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Getting Started with Remote Solar Sales

Posted by Sunny Wang on Mar 31, 2020 6:00:00 AM

Making the transition from meeting your customers in-person to conducting your solar sales 100% remote for the first time can seem daunting, but it can be done. Some of the most successful and fastest growing solar companies have already adopted remote sales processes. Several advantages of remote selling include increased territories, lower customer acquisition costs, zero travel, and increased appointment bookings.

To help conceptualize what it would take to make this transition, we paired Aurora Solar’s Account Executive Elliot Goldstein with Baker Electric Home Energy’s Senior Solar Energy Consultant Meital Stotland in a webinar with PV Magazine. You can tune into their discussion here, where they highlight four themes to keep in mind about remote solar sales, or continue reading for the key takeaways (and don't miss out the infographic at the end of this article).

Set up a Sales Process for Remote Selling

There are some in-person sales processes that also apply to remote selling, e.g., having a strong inbound lead funnel and a system that allows you to quickly respond to leads and book appointments. The key difference with remote sales is that you’re selling without any physical presence.

The first process to set up is what you’ll be using to replace your physical presence in a customer’s home. The best solution is video conferencing with the ability to share your computer screen. After you’ve selected a platform you’re most comfortable with, Meital Stotland recommended as practice, to find the least tech savvy person you know and walk them through how to set it up over the phone.

Once a remote appointment is booked, Meital says “preparation is vital,” just like when you’re on the ground doing field consultations, but a little different. For remote sales, before the first consultation call, here are a few good practices:

  • Get a copy of their electricity bill
  • Ask for pictures of their electrical panel to have on hand; don’t forget to share what specifically you’re looking for
  • Send an email with instructions on how to set up and use the video conference platform, and what the backup plan is if it doesn’t work

Essential Technologies

In addition to using a video conference platform, there are a couple very helpful technologies to consider for remote sales. Meital mentioned that Baker Electric Home Energy has been using Aurora for sometime now, and “it's a great tool to have when you're designing and selling remotely.” Meital shares her screen with her prospects while logged into Aurora, and co-designs their PV system with them, just as she would at the kitchen table. Elliot pointed out that having the ability to show customers Aurora’s capabilities, such as up to date imagery with NearMap, LIDAR, and energy production estimates, can help build credibility and trust with customers.

Another technology that is very useful for remote sales is an electronic signature tool. The one Baker Electric Home Energy uses is DocuSign, and Meital shared that you can easily review the agreement with customers, answer their questions, and show them where to sign remotely.

Visit our remote sale solar resource center for more resources and tools!

Adjustments to Your Sales Pitch

Elliot and Meital provided a number of tips on how to adjust your sales pitch for remote sales. For starters, since you won’t be physically present, your tone of voice will be key to conveying your energy and confidence. Make sure to use the camera. Building trust will be a little more challenging with remote sales, and allowing your customer to see you will help.

Second, write a skeleton outline of your solar consultation to help you stay focused. Take advantage of now having the ability to have notes next to you during an appointment. Elliot suggests that if you’re a sales leader, it’s a great opportunity to shadow your team members, record and share the calls that went well to help the team grow.

Lastly, with current events and stay at home orders, not everything will be perfect. It’s okay to share that you’re working from home and might get interrupted. It’s okay to be human, “give yourself a break, but still be professional, make sure you address all of their motivations and all of their objections” says Meital. Elliot added that the key here is “empathizing with the moment, people really have a lot of uncertainty that we're all processing.”

Closing the Sale

Avoid the temptation to end your call with “okay, I’ll check in with you next week.”

Ask for the sale. There’s no downsides to asking for the business. You’ll either get the sale or find out the reasons for their hesitations and know what is needed to close the sale.

It’s best not to assume that during these difficult times people don’t want to go solar. Let them make this decision. Some may have been putting off this purchase decision until they have more time to think about it and many may now just be considering it with their rising electricity bill.

Something else to keep in mind: be ready with a payment plan. Consider switching from cash to to loan or lease option plans. “I think a lot of us in the solar industry have been selling cash; the last couple of years, it's been a wonderful land of cash,” said Meital. “And now I think we need to remember what it was like to sell during the recession.”

If after addressing all their concerns, and they’re still not ready to buy, you can always ask them “how would you like me to follow up?” Meital suggested it’s a good idea to have a methodology of how you’re going to follow up, because unless they say “don’t call me, I’m not interested,” you should.

This is one of a series of activities Aurora is putting together to help share insights on the topic of remote sales. To find a wealth of resources, click here.

FINAL_RemoteSales_Infographic-1

Topics: Solar Sales, Solar Business Tips

How Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Growth Can Boost Solar

Posted by Lisa Cohn on Sep 11, 2019 5:12:50 PM

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) can create demand for renewable energy, presenting opportunities for solar developers. We explore what CCAs are, how they’re growing, and what that might mean for solar companies.

What Are CCAs and How Does Solar Fit In?

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), also called Community Choice Energy, provides customers with an alternative power provider than traditional utilities.

The presence of CCAs is growing, especially in California, and—because they often offer more renewable energy than the incumbent utility, according to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report—CCAs present opportunities for solar developers to help provide that power.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

How Do CCAs Work?

Generally administered by local governments—cities or counties—or sometimes third parties, CCAs acquire electricity for retail customers in a specific geographic area.

CCAs partner with local investor-owned utilities that provide billing, transmission, and distribution of the electricity the CCA provides. They can aggregate fairly large groups of customers, which provides economies of scale.

Scale (and Potential) of the CCA Market

About 750 CCAs acquired 42 million MWh of electricity for 5 million customers in 2017 in eight states where legislation allows for their existence—California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia, said the NREL report.

Additional states are expected to pass legislation that allows for CAAs, according to NREL. In addition to the eight states that have CCAs, at least seven states have considered allowing CCAs—Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah, said NREL. Other states with restructured electricity markets could pass legislation allowing for CCAs.

California and New York CCAs Focus on Renewable Energy

California and New York are two states where CCAs currently source a lot of their energy from renewable sources.

California CCAs concentrate on acquiring in-state renewable energy more than other CCAs. In California, CCAs in 2017 offered electricity with renewable energy content ranging from 37 percent to 100 percent, with an average of 52 percent. Their rates are generally .1 percent to 2.1 percent lower than the incumbent utility’s rates.

In New York, about half the sales of the active CCAs are “voluntary” green power programs, which go above and beyond state renewable energy mandates. In these cases, the CCA offers green power to willing customers.

A solar power plant. Some CCAs are sourcing power from new solar projects.

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

CCAs Present Opportunities for New Solar Development

Although, as of 2017, CCAs had largely acquired renewable energy from existing generators, that’s beginning to change as CCAs grow in numbers and size, presenting new business opportunities for solar developers.

One recent example is a 3-MW solar array in Napa County, California which solar developer Renewable Properties broke ground on in April 2019. The state’s first CCA, Marin Clean Energy (MCE), will purchase the power from the project through a 20-year power purchase contract. MCE’s feed-in tariff, called FIT Plus Projects, offers $80 per MWh for peak, baseload, and intermittent energy.

NREL’s report highlights the potential for CCAs to increase the supply of renewable energy from new projects. In regulated or partially restructured markets, CCAs may be required to acquire renewable energy from new projects, NREL said, adding that more research is needed about this topic.

