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Solar design tips, sales advice, and industry insights from the premier solar design software platform


Aurora Solar

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Recent Posts

White Paper: Analysis of U.S. Net Metering Policy Changes

Posted by Aurora Solar on May 27, 2019 4:49:54 PM

Examining the Impact of Utility Rate Trends on Solar Savings and Design Best Practices

 

Net energy metering (NEM) policies have played a crucial role in making residential solar installations a good investment for homeowners in the United States. However, as installed solar capacity has increased, many utility companies have introduced changes to their NEM programs that reduce the value of distributed solar.

Using Aurora's proprietary solar financial analysis tools, we conducted a large parametric study that analyzed over 45 million scenarios to determine how these new programs impact solar customers’ savings across the United States. The study analyzes the financial impacts of specific billing mechanisms, as well as the cumulative impacts of different combinations of these mechanisms as implemented by utilities in different states. The policies evaluated slightly diminish the financial value of installed solar but also promote larger system designs in certain circumstances.

 
2019 NEM White Paper Cover

 

Please note: When you click the link, a pop-up should appear allowing you to enter your contact information to download the report. If this does not occur it may be a result of a pop-up blocker. In this case, we recommend opening this page in the Incognito or Privacy Mode of your browser, which will prevent any conflicts with your cache, cookies, or any browser extensions.

Topics: Solar Utility Bill, Financial Analysis, Aurora Research

How to Sell Solar in a Time of Use Rate World

Posted by Aurora Solar on Sep 12, 2018 6:51:43 PM

Think time of use rates don’t affect you? Think again!

While the shift to a time of use rate structure may not have happened in your area, as solar development grows around the country, more and more utilities are adopting this approach as part of their energy payment structure. That means it’s time to get smart about how you approach solar sales conversations when time of use rates apply.

Customers on time of use rates are charged different prices for their electricity depending on when they use it, with higher prices during times when there is higher demand. (Typically, for net metered solar customers, this means the value of the energy their PV system produces also varies depending on the time it is sent to the grid.)

In California, all commercial, industrial, and agricultural customers are already required to be on a time of use plan. And starting in 2019, all residential customers will be defaulted to time of use rates unless they actively choose a different rate. But time of use rates are not just a California phenomenon.

A review of Aurora’s extensive database of current rate plans around the country revealed nearly 2,000 different time of use rate plans across the country for different types of customers. While California has the most pervasive application of time of use, we found multiple utilities in almost every state in the country with some kind of time of use rate structure.

Whether time of use rates are already common in your area or you want to be prepared for future developments, it’s a good idea to learn how to adapt your solar sales conversations to account for time of use rate structures. In today’s article, we discuss five tactics that can help solar contractors effectively address time of use rates in solar sales conversations.

1. Make sure your prospect understands time of use rates.

First, it’s important to ensure that your customer understands what time of use (TOU) rates are and how they impact their bill. For many customers, making sense of the different parts of their electric bill can be complicated–so an unfamiliar billing structure like TOU seem daunting to understand.

TOU rates don’t have to be confusing, however. When you explain them to a homeowner look for opportunities to relate them to something they already understand. They’re probably already familiar with time-dependent pricing in other contexts, like parking rates coinciding with a big event.

In Aurora’s primer on how TOU rates work, we liken them to movie ticket pricing. Moviegoers pay less for a matinee show when there is lower attendance, just as TOU customers pay less at times when during periods when there is typically less energy demand. Explore different analogies to see what explanation resonates best with your customers.

movie_ticketRelating TOU rates to other time-variable pricing customers may already be familiar with–like movie tickets–can help make them easier to understand.

The key point to emphasize is that the price the utility charges for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy consumed will now vary according to the time of day it is consumed. Each TOU rate designates different periods of the day when different rates apply; there will be specified peak demand times where the rate will be higher than during the off-peak demand times.

2. Set yourself apart with TOU expertise.

Giving your customer insights into how TOU rates can affect them given their usage can help you distinguish yourself from the competition. Insight selling, the ability “to leverage a deep understanding of customers to establish trust and rapport,” positions you as a source of value for them during the initial selling process and beyond.

Demonstrating a comprehensive knowledge of your customer’s specific TOU program and how it applies to their unique situation will go a long way towards establishing yourself as the trusted advisor during the sales process.

For example, you’ll want to be able to explain to your customer exactly when different electricity prices apply. You should also know if their rate structure varies depending on the season or day of the week (many TOU rates have different schedules for winter and summer or between weekends and weekdays).

PGE-Bill

An example of a time of use rate structure from California utility PG&E (E-TOU rates option A during the summertime). As you can see, this rate structure applies for the summer season, while another structure applies in other months.  Source: PG&E.

