How’s that working?' That stimulates the dialogue and raises the awareness of solar for everyone,” said Dinkel.
The application translates the energy solar produces into several different equivalents, such as how far you drive in a car, carbon emissions, trees planted and more. “With Facebook, now you have a virtual connection — you might get clustering around circles of friends. If your experience was good with that installer, it's likely your friends will use the same one. That causes the rapid adoption of solar,” said Dinkel.