Projects such a Renewable Properties’ solar plant are expected to become more common because CCAs generally have significantly higher percentages of renewable energy in their mix.

With higher renewable energy content and typically lower prices, CCAs are here to stay. For solar developers, that offers opportunities to provide the energy that CCA customers are demanding from these new, green alternatives to utilities.

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Topics: trends, solar policy, Solar Business Tips

How To Secure Online Reviews For Your Solar Business

Posted by Sara Carbone on Jun 26, 2019 10:35:14 AM

Online reviews are a key part of a successful solar contracting business, given the fact that many consumers look to them as a trusted source of information.

Jon Eyre, director of content at customer interaction software provider Podium, told Solar Power World (SPW) that “sometimes customers [are] your best salespeople. No matter how much you train your staff, people are more apt to listen to someone that doesn’t work for your business.”

Many solar contractors strive to offer the best customer service, something that can often lead to more positive online reviews. However, securing reviews can be a challenge. Only one in ten people writes reviews all of the time though half of adults under 50 consult reviews before making a purchasing decision.

This article discusses ways a solar contractor can develop an effective review acquisition strategy. In addition to related research, Aurora spoke with Danny O'Malley, Client Engagement Manager for Utah-based solar contractor Auric Energy. Auric has a well-developed strategy for securing online reviews; they are the most positively reviewed solar provider in the U.S on SolarReviews.com.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

Why Online Reviews?

One of your best sources of leads is online reviews. They are an effective referral device and referrals convert at three to five times the rate of other channels, have a higher lifetime value, and are more profitable reports SPW.

A 2016 survey by marketing company BrightLocal found that 84% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from family and friends. A Podium survey found that 93% of respondents said online reviews impacted purchase decisions and 82% said the content of a review convinced them to make a purchase.

Online reviews play an important role in business success. Auric’s O’Malley states that being the most positively reviewed solar company in the country on SolarReviews has been quite instrumental in his company’s success. Making your business stand out online with positive reviews on your website and various third-party sites allows prospects to research your company’s reputation and compare it to other providers.

Effective Places to Have Reviews

An obvious place to include reviews is on your company website. You can place them on your home page, sprinkle them throughout your site, and include them on a dedicated review page. Reviews can take a number of forms, from short quotes, articles about customer success stories, or even videos. Videos can be particularly effective for reaching prospects: 55% of U.S. adults say that they have watched product review videos online.

Auric Energy uses video testimonials because of the popularity of this medium. O’Malley explains that they incorporate videos in a number of places, like on social media platforms.

O’Malley also recommends looking to interview customers that “are real characters” in order to distinguish your company. He adds that Auric interviewed one of their customers who had legally changed his name to Santa Clause, asking “if you can get a video interview of a Santa Claus promoting your company, why not do it?”

Aside from featuring customer reviews on your website, it is important to have a presence on at least a few third-party review sites. In a 2018 Online Reviews Survey by ReviewTrackers, over 60% of consumers said that they are likely to check online reviews on Google before making a purchase, with Yelp ranking second at 45%, and Facebook ranking third.

Industry-specific sites that cater to solar are also helpful like Angie’s List or SolarReviews. SolarReviews, a solar business reviews site offers solar reviews categorized by product and service. O’Malley says that, aside from Google, “anybody who is a serious solar contractor should definitely have a profile on SolarReviews and should direct their customers there. Another strong candidate is Energy Sage, if the contractor feels like branching out.”

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

Best Practices for Securing Online Reviews

There are a number of strategies to keep in mind when seeking to increase your number of online solar reviews.

Find the Frequency and Timing That Works Best For Your Business

Test things out to find the ideal frequency for outreach to customers about solar reviews. O’Malley describes how his company recently adopted an email marketing tool that helps them track outreach efforts and gather data on what yields the best results.

He notes that his team expects to touch base with customers at least a few times in the first year after system activation, probably at the ninety-day, six-month, and one-year marks. Since one of Auric’s offerings is a production guarantee, their customer service agents contact customers to discuss production numbers and ask for a solar review at the same time.

It also helps to contact customers when they are happiest about going solar says SPW. Perhaps this is after a week with the finished system or after their first year with solar. Experiment to see what works best.

“We usually ask for a review after they’ve received their first bill, usually about 30-45 days after their solar system is fully activated, because that's when the rubber actually meets the road,” says O’Malley.

Use the Optimal Combination of Contact Methods

Contact customers in a way that works best for your business and your particular customer profile. Text messages or phone calls can be effective as they are harder to ignore. Collect emails so that you can conduct a post-install email drip campaign that includes review requests. Marketing site HubSpot found that simple, brief, text-only emails have a better conversion rate for review collection than slick, graphic-heavy ones.

O’Malley describes how his team uses texts, emails and phone calls. First, they send a text asking for a solar review, followed by a phone call regarding the fact that they are sending over warranty paperwork and the owner’s guide with a request about leaving a review. They continue contact with periodic emails. You can also leave review request cards in person, keeping the language simple and direct with clear link information and instructions.

A note card at a Spacious co-working space in New YorkSpacious, a company that provides coworking spaces in restaurants, uses request cards to gather online reviews.

Make It Easy for Customers to Review

Make it as easy as possible for customers to review you; part of that is keeping the idea of reviewing your company top of mind. Place the request throughout your website like at the bottom of blog posts, in company emails signatures, on print marketing materials, or on the back of business cards. Download icons like the “Find us on Yelp” banner to use on both print and online marketing materials.

Send people straight into the review process rather than having them navigate multiple pages. For example, direct them right to your Google Places page or your website’s reviews page. The faster and easier it is for customers to leave a solar review, particularly on a third-party site, the more likely it will be that they will take the time to give one.

It can also be helpful to let customers know what to expect and what topics are helpful to focus on in their solar review. Asking for feedback on a specific aspect of your business can help improve the content of your online reviews.

Communicate the Importance of Reviews to Your Business

Make sure your customers know how much positive reviews matter to your company. “One of the things that's made it easier for us is priming the customer from the get-go by talking about how important word of mouth is to us and how important the reviews are. So that asking them for it later is not so much of a surprise or difficult ask,” remarks O’Malley.

Auric sends customers a survey after their first consultation with a project manager asking how it went and if they would be willing to recommend the company in the future.

Get Creative With How You Ask

It can be effective to think outside the box when asking customers for reviews. Encourage customers to share positive reviews on social media. This is a popular option for consumers, 39% of U.S. adults say they have shared their experiences or feelings about companies or products on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Highly visual platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram present good opportunities for customers to share solar system photos. You may consider supplying them with high-quality photos of their own system during and after the install so they can share about the process. You may run an ad on Google or Facebook specifically asking for reviews from customers, targeting them by uploading your customer email addresses to Google or Facebook when running the ad.

Software company Dokmee asking for reviews on TwitterDokmee used a playful image on Twitter to request reviews.

O’Malley notes that Auric only uses social media for brand awareness, not to get new reviews. He states this is because, with platforms like Facebook and Google, anybody can leave a review, not necessarily just actual customers. If you do choose to pursue solar reviews on social media you can set up Google Alert using your business name to catch reviews that show up on blogs, social media, or forums—allowing you to quickly respond to both negative and positive ones.

You can include review requests on your hold message when people call. Another option is to offer incentives like a simple reward. This could be a gift card, or an offer to donate to a nonprofit that you partner with. Make sure that customers disclose they are receiving an incentive and check the rules of a third-party review site as they make have restrictions regarding incentives.