(Relatedly, you’ll also want to be prepared to explain how their net metering credits are treated under their particular utility rate and state policies–and these policies are often in flux, so stay up to date!  For example, under California’s NEM 2.0 policy, credits from solar energy can only offset part of their energy charges–regardless of the value of that energy based on the TOU period when it was produced.)

3. Offer insight on what to expect given their energy usage patterns.

A customer’s bill on a TOU rate is highly dependent on when they consume energy throughout the day, but many customers may not have a clear picture of how their energy consumption varies at different times. Another powerful way you can add value for the customer and demonstrate your company’s expertise is to give them a better understanding of their current energy usage patterns. Aurora provides a number of ways you can do this.

consumption entry optionsAurora offers multiple ways to model your customer's energy load profile. Sharing that load profile with customers can offer valuable insight into their current energy consumption patterns and how TOU rates may affect them. 

First, if your customer’s utility company provides green button (i.e., interval) data for customers–which provides a granular view of how much energy they consumed during every 15-minute interval in the billing period–you can upload that data into Aurora. Aurora will then construct a load profile for the customer based on their actual usage at specific times throughout the day.

 Summer_load_profile

An hourly load profile showing the actual amount of energy a customer used at different times of day during the summer months, constructed with Green Button data uploaded into Aurora.

Second, even if green button data isn’t available, Aurora can model customers’ hourly load profiles based on their electricity bill(s) or monthly kWh consumption. Aurora extrapolates a load profile for residential customers by taking into account local weather data, as well as building characteristics–like whether they have air conditioning, electric heat, or energy-efficient lighting. (For commercial customers Aurora develops load profiles based on the typical usage for that building type.)

This can be a great way of helping your customer understand how they currently use electricity. (And, paired with data on how much energy their solar PV system will produce at different times this also allows you to show how much solar will help them save, as we discuss below.)

Complete-Load-Profile-with-AC--Electric-Heat--Electric-Water-Heater--and-LED-LightingAn example of an estimated residential load profile created in Aurora. The different colors represent energy consumption from different building characteristics, like air conditioning and lighting. 

You could also offer insight into future energy decisions that might coincide with their solar purchase. For instance, if your customer is considering buying an electric vehicle to go along with their new solar installation, you could use Aurora’s energy consumption tools to show how their load profile would change (you could even enter the specific EV model).

4. Use financial analysis tools that clearly show the impacts of TOU rates.

Perhaps the most important element of selling a solar installation in an area with TOU rates is to be able to clearly show how your customer’s solar savings will be impacted by their particular utility rate.

pre- and post-solar bills chartAurora's financial analysis tools make it easy to show prospective customers how much they'll save by installing solar. 

Make it clear to your customer that, under TOU rates, the value a solar design provides depends on more than just how much total energy it produces. They have to consider the value of that energy based on when it’s produced. Aurora’s performance simulation tool calculates how much a particular solar design will produce at different times of the day and year.

Aurora also has a database of over 3,000 of utilities and over 17,000 utility rates around the world (and if your particular rate isn’t present, you can easily add a new one). The customer’s specific utility rate is taken into account in Aurora’s financial analyses, allowing you to accurately calculate their pre- and post-solar bills. If a TOU rate is selected, Aurora will take into account the customer’s net usage at different times (based on the system’s energy production and the customer’s energy usage) to determine their post-solar utility bills.

Plus, if there are multiple utility rates that the customer could qualify for after installing solar, you could run analyses to show them which would save them the most. If TOU rates are optional in your area, you can advise them on whether opting-in makes sense.

5. Highlight how your design is better.

It’s one thing to talk about the difference a design can make and another to show it (show, don’t tell). You can experiment with different solar designs and analyze how much they save the customer to find the best option given their rate. This will allow you to show your prospect why the design you propose saves them more.

Design changes can have a big impact. For instance, in a rigorous study of over 600 solar projects designed in Aurora and over 900,000 design variations, Aurora researchers demonstrated that adjustments to the orientation (west-facing because panels receive more late afternoon sun, which coincides with peak energy prices under many TOU rates) and size (larger systems mean better net present value) can help improve the financial returns of systems on a TOU rate structure.

image4With Aurora solar design and sales software, you can model a variety of designs for your customer and see which offers the best savings given their utility rate. This is particularly helpful for customers on TOU rates who may save more with a design that produces more energy during hours with peak pricing.


Given the steady growth of solar and the accompanying adoption of time of use rates, it’s wise to prepare yourself for a post-TOU solar market. The better you are at explaining TOU rates in your sales conversations, the easier it will be for customers to see the value your proposed solar installation will provide. And although TOU rates can be complex, for the solar salesperson who is prepared, they can present an opportunity to demonstrate expertise and stand apart from the competition.

