Staying Competitive in a Dynamic Solar Marketplace

Anyone who visits this site regularly already knows that the solar marketplace is more competitive than ever thanks to more and more installers jumping on the solar bandwagon. As the price of solar continues to fall, residential and commercial demand is rising dramatically, attracting new players to the sector. Like any industry, solar installers have had to lower operating costs and unlock new revenue streams to stay competitive. A few ways to accomplish this are:

  • Improving customer service
  • Reducing the number of unnecessary truck rolls
  • Mitigating the risk associated with warranty obligations (many locations, including California, require a 10-year warranty period by law)
  • Differentiating from the competition

Some installers have realized that advanced solar monitoring solutions are a simple way of addressing all of these areas. In the past, most installers have operated in a relative data vacuum with regards to monitoring their customers’ system performance, but this is now changing. Viewing actual solar performance data is a watershed event for installers and customers alike. Once you’ve been exposed to this valuable and insightful data, it is nearly impossible to go back to the dark ages when nobody knew how much energy their systems were actually producing.

For those progressive installers who have already adopted monitoring as part of their business plan, it’s still worth considering whether or not your monitoring systems are being used to their full financial potential. If you have monitoring systems installed on a good chunk of your customer base, the economic opportunity is enormous. Consider the following:

Alarms and Alerts

Today, most monitoring technology includes custom alarms that alert system owners and/or installers to system failure. Using these alarms is an easy way to improve customer service and more efficiently manage service calls. Consider the following scenario: one of your customer’s solar hot water systems has stopped working due to a loss of pressurization on the glycol loop. However, the controller is still calling for the pump to run but, of course, the pump is running dry and there is no circulation. Consequently, the panels stagnate, further exacerbating the problem. The customer discovers that their system is malfunctioning and contacts you to demand a service call – which can be cost you time and money due to the system warranty.

Now, what would have happened if YOU had spotted the issue before the customer? You call the customer, explain that their system has stopped working properly, and then dispatch a service tech to take a look. You have also just blown the customer’s mind with outstanding customer service – and saved money by handling the repairs when it is convenient for you. Lesson 1: Use the alarms! 

Compare Performance

Some monitoring systems have the ability to compare actual performance to predicted performance. When installers analyze this data for all the customer systems in their portfolio, they can identify trends and spot specific performance issues. What would happen if an installer predicted a 5-year payback for a very aggressive customer but the system is down for a year before anyone notices? Or the panels are so dirty that output is reduced by 30%? 

In this situation, the installer would be liable for these problems because of warranty obligations. A customer might expect the installer to compensate them if their system fails to perform the way it was promised when the sale was made. Continually monitoring performance allows installers to manage customer expectations and assures them that output is meeting (or surpassing!) the installer’s original estimate. Lesson 2: Measure performance! 

Use Data to Close Sales

Once installers have monitoring devices on many of their customers’ systems, they can use collected data as a sales tool. For example, how about this for a compelling sales argument: “I see that you are evaluating some other proposals and I want to point out that our performance metric is running at 104% for the 34 systems we’ve already installed in your area. The performance metric is actual performance compared to what we have estimated in your proposal. Have any of the other installers competing for your business offered you performance metric information?” Including this data in sales proposals will differentiate an installer from the competition and may be the factor that lands the sale. Lesson 3: Use performance data to close sales!

Learn from Performance Data

A quick glance at performance data (which is collected and displayed remotely via the internet) provides a wealth of valuable information for system installers. This information can educate an installer about the subtleties of system performance and how it is affected by various factors. The more information at their disposal, the more effective their sales efforts will be. For example, by studying performance metrics for their customers, installers can learn about how different weather effects system output. Or even something as simple as why geography affects performance. Potential customers will be impressed by this knowledge and more likely put their faith in an installer who knows their stuff. Lesson 4: Learn from monitoring! 

These are just four of the many advantages that solar monitoring offers installers and contractors looking to upgrade their business plan. In an increasingly competitive environment, monitoring can be what puts one solar installer ahead of another. Before you deliver your next proposal, consider including monitoring as a way to make it stronger. Not to mention, it has the potential to open up additional opportunities for up-sells down the line if performance drops and customers want to hire you for a panel cleaning or tune-up. Ask yourself, can you really afford to install a system without monitoring?

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Many years in the energy space with both large and small companies, including Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Whisper Communications, FatSpaniel and most recently SunReports. Intrigued and excited about the renewable energy and energy conservation space. Currently working on a targeted solution for the residential solar energy monitoring market worldwide with SunReports, Inc., expected launch MAR 2010.

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