You do want to be careful not to look like you are buying reviews. You can help avoid this by specifying that you are not just asking for positive reviews or by doing something like randomly picking a reviewer each month for a special giveaway.

Handle Negative Reviews Professionally

More Americans report being influenced by highly negative reviews than by highly positive ones. Therefore, it is important to handle your negative reviews quickly and in a way that does not damage your business’s reputation.

O’Malley recommends that companies avoid overreacting to negative reviews and respond professionally. “This means not turning it into a blame game. I've always tried to turn it into a platform where you’re showing the individual customer that you're going to do the best to help them.”

He goes on to say that negative reviews can be an opportunity to show prospects that your company knows how to handle difficulties and “did their best to leave the person better than they found them.”

Marketer Neil Patel has the following recommendations for handling negative reviews: pay attention to what is said, acknowledge their comments and let them know you’re doing something about it, and don’t argue or get defensive even if you disagree. It may be helpful to dedicate review monitoring to a specific employee, particularly with regards to responding to negative reviews.

A Sunrun response to a negative online review acknowledges the customer’s feelings and offers solutions.A Sunrun response to a negative review acknowledges the customer’s feelings and offers ways to remedy the situation.

An effective online review presence can certainly help bolster your business growth by convincing more prospects to become customers. However, reviews and review sites can do more than function as marketing tools. They can allow you to connect with satisfied and dissatisfied customers and get real-time feedback on how to improve your business and the customer experience.

Have you found success with other strategies for getting online solar reviews? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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Topics: Solar Marketing, Solar Business Tips

How to Get HOA Solar Approval: Tips for Success

Posted by Sara Carbone on Jun 19, 2019 9:00:00 AM

In some areas, Homeowners Associations (HOAs) can present significant barriers to homeowners’ ability to install solar.

Before Texas enacted protective solar access laws that limited what restrictions HOAs could place on solar installations in their neighborhoods, HOAs meant a lot of frustration. Speaking to the New York Times in 2009 when he was chief executive of Houston-based residential solar company Standard Renewable Energy, John Berger (now CEO of Sunnova Corporation), said HOA prohibitions had cost SRE over $1 million in business.In Missouri, a state without policies protecting from HOA solar restrictions, there are a number of cases in court where HOAs are butting heads with homeowners that install solar.

As a solar contractor, the extent to which HOAs impact your business is dependent on your state’s laws and the HOA bylaws in the neighborhoods you target. However, there are a number of strategies you can employ to help ensure HOA approval for your customers’ PV solar systems, regardless of where you do business.

In this article, we discuss techniques compiled from interviews with solar contractors with extensive experience working with HOAs and online research to help ensure successful outcomes on projects in HOA communities—and guide your prospective customer through the process as well.

See how Aurora Solar software can help you close more sales in a free  consultation.

How an HOA Can Impact Your Solar Business

HOAs are neighborhood organizations that create and enforce rules for houses or condominiums in established communities. Solar Power World states that “a major directive of the HOA is neighborhood uniformity and/or a high standard of appearance for each property.” HOAs’ concerns, and resulting rules, about solar installations tend to relate to how PV panels will affect the look of neighborhoods or property values.

These rules can impact a homeowner’s efforts to go solar. A significant proportion of American homeowners interact with an HOA: over 351,000 HOAs in the U.S. regulate about 40 million households or 53% of owner-occupied households. Therefore, there is a good chance that your prospect needs to work with one. However, about half of U.S. states have laws preventing HOAs from denying solar for aesthetic reasons, so the impact on your business is partially dependent on where you operate.

Getting Solar Approval from an HOA

It is helpful to understand the typical process for getting approval for a solar installation from an HOA so that you are better able to guide your customer through it. Usually, a customer requests an application from their HOA or gives the contractor permission to do so. While there are some customers who choose to fill out the application and send it in themselves, others prefer that the contractor do this.

Mike Busby, Co-Founder & President of Victory Solar, a leading residential and commercial installer in Texas, spoke with Aurora about his company’s extensive experience working with HOAs. He states that his company does all the HOA paperwork on the homeowner’s behalf, only getting the homeowner involved if they have to.

Bobby Custard, Solar Consultant for Pur Solar & Electrical, an Arizona-based contractor with over 40 years of electrical contracting experience, also shared his insights about interacting with HOAs. He says that after Pur Solar has given the customer everything they need to review and sign, the company notifies the HOA when they begin the permitting process. They send the HOA a copy of the plans, the proposal, and images of what the project will look like.

If the application is approved by the HOA, you can move forward with the installation. If not, you should understand the applicable laws in your state in case you are able to help your customer appeal the decision.

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

4 Strategies To Expedite the HOA Application Process

There are a number of best practices to keep in mind that may help make the process of getting HOA solar approval as easy as possible and increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

1. Know Your State’s Laws

“Solar access” laws that protect homeowners’ rights during the HOA solar approval process have been adopted by many states, including California, Utah, and Florida. Given that you may be the one educating your customers about their rights in this respect, it is important to know your state’s existing laws, whether provide protections from HOA solar restrictions, and what forms they take.

Solar access laws prevent HOAs from prohibiting solar panel installations or having contracts that restrict homeowners from installing them. However, HOAs can usually make certain requests about a system, as long as they don’t make the proposed solar system less effective or more expensive. Often HOAs are allowed to place certain restrictions on systems, like retaining the right to influence design elements of a rooftop solar array, such as requiring that all electrical wiring be placed out of sight.

California has had The Solar Rights Act since 1978, which has helped encourage the growth of solar in the state and is the basis for many other states’ protective laws. It includes protections that limit HOA ability to pass prohibitive laws but allows an HOA to impose “reasonable restrictions” on solar energy systems. These restrictions are currently limited to ones that don’t increase the cost of a proposed system by more than $1,000 or decrease its potential performance by more than 10%.

Under this law, a homeowner does have some responsibility to their neighbors when they seek to go solar. For example, in multifamily dwellings with common roof areas an applicant must notify each owner in the building about a proposal. Additionally, they might also be required to have homeowner liability coverage and provide proof of this to their HOA annually.

Arizona has solar access laws that are similar to those of California but with less stringency and specificity about what an HOA can and cannot do. For example, the “reasonableness” of HOA solar installation restrictions is decided on a case-by-case in the courts.

However, Custard explains that protective Arizona laws have made the HOA approval process very easy for Pur Solar & Electrical. 60-80% of Pur Solar’s installations involve HOAs, and they have never been rejected. He states that even when his company installed several systems near upscale private golf courses, they were able to install the panels facing the fairway for one and facing the putting green for another.

The actual provisions of solar access laws vary widely by state and comprehensive information about state and local rules is available at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

2. Be Your Customer’s Guide Through the HOA Approval Process

Functioning as your prospect’s expert on how to navigate their HOA’s solar stipulations and state laws from the beginning of the sales process can go a long way towards winning the deal. Find out the HOA’s rules about PV panel installation early, particularly any rules they may have regarding design and placement. These can impact aspects of the installation process, such as system price, even if your state has solar access laws.

Gauge your prospect’s level of familiarity with this topic and make sure they are aware of their HOA’s rules as well as their state’s laws. “Many homeowners are not aware of their rights,” says Custard.