Topics: Solar Utility Bill

Are You Applying These Tactics to Close More Solar Sales?

Posted by Aurora Solar on Jul 11, 2018 12:16:46 PM

Despite the tumultuousness of the so-called “solar coaster,” the solar industry’s growth trajectory is incredibly promising. Over the last seven years, solar's share of U.S. electrical generation grew from a paltry 0.1 percent to 2 percent. Of course, that still leaves a huge potential market for solar contracting companies.

Despite the room for growth, being a solar salesperson comes with a number of challenges. Many customers have little knowledge of solar energy, and the size of the investment may make them hesitate. So, when you are selling solar installations, you need to embrace both traditional and contemporary methods in order to produce the sales numbers you need. In today’s article, we explore a variety of sales approaches that solar companies have found to be successful.

Partnerships

As every sales person knows, selling is much easier when you have solid leads—so it’s helpful to think creatively about partnerships that can help you identify leads. Real estate agents, for instance, can provide you with an ongoing stream of qualified customers. Many people buy a home with the intention of remodeling it. They are excellent candidates for a solar installation. Other potential buyers might love a home but be concerned about taking on years of high utility bills. You can easily step in and offer them a customized plan to add solar to the sales deal. In this way, everyone benefits: you, the buyer, and the real estate agent.

If your town or city has a concierge utility company, you can partner with them as well. These specialized groups are hired by homeowners to take care of switching all of their utility services to their new home. They can easily recommend you as their expert solar representative, giving you an excellent opportunity to sell the home buyers a solar installation. These are especially powerful and productive leads.

Door-to-Door

Some successful salespeople swear by the door-to-door method for selling solar installations, despite its reputation as a way to sell vacuum cleaners. Experts say this approach works if salespeople are highly trained and use the right pitch to customers. Going door to door means limiting your efforts to the local area, which has proven to be an effective approach in solar sales. Remember, your door-to-door efforts have to be professional and on-point. Your company's reputation depends upon it.

The Power of Technology

A solar installation is a significant investment, so you will need strong person-to-person interaction. You are more likely to connect to customers through the power of the internet and social media.

Email

While email is almost certainly something you use on a daily basis in your sales work, it can be utilized in a variety of additional ways to drive more sales, particularly through well-crafted automated emails. This can enable your company to offer instantaneous responses to any inquiry on your company website.

Customers do not like to wait, and are all the more conditioned to expect instant attention since many companies offer 24/7 online help. If your company doesn't offer that service, you can still send out automated emails that promise a response from a salesperson in 24 hours or less. The instant feedback will help hold the customer's interest until you do reach out, but you must be careful to always respond in the stated time frame.

You can also keep in touch with and nurture "old" leads via automated emails. With a drip campaign, you can automate a series of periodic emails to maintain contact and give the recipients more chances to say yes. Their circumstances may have changed since you last spoke. Old leads may come through if you do not give up.

Of course, as with other sales approaches discussed here, your drip campaign must be developed with care and address the contact’s needs. Otherwise, you risk them being seen as spam, which will only hurt your reputation.  

LinkedIn, Facebook, et al.

Social media can be effective in getting potential leads. The average person has approximately five social media accounts and spends 1 hour and 40 minutes on them every day. If you want to get someone's attention, social media is the way to do it. Plus, friends and family of clients can be a rich sales pool.

Software

Solar design software programs, like Aurora, that enable you to create stunning 3D visualizations of the client's home with solar panels installed can be very valuable in showcasing the quality designs and installations you offer. Customers need to see that solar can be aesthetically pleasing as well as practical. An image can do much toward finalizing a sale.

Of course, an efficient system for tracking your communications with prospective customers is also key to successful sales. Solar installations are not bought on a whim. Many consumers take time to make the leap, so keeping detailed records is essential to your success. If your solar design and sales software integrates with your CRM tools—letting you more easily access the latest version of their solar design—it becomes even easier to ensure your operating with the most up-to-date information.

Video

Ask your buyers if you can shoot a video of their solar installation. Go to happy customers and get their testimonials on video as well. Consumers expect to literally see results. Sharing a well-done video testimonial in the process of your communications with prospective customers can help build confidence in your services.  Plus, you can get great mileage out of videos, which can be posted on your website, social media accounts, and YouTube.

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In sales, the basics stay the same. You need to be knowledgeable, personable, and offer a product that has real value for your customers. Solar installations do require an added level of finesse. You are asking people to invest in a new-to-them technology that they may not yet fully understand. To close the sale, you'll need to incorporate both new technology and traditional methods. Give all of these methods a chance and find out which combination works best for you.

