Great Post Solar Fred - there are LOTS of things to learn from Apple and Steve Jobs that can be directly transferred into the solar business.
For instance - apple sells 'ease of computing', not computers. How often in the solar biz are we selling $/watt or payback period when our customers are interested in renewable energy, and making a LOW RISK purchase....yet we often fail to remove the risk from the purchase equation and make the purchase decision simpler for our customers.
I advocate making the purchase decision easy for the customer, standing by them to ensure system performance, and demonstrating that we are paying attention by monitoring their system for them....not leaving it to them to ascertain whether the complicated system that they don't fully understand is operating to its potential.
Let's embrace Steve's philosophy and do stuff differently.
Hi Brian - great post and agree completely on the companies you mention, however, you left out the post-installation management of the systems thru monitoring. Not surprising, however, since much of our industry leaves out this part as well! Ongoing monitoring for the system's performance is critical for the installer, perhaps even more so than for the homeowner. The installer is on the hook to satisfy and manage a 10+ warranty on these systems - yet many rely solely on the customer to notice and report performance problems.
Without remote monitoring, it is impossible to spot performance degradation that may be an early warning sign to system failure, or a sign that the system needs cleaning.
Modern monitoring systems provide tools for the installer, as well as for the end user. End users need reassurance that their systems are operating appropriately, and often appreciate daily, weekly, or monthly performance updates....made a more powerful tool for installers if there is some branding opportunities for them in those email updates. Referrals come from happy customers....
If you'd like to learn more about our monitoring ideas, please visit us at www.sunreports.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We've got some ideas that might surprise installers who are embracing the other software solutions you describe.
Great blog, thanks!
CEO SunReports, Inc.
Hello All -
Great comments all -
The 1 in 10 failure rate on residential PV comment came out during a SolarTech conf earlier this year and was by one of the leading innovators in the financing of residential solar. I have confirmed that this 'is about right' with a former employee of SunPower and with various other installers with enough installations under their belt to have a decent sample size. Failure can be from a variety of issues - and the 'partial failure' caused by wiring mistakes may never be noticed without some sort of monitoring in place.
I should point out that the issues in Solar HW and Pool Heating are just as real - and that SunReports monitors all three plus small wind as well as heat pumps and geothermal - anything with a 'pulse' that we can tap into with temp sensors or flow sensors.
Accuracy is of paramount importance, and the end to end accuracy of the system must be considered. We use inverter direct monitoring which is arguably as accurate as 'revenue grade' ANSI C12 metering, and I encourage the inverter companies to test and post their internal metering accuracy. In discussions with various inverter manufacturers, they indicate that a +/- 1% error rate is typical for their metering, however they have not been certified and therefor cannot be used for REC reporting in some jurisdictions without considerable effort to be authorized (WREGIS, for example).
As alternative cash flow models become available (such as RECs and / or carbon trading) to support the adoption of solar, inexpensive and accurate reporting must follow. And to paraphrase Einstein: we should strive to make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. This applies to REC tracking and reporting, as well as monitoring.
Great post, however I think there are some other things that may also factor into the successful installation experience.
11. Performance assurance - ask your installer how he plans to manage your system after installation. You don't want to be left on your own trying to figure out if the thing is working as promised, you want to encourage your installer to stay with you for the long haul. Just like people generally get a service warranty on a 60" flat screen TV, you might think about an extended service plan for your solar purchase.
12. IF your installer is willing to offer some performance assurance, HOW will he measure / monitor / verify your system's performance? Most innovative installers are now using some form of remote monitoring to perform system monitoring and remote diagnostics. This should be part of your purchase package, otherwise the installer will have to roll a truck to visit your site whenever you suspect there is something wrong - the truck rolls will become less frequent and more painful for the installer as time goes by.
My company SunReports is all about helping installers provide an increased level of service through tools provided and enabled by remote monitoring. As a result, system owners have a better experience since they know that a) their systems are performing, and b)they have some shared risk in the mix since their installer is watching their back. Please visit SunReports.com for more information. Tom Dinkel
Great idea - sign me up to provide the web-based monitoring package for BOTH solar PV and solar water heating. Best of luck to us all!
Tom Dinkel, CEO
More details at www.sunreports.com
A most excellent podcast - well moderated, great speakers, excellent relevant points for the entrepreneur and the government (are you listening??). Lack of a banking function around the world is a very limiting factor for all businesses, large and small, and we need to kick-start the economy and the banking system, somehow. (hint: Let's NOT allow the banks to reset all credit card debt to 30% interest rates...this will not help the economy one bit.) There are good lessons being shared by the panelists about being very clear on your objectives, and finding ways to communicate your business goals in a very clear fashion - aka Sungevity's concept of becoming the "Amazon for Solar".... just brilliant.