He states that a homeowner may have just bought their house or might be new to the area; “they may have just gotten their HOA rule book, and they’re trying to figure out what direction they can put their car or what their yard has to look like. So they’re a little bit overwhelmed and gun shy.” Victory Solar’s Busby adds that while some people know how the approval process works or are even on their HOA board, others are completely unaware of how it works.

Custard explains that prospects are often concerned about what their HOA will say regarding installing solar. Therefore, his team makes sure to show the homeowner information about Arizona’s HOA solar laws via emails or printed articles. As a result “the prospect feels much more comfortable moving forward knowing that if they put down a deposit and get the ball rolling with solar, the HOA isn’t going to be throwing speed bumps in the path.”

3. Have a Streamlined HOA Application Process

It helps to show your prospects that you and your team are aware of how to achieve an expedited approval process. For example, there are ways you can reassure a prospect’s HOA and address their concerns. This can be done by demonstrating how PV panels can increase property values and providing examples of successful installations you have done for similar neighborhoods and home types.

Busby notes that Victory Solar has a streamlined process in place to ensure HOA solar approval given that they deal with HOAs on about 90% of their projects. He told us, “we probably submit too much paperwork but have a 100% approval rate. The paperwork has got to be very detailed and ironclad. An HOA can rarely oppose that.”

Busby also asserts that an important part of a smooth HOA solar approval process is having an operations team that gets paperwork together efficiently. He states, “you have to make the right hires within the operations group of your organization because they're just as important as your roof crew. If they're fast on the paperwork approval it flows down through every part of the operations side. As a result, we’re very quick. We install systems within 30 to 40 days while the industry average is 150 days.”

Be Prepared to be Creative and Flexible

HOA rules may require that you adjust your approach and think outside the box, even in a state with solar access laws. Victory Solar was able to secure approval for a client with a Spanish tile roof whose HOA had already rejected ground mount system proposals from three different contractors. They did this by suggesting a ballasted ground mount system with a black mesh fence screen to obscure the system from view. It included removing the grass and putting in white rock for a flat roof commercial system on the ground and ensuring the system was below the fence line.

Busby also describes one customer in an affluent neighborhood where the HOA wanted the solar system to be installed out of view. Noticing that the customer had an old unused concrete tennis court and, Victory suggested the customer repurpose the court as a solar pad for a ballasted ground mount solar system.

You may also consider adjusting the equipment you use. Custard talks about the benefits of using solid black panels: “HOAs very much prefer a solid black panel with a black screen instead of a white paper backing with a silver frame. When we use these kinds of panels they are more receptive to the installation and are less likely to come back with any questions, even in places that have really specific, stringent rules.”

4. Educate Solar Prospects and HOAs

In an effort to improve the HOA approval process and help ensure solar’s growth, you may look for opportunities to provide educational information to both prospects and HOAs. Laura Ann Arnold of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, a state that currently has a host of solar related HOA challenges, says that “the solar industry as a whole needs to stay vigilant on HOA solar issues and work to educate the public as more people want to go solar.”

This may mean providing homeowners with information about HOA prohibitions and restrictions regarding solar in order to encourage them to ask questions before they buy a home. It may also mean seeking ways to educate HOA boards about removing outdated strictures or easing overly prohibitive rules. Arnold describes how some boards don’t understand the impact of certain rules like limiting solar to the back of the house or away from the street when it faces north. “There is a lack of understanding about the technology and the economics,” she declares.


Employing best practices when working with a customer and their Homeowner’s Association can help you offer the best customer service and increase the likelihood of closing the sale. A key part of this can be coming from a position of cooperation and consensus, which can lead to an expedited approval process. As Custard explains, “as long as you're civil with an HOA so that you don't end up on their radar as a ‘problem person,’ they're much more likely to help instead of hinder the process.”

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Topics: Solar Business Tips

Find the Best Candidates for Solar Jobs with This New Tool

Posted by Gwen Brown on Jan 25, 2019 11:17:50 AM

If your solar company is like many in the U.S., finding the right candidates to fill job openings can sometimes be a challenge. In fact, according to the Solar Training Network 84% of installers have difficulty finding qualified applicants, with 26% finding it “very difficult.”

But what if you could connect with solar job candidates that you might not otherwise reach, more easily compare candidates, and help increase diversity at your company at the same time? The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) recently joined forces with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Community Development Action Coalition (HBCU CDAC) to highlight a solar hiring tool that can do just that!

The HBCU Talent Exchange, developed by the HBCU CDAC–which SEIA began partnering with in 2018–is a cutting edge tool that helps employers quickly connect with qualified solar job candidates while reducing hiring bias.

Finding the right employees is one way to improve your solar business, having  the right design tools is another. Sign up for a free demo to see how Aurora  can help you work smarter.

Background

The HBCU CDAC is a national nonprofit founded in 2010 as a resource for historically black colleges and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and the community economic development industry to leverage their resources and strengthen their surrounding communities. Some of its objectives include creating economic opportunity, building healthy and sustainable communities, and increasing participation in STEM fields by historically underrepresented individuals.

In 2018, SEIA launched a partnership with the HBCU CDAC with the goal of creating opportunities to increase participation of HBCU students in the solar industry workforce by exploring opportunities to connect qualified students with open solar jobs at SEIA member companies.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week, SEIA released a video (linked below) showcasing the solar hiring tool and how solar companies can benefit from it.

About the HBCU Talent Exchange

As SEIA explains, they see the HBCU Talent Exchange “as one way we can help our member companies address hiring challenges, while simultaneously reducing hiring bias and mismatches between job seekers and companies. The Talent Exchange moves beyond resume and job description searches to share more accurate information that helps both employers and job seekers make more informed hiring decisions.”

Unlike traditional hiring tools and solar job boards, the Talent Exchange is survey-based rather than resume based, using a proprietary matching software that’s designed to better assess what positions a candidate is a good fit for—and connect candidates and organizations that might not otherwise have found each other.

Companies with job openings answer a variety of questions about their needs and preferences for the position, and candidates answer questions about their skills, interests, and workplace. Candidates are ranked based on their fit for different roles and companies, and the system generates customized reports for employers and candidates that help show areas of alignment and potential misalignment. Additionally, with standardized views of candidate qualifications—and notifications of top matches—employers can more easily compare candidates and make better decisions, faster.

The system also helps ensure qualified candidates are aware of and considered for relevant positions because candidates are invited to apply for new openings relevant to their interests, and the system evaluates the fit of each applicant for every job within a category (for instance, if there are two similar jobs at the same company, the candidate will be considered for both without having to reapply). It can also mask information prone to bias. Jobs posted in the system are automatically posted to 5000 other no-cost local, regional and national job sites.

To learn more, SEIA and HBCU CDAC’s video below provides an overview of the system and how to post a job (see ~16:20 for a demonstration of the system). To post a job on the HBCU Talent exchange, you can visit its webpage, and select “Post a Job” to create an account.

If you’re looking for a new avenue to connect with qualified candidates, this is an opportunity to efficiently fill solar job openings while also reducing hiring bias and potentially increase diversity in your company. As we highlighted in a past blog post, a diverse workforce has been shown to bring many benefits to companies. The first-ever study of diversity in the solar sector (by The Solar Foundation in 2017) found plenty of room for improving racial and gender diversity in the solar workforce; this tool could be a helpful step in that direction.

P.S. Speaking of solar jobs, we’re hiring here at Aurora! Our careers page has all of our open positions if you or someone you know are interested.