Topics: Solar Sales

5 Ways to Grow Your Solar Business with Facebook

Posted by Aurora Solar on Apr 4, 2018 8:00:00 AM

The solar industry faces some unique challenges, which means effective marketing is more important than ever. Increased equipment costs caused by the recently imposed tariff, combined with fierce industry competition, makes snagging new customers increasingly difficult.

Luckily, you can give your company an edge by using Facebook. You need a Facebook strategy that can produce results without requiring hours of your precious time. You can get these results by taking five simple steps on your Facebook page.

1. Interesting Posts

Of course, you want to post, with permission, pictures of your happy clients and their homes and businesses. After all, you want to make sales and providing examples of your work is essential for a successful Facebook page.

But constantly trying to sell something can turn off your followers. You need to work on posting fun and interesting material as well. It shouldn't be puppies and kittens all the time, but give your followers links to local stories and don't be afraid to provide a little (non-offensive) humor. Your Facebook page should be entertaining as well as informative. 

2. Getting Likes

Following the first step makes this step much easier. When someone likes your Facebook content, it means they are actively engaged, which is your goal. If people skim and leave, you have probably had little or no effect on them. Even likes on those puppy posts can help create a positive impression in the minds of potential clients. Invite people to like your content. Respond to their likes by posting more of the same type of content. Likes equal potential sales. 

See how Aurora helps solar companies grow revenue, cut costs, and impress their  customers!

3. Facebook Contests

One way to increase your Facebook likes is to hold a Facebook contest, which is easy to do. You can offer a prize and then invite people to like the post to earn an entry. People who enter will often have that entry post on their own page, attracting more entrants for your contest.

For your solar business, you could offer a discount on services, but you get be more creative and give away some trendy, popular prize, like the latest tablet or iPhone. After the contest ends, people will keep coming back looking for the next one.

4. Cross-Promote

You can drive Facebook traffic by cross-promoting your page on your other social media accounts. If you haven't developed Twitter or Instagram accounts yet, you can post a link on your web page. Make sure the link leads to a particularly fascinating Facebook post. If you send out emails or even flyers via snail mail, include a reference to a discount that can only be found on your Facebook page.

5. Add Video

While most people associate videos with YouTube, Facebook videos also routinely go viral. For your solar business, it's fine to post videos particular jobs you've done. But you should not stop there.

Videos can be a great way to increase engagement on Facebook. 

Instead, broaden your horizons by taking video during community events. If you are participating in the Homecoming parade, take a short video highlighting your float and the local marching band. In fact, you can easily use Facebook Live to share videos in real time—giving people stuck at home the chance to "be there" too.

You can use your own phone to take these videos. The entire process takes little time, and soon your page will be the place to go for special local content.


Using your Facebook page to effectively grow your solar business doesn't require much time, especially if you share the duty with a trusted employee or partner. Do directly promote your business, but remember to make your page fun and entertaining. Everyone likes to do business with friendly companies that are invested in their community.

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Topics: Solar Marketing

White Paper: The Financial Impact of Net Energy Metering 2.0 Policy

Posted by Aurora Solar on Jul 22, 2017 12:00:00 AM

Examining the Effects of Non-Bypassable Charges with Load Profiles and Systems Designed in Aurora

 

Net Energy Metering (NEM) 2.0 is now the official utility rate policy for solar customers in California – but few people truly understand what it means for the returns of residential solar installations or how solar designs should be adapted to maximize savings under this policy. We evaluated over 600 solar projects designed in Aurora to determine how NEM 2.0 changes the financial returns from solar. Next, we analyzed over 900,000 design variations to identify the new design best practices to account for NEM 2.0. Our surprising results highlight how NEM 2.0 is both a great challenge, and a great opportunity for the solar community.

 



 

Please note: When you click the link, a pop-up should appear allowing you to enter your contact information to download the report. If this does not occur it may be a result of a pop-up blocker. In this case, we recommend opening this page in the Incognito or Privacy Mode of your browser, which will prevent any conflicts with your cache, cookies, or any browser extensions.

Topics: Solar Utility Bill, Financial Analysis, Aurora Research

Welcome to the Aurora Blog!

Posted by Aurora Solar on Sep 2, 2016 12:00:00 AM

Our ambition with this blog is to generate high-quality, educational content that enriches the solar community. We are privileged and humbled to interact with top academics, engineers, salespeople and other solar professionals, and we are looking forward to sharing some of those insights with you. Whether it is a macroeconomic forecast, sales tip, interview with one of the industry’s leaders or an encouraging story, we hope that each post will serve to equip and inspire you to make a positive difference in your work.

The Aurora team

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