Will 2021 be the year that solar becomes a driver of total home energy efficiency?

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, including those in the solar industry, but as we’ve persevered and adapted to new digital selling, we see only more growth in residential solar in the coming years and a shift from it being leveraged as a standalone product to taking advantage of its ability to support a total home energy solution.

For the last twenty years or so, homeowners have associated solar with simply putting panels on their roof to reduce their energy bills.  And yes, this is a simple, straightforward way to cut down electricity bills and save significant money.  At Sense we get to hear first hand from customers who are pleased at how much of a difference solar has made in reducing their energy bill, and share stories like Tara’s who cut her summer utility bill in half and her winter bill by a third.

But over the next year or so, we expect to see homeowners embrace solar as part of a total solution, encompassing battery storage, energy efficient upgrades, and charging electric vehicles to encompass a more holistic home energy picture. 

What are some of the factors driving this shift for consumers?  It’s really a combination of solar becoming more affordable and now viewed by consumers as a safe, environmentally friendly energy alternative. Electric vehicles are also becoming more popular as Tesla has worked hard to legitimize the space. EV sales are projected to grow 70% in 2021 as new models come to market and both states and utilities offer more incentives. It will make sense for many EV owners to charge their cars with free solar energy produced on their own rooftops.   

There is also a push across the U.S. toward electrification to meet climate change and clean energy goals.  As the shift from oil and gas to electric powered heating continues, and electrical load increases, solar is going to play an even bigger role in saving consumers money. According to research by Wood Mackenzie, while the pandemic slowed residential solar deployments early in 2020, sales rebounded later in the year, and residential storage has had record growth in 2020. With utilities encouraging strategic electrification and offering rich rebates to consumers to make the switch to solar, consumers are further incentivized to make whole home energy changes now.

We’re also starting to see solar mandates from states like California come into effect, and states like New York and New Jersey with strong renewable energy plans and aggressive goals to reduce carbon emissions.

And, of course, we have a new administration beginning in January and are waiting to see whether President elect Biden will reverse the Trump administration’s roll backs of energy efficiency standards.  We do know that the Biden administration is planning a more aggressive strategy for clean energy than the previous administration.

With this greater mindshift to embrace carbon-free energy sources like wind, hydroelectric, and solar, along with new incentives to buy solar and install energy efficient appliances, consumers are able to now make the choice to both reduce their own energy bills and help states meet their clean energy goals by going solar.

In this more complex world, consumers need guidance as they embrace solutions with multiple parts, each of which impact the other. Consumers need solar installers who can design their solar system and help them decide whether battery storage makes sense for them economically. They need to help customers navigate the economic impact of  time of use rates and net metering. When consumers opt for battery storage, the installer needs to help them choose the right size for their home’s needs. For EV owners, another calculation comes into play: how to balance solar production with EV charging, especially considering that charging times may occur when solar production is low.  And here, again, the question of battery storage becomes important.

Solar homeowners also need to understand the relationship between their solar production and their energy usage patterns.  Most homes don’t use all their solar energy during the day, so the excess is pushed back to the utility.  Then they need electricity from the utility in the hours when solar production drops in the morning, late afternoon and evening.  We found that most homeowners use less than half of their solar power directly and need to feed the rest back to the grid or invest in battery storage. Helping solar homeowners understand their family’s energy patterns and shifting energy-intensive activities to peak solar times or using a battery to store energy from peak times for use later is an important job for a solar provider in this new whole-home energy context. 

To guide homeowners to a complete solution, solar installers need to embrace their role as a trusted advisor who goes beyond simply designing and permitting solar systems. A more complex, greener energy ecosystem is on the horizon and we’re moving swiftly toward its realization. The solar installers who succeed in this dynamic world will have more answers and better solutions for their customers.

One of the solar businesses doing an excellent job on embracing solar as a total energy solution, and one of Sense’s new partners is the Pro Companies.  Sunpro Solar has an efficiency division, Energypro, that offers all solar homeowners a complimentary home energy assessment which includes industry standard upgrades. This allows Sunpro Solar homeowners to reduce their consumption before they produce any sun power. Then they design and install a solar energy package for homeowners that will maximize savings.

We’re excited about where solar is headed in 2021, as more homeowners see the impact on their utility bills and also what they can do to help their state meet energy efficiency and clean energy goals.  As solar businesses increasingly recognize the importance of providing a wide range of services, such as energy upgrades, EV chargers, and energy storage, we will see a deeper partnership between solar providers and homeowners that will result in improved energy savings, energy efficiency and cleaner energy use for our planet.

About the author:

Gabe Abbott is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Sense, an innovator in home energy monitoring. To learn more visit sense.com.

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