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Topics: Solar Business Tips, Solar Jobs

The 100% Clean Energy Revolution is Here–with Big Solar Opportunities

Posted by Gwen Brown on Dec 12, 2018 12:49:06 PM

Not only do solar and other renewable energy sources enjoy broad support among individual Americans (9 out of 10 support solar according to SEIA!), local governments have also been demonstrating increasing clean energy commitment. In fact, this month, Cincinnati, Ohio became the 100th U.S. city to set a target of sourcing 100% renewable energy!

The Sierra Club, whose Ready for 100 campaign supports communities in committing to 100% renewable energy, estimates that 15% of the U.S. population now lives in a city with a 100% clean energy target. An additional 11 counties  and 4 states–Hawaii, California, New Jersey, and, most recently, New York–have made comparable commitments. The city council of Washington, D.C. has also committed to 100% renewable energy, pending approval by the mayor and Congress.

Add to that the numerous other state actions in favor of clean energy this year and the over 400 mayors representing 70 million people that have expressed support for the Paris climate agreement, and it’s clear that support for solar and other clean energy is reaching unprecedented levels.  

The importance of these commitments can hardly be overstated, particularly in light of the recent report by 13 federal agencies which identified drastic climate change impacts for the U.S., including significant contraction of the country’s economy. Fortunately, investment in renewable energy can significantly reduce carbon emissions while driving economic benefits and job growth. Not to mention it can create significant business opportunities for the solar industry!

In today’s blog post we explore what local commitments to 100% renewable energy mean for solar–particularly how solar contractors can get involved in the clean energy transitions of their local communities.

Which cities and towns have committed to 100% renewable energy?

Cities all across the country have made commitments to 100% renewable energy, including Atlanta, Boulder, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis, Cleveland, and many, many more. For the full list, and contact information for city representatives, see the Sierra Club’s list of 100% Renewable Energy Commitments.

Metadata: Cities that have committed to sourcing 100% clean energy, courtesy of Sierra Clubs Ready for 100 campaign for 100% renewable energy.Cities that have committed to 100% renewable energy (white dots) and cities already powered by 100% renewable energy (blue dots). Not pictured is Kodiak Island, Alaska (powered by 100% renewable energy). Source: Sierra Club Ready for 100.

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What is involved in a city’s commitment to 100% renewable energy?

You might be wondering what it really means when a city commits to 100% renewable energy. Does the commitment only apply to electricity use by the local government, or does it apply to all residents and local businesses? While the specific commitments vary by city, many of these local commitments cover the electricity consumption of the entire community.

As the Sierra Club explains, its 'Ready for 100' campaign recognizes community commitments... where a city’s leadership has established a goal to transition to the entire community to 100% clean, renewable energy. This can be through a stand-alone Resolution or Proclamation, or integrated into a community's Climate Action Plan or Energy Action Plan.”

In the case of Cincinnati, the city has committed to sourcing 100% of electricity for residents and small businesses from renewable energy by 2035. The first stage of that commitment will involve 25 megawatts of solar development, and the city is exploring potential project sites.

For communities interested in similar commitments, the Sierra Club offers policy guidelines, including recommendations that local clean energy mandates consider justice, equity, affordability, and access to clean energy, and that they follow a transparent and inclusive planning process.

What do local commitments to 100% renewable energy mean for solar companies?

As you might expect, these local commitments can open up a lot of business opportunity for solar companies to help meet the community energy needs with solar. Like Cincinnati, many of these cities are actively working to encourage the development of local solar projects or directly soliciting bids from solar companies.

Utility Dive reports that a partnership of 20 cities–including Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, and Orlando–have teamed up to jointly issue Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for collectively purchasing a total of 5700 GWh renewable energy!

Similarly, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle have jointly issued a Request for Information (RFI) for electric vehicle charging infrastructure development valued at more than $10 billion.

Other examples of cities incorporating solar development into their 100% renewable energy commitments include:

  • Concord, New Hampshire–planning a large solar plant on a closed landfill and changing local zoning to better accommodate local solar projects
  • Denton, Texas–approved a contract for a 100 MW solar project
  • Denver, Colorado–in addition to a community solar program, Denver is requiring all new construction to be net zero by 2035, a move which may encourage more solar on new construction
  • Fayetteville, Arkansas–exploring solar projects on its municipal buildings
  • Orlando, Florida–in addition to other pro-solar initiatives, Orlando’s Collective Solar cooperative helps residents take advantage of economies of scale when purchasing solar

While the specific plans for achieving 100% renewable energy vary by city, if there are cities in your area with such commitments it’s worth taking a close look at their procurement plans. In particular, check to see if they include RFPs or other opportunities for your solar company to participate in local solar development. For those interested in learning more, the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 list includes contact information for local representatives who can provide more information on particular programs.

Even if your local area doesn’t have a 100% clean energy commitment, take a look at what other clean energy initiatives they have. Many cities and towns without such ambitious targets still have powerful incentives for advancing local clean energy. For example, Watertown, Massachusetts recently passed a measure requiring solar installations on all new commercial buildings over 10,000 square feet.

If your locality doesn’t have clean energy policies, consider talking with your local representatives about how clean energy can benefit your community. After all, as a solar contractor, you know the ins-and-outs of solar project development and can be a valuable source of information for your elected leaders. Around the country, local communities are leading the way on the clean energy transition–which is good news for the environment, the economy, and the solar industry!

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Topics: solar policy, Solar Business Tips

Sunnova CEO John Berger on Solar Finance, Tips for Success, and More

Posted by Gwen Brown on Nov 15, 2018 6:49:07 PM

Sunnova Energy Corporation is one of the leading residential solar and storage service providers in the U.S. The company offers a broad portfolio of solar and solar plus storage offerings, including multiple PPA, lease, and loan financing options designed to help solar customers find the choice that works best for them. Sunnova pairs these product offerings with long-term service and maintenance agreements–which they see as fundamental to ensuring long-term customer satisfaction.

Sunnova operates in 18 states around the country, as well as several U.S. territories including Puerto Rico, Guam, and Saipan, and utilizes a dealer model, working with a select number of qualified regional partners that have first-hand knowledge of local markets.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Sunnova Founder and CEO William J. (John) Berger to learn from his two-plus decades of experience in the energy industry. Prior to Sunnova, Berger was Founder and CEO SunCap Financial, a residential solar system lease provider. He also founded Standard Renewable Energy (SRE), a top-10 provider of renewable energy and energy-efficient products and services.

In our interview, Berger offered insights into what solar financing options work best for customers and some of the trends he expects to see in solar finance, what Sunnova looks for in its installation partners, and tips for success in the solar industry. We’re excited to share those perspectives with you today. 

John Berger candid 1-sm-1

Based on your many years of experience in solar finance and Sunnova’s wide area of operations, do you notice any trends in what types of solar financing options are most appealing to customers in different contexts?

John Berger: Yes, I do, and I think the industry is going to see some movement on the financing side in the market as it reverts back to better reflect the balance of what financing options are best for each customer.

What we have seen and continue to see is that lease and PPA options are the most viable for most consumers–somewhere between 70 and 80% of the population. We see the proportion of customers with leases and PPAs trending back up and think the market will balance itself back out to a 70-30, maybe 80-20, split between customers with leases or PPAs and customers with loans.

To be clear, Sunnova is neutral about sales of loans, leases, and PPAs. It doesn’t matter to us what people choose; we're indifferent to that. But in terms of where I expect the customer base to balance out, that's my best estimate at this time–which points to roughly a 20% or more pick up in lease and PPA sales over the next few years.

Sunnova is unique in its model of working with a network of regional installation and maintenance partners that have firsthand knowledge of local markets. When Sunnova evaluates potential partners, what qualities and processes do you look for?

John Berger: That's a great question. I would say that what we're looking for above all else in our partners is honesty. They must understand the rules, in terms of consumer protection laws and the various geographic rules, and abide by them. I expect members of my company and our dealers and partners to adhere to the highest ethical standards, not just meeting the letter of the law but meeting the spirit of the law.

The second thing we're looking for is someone who can run a business. For example, partial payment for jobs in progress is not profit–don't spend it! We see that mistake over and over again.

Third, we also avoid partnering with companies that are trying to grow too fast. The telltale sign is somebody is who's trying to do a multi-state expansion without proper equity capital–which is usually far more than they think they need–all within the same year or two.

It's really problematic, and frankly, I have yet to see it really work. And I built a multi-state contracting business and sold it, so I understand the difficulties of doing that. The problem is you're trying to scale something, in terms of people, that's not scalable.

The most successful dealers that we have are methodical about their growth. Some years that growth is bigger than others, but they're methodical. This is a business where you're going to have to do a lot of hard work and build over a period of time. You're going to have to earn your reputation with customers, with communities. Nobody's perfect, and we’re no exception, but over a period of time you can be successful. It will not be overnight success.

“Get rich quick," has got to get out of people's heads. That's something that we've seen repeatedly in every market. We frown upon that quite a lot because we've seen the outcome and it's not good for the customer, for us, or for them. And, overall, it's not good for the industry.

Those are the top three things that we're looking for from partners: honesty, being able to run a business, and understanding that growth is something that occurs over years–not months. Beyond that, competency to install and sell solar is a given.

What's one piece of advice that you would give to every solar contractor?

John Berger: I think it goes back a lot of what we look for in those contractors. I would say that if you can run a good business, if you're an honest person, the thing that I would recommend is don't go out there with a "go big or go home" mentality. That's not the way it works, it ends in ruin.

I've seen heartache, heartbreak, partner bankruptcies over and over again for people that chase the flavor of the month, whether it’s a service provider they're teaming up with, a financing relationship, or something else. Nine times out of ten that ends in tears. Don't do it.

Focus on running the business, keeping your costs low, satisfying your customers, and pick long-term partners. Don't jump around all over the place; when you jump around, you can't meet your long-term customer relationship obligations.

So I would end with that, maybe that’s the bullet statement: think long-term. If you can do that you'll be successful.

 

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Please note that the views expressed in our Solar Spotlight interviews are those of the interviewee, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Aurora Solar.

Topics: Solar Spotlight, Solar Finance, Solar Business Tips

The Peace of Mind Every Solar Contractor Needs: Having the Right Insurance

Posted by Sara Carbone on Nov 6, 2018 3:02:00 PM

As a solar contractor, you know better than anyone that your work comes with a certain amount of risk. You and your business are vulnerable to a whole range of possible missteps from damage to a residence or a worker injury to loss of equipment or a truck running off the road.

The right insurance coverage is essential to mitigate these kinds of potential risks and liabilities. While there are general insurance requirements that every contracting business must meet, there are also a number of considerations specific to the solar industry. A contractor should keep these factors in mind when designing the perfect policy for their business.

In this article, we discuss some of the important insurance considerations for solar contractors and some of the coverage types they may want to explore. For firsthand knowledge about insurance for solar contractors, we spoke with Petar Georgiev, Managing Partner at Renewable Energy Insurance Broker, an insurance company that has specialized in serving commercial and industrial solar companies for the past 16 years. We’ve also included particular recommendations for the residential solar contractor from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) regarding basic standards for insurance during the construction phase of an installation, standards that need to be met for a finance provider to provide system financing.

It is important to note that it is the contractor’s responsibility to fully understand their policy in order to avoid financial losses from lack of coverage. This article is meant as a starting point because, ultimately, contractors should consult a licensed insurance broker about their particular needs when deciding on the ideal policy.

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Bottom Line Coverage

There are certain baseline insurance coverage requirements all solar contractors and subcontractors should meet. Georgiev states that policies for all contractors and subcontractors must include general liability insurance, workers’ compensation, employer’s liability insurance, automobile liability insurance, and excess/umbrella liability insurance.

General liability insurance provides several types of coverage for the contractor: bodily injury, property damage, and comprehensive coverage to protect your finances in case of lawsuits or claims. Bodily injury coverage pays for third-party bodily injuries, which means that it covers injuries that occur on the property under construction by the contractor (not including injuries to employees of the contracting company).

Property damage coverage applies to property other than the work the contractor has performed. Georgiev gives the example of a solar contractor installing a commercial solar system on a warehouse. If a fire from an electrical malfunction were to destroy both the solar system and the warehouse, the warehouse would be covered while the solar system would not.

General liability also includes what is called products liability/completed operations coverage. This covers injuries or damages that may be caused by goods or services sold by the solar contractor. For example, Georgiev explains, if a contractor installs a new solar system on a rooftop and a panel later falls off and hurts someone, then the injury would be covered (but not the panels themselves).

Georgiev states that “general liability insurance is critical for any solar contractor (general, or sub-contractor) because of the simple fact that even a single accident could turn into a lawsuit from which you could not recover on your own and without it you won't be able to protect your company and your assets.” Mike Smith, an agent with Solar Insure, another firm that specializes in solar contractor insurance, suggests that contractors retain a trimmed-down general liability policy after retirement or sell the business to protect themselves from liability. This is because there is no time limitation for bodily injury lawsuits, making them very common in the U.S.

There are two types of limits to consider when purchasing general liability insurance: the per occurrence limit (the maximum a carrier will pay per claim filed) and the aggregate limit (the total they'll pay during the policy period). Both Georgiev and SEIA recommend $1,000,000 minimum per occurrence and $2,000,000 minimum for aggregate.

Also standard for solar contractors is workers’ compensation and automobile liability insurance. Georgiev recommends a policy limit of $1,000,000 per accident, per employee for the workers’ compensation. He also suggests combined single limits of at least $1,000,000 per occurrence for vehicles owned or hired for the automobile liability insurance.

Both Georgiev and SEIA advise contractors to consider excess/umbrella insurance on top of the general liability policy to cover any loss that goes beyond the coverage. For this type of coverage, SEIA recommends limits ranging from $2,000,000 to $5,000,000. SEIA also suggests professional liability insurance if the contractor is providing design work and cyber liability coverage if they are storing confidential customer data.

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Other Coverage to Consider

There are a number of other insurance coverage considerations solar contractors may want to explore when assessing their insurance needs. According to Christy Howley of ProSight Specialty Insurance, errors and omissions (E&O) coverage “goes beyond general liability to protect against subjective claims like negligence, unfair dealing, and inaccurate advice.”

A contractor may also consider employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) for protection against employment related lawsuits including wrongful termination, discrimination, or sexual harassment. Another type of coverage to consider is obstruction of premise supplemental (OOPS) coverage which protects a contracting business from having to personally compensate a client for an installation accident that leaves their home uninhabitable. Georgiev notes that contractors may also want to ensure that their coverage includes the testing period of a new installation, which can take anywhere from 72 hours to 1 week long.

Finally, contractors should make sure that they are covered for the loss of their own work from things like damage by vandalism or a natural disaster. A “builder's risk” policy can insure against this, including covering the resulting loss of income for the project owner.

Watch for Exclusions

It is important to be aware of any exclusions in your policies. Exclusions are policy provisions that remove coverage for a particular risk, usually to narrow the scope of a very broad agreement. Therefore, Georgiev warns, there are certain situations a contractor should explicitly ask about because they might not be covered in the contract.

One such exclusion is “care, custody, and control” which means that the policy does not cover items temporarily under care or control of the contractor, like a roof. Another particularly important exclusion to be aware of is coverage for tools and materials on the jobsite. Renewable Energy World recounts the story of a contractor who had a $52,000 inverter stolen from a job site only to realize the loss was excluded under their insurance policy. Ara Agopian, President of Solar Insure, says that a contractor would need to specifically ask to add an “installation floater,” a type of inland marine insurance, to have this covered.

Another area where coverage gaps may exist pertains to working with subcontractors. General contractors should ask their subcontractors to add them as an “additional insured” on their own policy, so the general contractor can deal directly with the sub's insurance company if needed. To avoid situations where a party’s coverage has lapsed, all subcontractors should show an up-to-date certificate of insurance before performing any work. In addition to these insurance considerations, contractors should look into adding “hold harmless” and indemnification clauses in their contracts with a subcontractor. These ensure that the general contractor is not liable for negligence on the part of the subcontractor.

Additional Considerations

The amount and type of coverage a solar contractor needs varies depending on certain factors. These include the particular services of the company, such as whether they procure and sell systems or just install them or whether they predominantly install large-scale commercial PV systems or smaller residential ones. Georgiev says that proper due diligence in the beginning is key so that a contractor knows what is needed for their particular business.

Georgiev also states that it is a good idea to remember that the certificate of insurance (COI) is not the actual policy. A COI is merely temporary evidence of insurance that includes disclosure about the parties involved, coverages, and limits. All actual negotiations and agreements are already set in the policy itself and a contractor should look there when seeking to understand the details of their coverage.

Additionally, “It’s important to be open when communicating with your insurance company. During the quoting process, the more information an insurance provider has about your operations, the better job we can do to help you craft the appropriate coverage and potential safety programs best suited for your company,” says Matthew Burrows of Travelers Insurance.

Finally, there are a number of steps a contractor can take to keep premiums low. Treating employees well, making sure they are sufficiently trained, and using up-to-date equipment are important. Having industry certifications like NABCEP certification can also help offset long-term costs.

Understanding your unique insurance needs as a solar contractor can help you avoid costly gaps in coverage that may haunt you down the line. Working with a broker that specializes in solar is can be helpful, because they will be familiar with solar contractors’ needs. Taking the time to ensure appropriate coverage is good for contractors and good for the industry in general. You'll have peace of mind knowing you are protected if a claim arises and the solar industry can function with greater stability.  

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Topics: Solar Business Tips

Lessons for Success from the 2018 Top Solar Contractors List

Posted by Gwen Brown on Sep 28, 2018 1:27:01 PM

Each year, Solar Power World compiles a list of the Top Solar Contractors in the U.S., based on the kilowatt capacity of projects they installed, developed, or helped construct in the previous year. We were thrilled to see many companies on the 2018 list that use Aurora solar design and sales software. We reached out to these companies to get their insights for running a successful solar business.

In response to our question, “What advice and tips would you give to solar companies to operate successfully?” we saw several themes emerge. The responses we received from our customers highlighted quality and credibility, adaptability, and value as key factors in solar contractors’ success.

If you’re considering what your company can do to maximize success in the solar industry read on for advice from some of the most prolific U.S. solar installation companies in 2018.

Quality and Credibility

Perhaps unsurprisingly, quality and credibility were two of the key factors for solar company success highlighted by the solar contractors we spoke with. Specifically, contractors highlighted the need to have a thorough understanding of all aspects of your customer’s solar purchase.

Craig Pals, cofounder of Tick Tock Energy, Inc.–a family-owned solar company in Illinois, founded in 2006–summed up his advice for solar companies in one word: “Credibility.” Elaborating on some of the elements that go into that, he recommended that contractors, “Thoroughly understand electric bills and rates, [and deliver] product knowledge, financial understanding, construction expertise, great customer service, etc.”

Knowledge of Utility Rates and Other Financial Considerations

Having a strong understanding of local utility rates and other financial considerations that impact how much your customer will save was a recurring theme among the solar contractors we spoke to on the SPW Top List. Bernard Froidcoeur, owner of GreenForm-Austin, summed this up by encouraging contractors to “Understand local incentives and solar rate structures from utilities.”

Bill savings are typically a driving motivator for prospective solar customers, yet net metering and utility rate structures can be confusing. Similarly, federal, state, and local incentives that will impact the cost of their system are important information for customers to understand. You can establish your credibility by being the expert who walks them through these elements. (Our Solar Finance 101 series provides a helpful primer to bring new staff up to speed or to teach your customers.)

Using software like Aurora that supports financial analysis and includes an extensive utility rate and incentive database can help with ensuring accuracy. However, contractors still need to keep close watch on utility policies and rates to stay abreast of changes (like new net metering structures or California’s time of use rate changes).

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Design and Installation Expertise

The quality of the solar designs installers offer was another key theme highlighted by companies on the Top Contractors List. Peter Hughes, Owner and Business Director of Sunwatt Solar, a company that designs and installs solar systems in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, encouraged contractors to “Always start each opportunity with an accurate TSRF. It will save you time and help to narrow your focus on the most promising deals.”

Kyle Frazier, Director of Sales at Freedom Solar Power, a Texas-based commercial solar company, said “We believe that the only path to long-term success is to deliver the highest quality product and experience to every customer so that they are happy enough to refer us to their friends and neighbors and co-workers. That means under-promising during the sales process and over-delivering on the project by doing all of the work in-house and doing the job right the first time.”

“We believe that the only path to long-term success is to deliver the highest quality product and experience to every customer so that they are happy enough to refer us to their friends and neighbors and co-workers." - Kyle Frazier, Freedom Solar Power

Jeff Parr, President and Owner of Solar Technologies–which has installed over 75,000 solar power systems across California’s Bay Area–said “Once you have new business, you have to make sure you are following through on the expectations set and that your team has the experience to manage design and engineering, interconnections, installations, job-site safety, and system maintenance. Your reputation precedes you through social media and any deficiencies will be called out by customers and jeopardize future growth and success.”

Baker Home Energy, another company on the list, offered similar advice when we spoke with them earlier this year about how they get 60% of their business from referrals.

"Your reputation precedes you through social media and any deficiencies will be called out by customers and jeopardize future growth and success.” - Jeff Parr, President and Owner of Solar Technologies

Adaptability

Another requirement for solar contractor success highlighted by Aurora customers on the Top Contractors list was the ability to adapt. Given the frequent policy changes and macroeconomic shifts that contribute to the so-called “solar coaster,” solar companies need to be flexible and stay on top of new approaches to succeed under different market conditions.Bruce_Orozco-Solar_Source-v2

Adaptability is key. The solar industry evolves more frequently than most. Being able to stay current on technology, codes, and methods is a requirement for success,” said Bruce Orozco, Production Engineer at Solar Source, a residential and commercial installer serving Florida’s Tampa Bay area.

Similarly, Brett Emes, Owner of SEM Power, LLC, a Florida-based solar installation company and EPC, advised solar contractors to “Differentiate yourself from your competition by constantly innovating and finding more cost-effective methods to implement solar for your customers. As soon as your competition starts copying you, innovate again to gain market advantage over your competition.”

Larry_Beiler-Paradise_Energy-v2

Larry Beiler, Estimating Manager at Paradise Energy Solutions–a Pennsylvania-based solar contractor serving Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Ohio, and Virginia–echoed this sentiment. 

Be adaptable. The solar industry is constantly changing with new and improved products, incentive adjustments, and new markets. Software is one area of many that has changed dramatically in the last five years.”

Software solutions, including remote solar design tools like Aurora, are one way solar companies are adapting to work more efficiently under tighter profit margins. Solarponics, another Aurora customer on the Top Contractors List, was able to cut their site visits by 90% and save approximately $500 per lead by switching to Aurora for remote assessment and design.

See how Aurora helps Baker Electric Solar stand out in a crowded solar market

Value

The final theme that emerged from many of the solar contractors we spoke with was the importance of differentiating your company based on the value your services provide–not necessarily having the cheapest product.

Jeff Parr, explained that “At Solar Technologies we try to focus on people, products, and price. All of these have to be aligned in order to deliver compelling value to home and business owners so you can win new business.”

Brett Emes of SEM Power is one of the SPW top 500 Contractors who provided advice

Kyle Frazier of Freedom Solar Power said “Our advice for other solar companies is to focus on sustainable, profitable, controlled growth that is focused on your customers, rather than chasing higher-volume but lower-quality sales channels.”

Likewise, Graham Alexander, Senior Residential Energy Specialist at Southern Energy Management–a certified B-Corporation serving North Carolina–emphasized, “Don't fight to be the lowest price solution with the lowest price products.  Maintain your value and allow your clients to be your best marketing resource.

Graham Alexander of Southern Energy is one of the SPW top 500 Contractors who provided advice.Parr also advised companies to “Take it slow, plot a strategic path forward, manage your cash, and walk away from low-margin business. You will not get rich quick in this business but if you focus on providing your customers with a high quality offering at a fair price, seek out great employees to help you on your journey, manage your business to ensure viability and commit to this industry long-term you will end up with a rewarding enterprise that is helping customers save and improving the environment for all.”


Congratulations to the companies that made Solar Power World’s Top Contractors List! We were thrilled to see so many Aurora users represented on the list, and appreciate those customers taking the time to share the strategies that play a role in their success. Are there other strategies you’ve found to be important to your success in the solar contracting industry? Let us know in the comments below!

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P.S. If you enjoyed this article about strategies for success, you may be interested in some of our related articles, including our interview with Pamela Cargill on how solar companies can operate more efficiently, and our discussion of solar sales mistakes to avoid from Nancy Reynolds at Clean Energy Design, LLC.

Topics: Solar Business Tips

Solving Clients' Needs: Advice for Solar Companies from a Nobel Prize-winning Economist

Posted by Gwen Brown on Jun 22, 2017 12:00:00 AM

Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Myron Scholes is a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has been a long-time adviser to Aurora. In 1997, he received the Nobel Prize in Economics for the Black-Scholes formula—a method to determine the value of derivatives. This formula is used daily by finance professionals around the world to calculate option pricing.

Following up on last year’s conversation with Dr. Scholes, we were excited to have the opportunity to sit down with him again to hear his insights on how solar companies can position themselves for success in the current market.

Do you have insights on how medium-sized businesses, in our case solar companies, can position their businesses to thrive in the new economy?

I think in the current economy the use of computer technology will allow companies to reduce costs and to worry less about a product—which is very narrowly focused—and move their thinking to “What is it that the client wants, and how can we solve client problems?”

With the data that companies now have from clients, and what clients can tell them, they have an ability to grow their businesses much more quickly.

Data’s the key; the availability of data allows you to build models and ways of thinking about what the client wants.

If the client wants something, they’ll tell you what they want. That helps in running your business much more than just thinking about a product. That is one of the crucial innovations we’re going to have in the next number of years in small to medium-sized businesses: the ability to use data, and the ability to think about a solution for clients and then design a product—not the other way around.

The adoption process for new technologies, like solar, is often thought of in terms of the technology adoption curve —a bell-shaped curve in which a small number of innovators and early adopters begin using the product before it is adopted by a broader majority. Where do you think the solar industry currently fits in that curve?

Well, when you have these curves of technology adoption they always apply somewhere to something and someone—they’re not very generalizable.

The most important thing is really figuring out ways to garner the trust of your clients.

Garnering trust involves education, truth-telling, and really thinking of your customer as someone who’s going to educate you about how you can educate them and build trust.

With the technology that is now becoming available in the solar industry to allow for that trust building, we’ll see large growth. Traditionally, trust is generated by asking your neighbor how they enjoyed something, because you trust your neighbor’s experience. But that’s a very slow and tedious process.

Learning to use the data to figure out how to educate and build trust with clients builds exponential growth.

Some of your research explored irrational behavior of investors and how investment managers can try to account for that. Recognizing that humans don’t always act rationally in making economic decisions, do you have any advice for solar companies on how they might want to communicate with customers or market their products in order to maximize sales?

Obviously, there are a lot of psychological effects that influence people and individuals’ behavior. Taking account of these effects can enhance one’s business, but I personally think that taking a more rational approach is better than the psychological approach. That way you have a repeating business.

I worry that the psychological approach—trying to look at irrational behavior of customers and use that as your focus—leads to inconsistent decisions and doesn’t really allow for the growth of the business. While I believe you can use psychological factors to influence or help get the message across, I don’t really think of that as a modus operandi or a way to actually run the business.

In any part of life where you deal with other individuals, I think you should take the view that truth builds trust. If you lie to your clients it will ruin your reputation. Unfortunately, it might be successful in the short run to try to garner business quickly, to try to take advantage of others, but businesses survive, prosper, and grow through trust-building.

Solar companies, or any company, can benefit from trying to think about how they can continue to educate their potential customers or clients and to try to build a sense of community and trust with them.

Trust is the key ingredient for business growth—and how you achieve that trust is the recipe. That has to be individualized to the customer experience and at the same time is generated by understanding why your customers trust you. The key is learning from your customers as well as educating them.

Some of your other research has looked at the impact of tax policy on markets. In the solar industry, the predominant tax incentive is the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which allows solar system owners to credit 30% of the system cost against their taxes. The ITC will drop down over time starting in 2020—what can the solar industry do today to start preparing to function with lower tax credit levels?

In preparing to operate without the ITC, you should consider that the better your client base is, and the more you have a “network effect” of satisfied customers sharing their experience, the more possibilities there are to grow the business.

The tax credit is in some ways trying to reduce the costs of innovation or moving in the direction of eliminating externalities in our society. It provides an incentive to allow the first movers to generate information for others and build trust, so that others will then adopt on their own. In my view, a lot of its purpose is to overcome the uncertainty of the value of what you’re moving towards.

This network effect will reduce the need for this information advantage that the government is willing to provide through tax incentives to allow for more education of customers. Over time, the price of solar components will come down, and it will become a bigger industry, and therefore the need for these subsidies will disappear.

Topics: Solar Spotlight, Solar Business Tips

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