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

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

As one of the most widely respected professional certification programs for the solar industry, the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, more commonly known as NABCEP, plays an important role in establishing industry standards.

Fresh off our recent attendance at the NABCEP Continuing Education conference in San Diego earlier this month, Aurora had the opportunity to speak with Shawn O’Brien, NABCEP’s Executive Director.

Following up on our interview last year, our conversation explored recent developments in NABCEPs recertification requirements, trends that are being considered for future NABCEP program changes, and a recent grant NABCEP is involved in to help military veterans transition into solar careers.

NABCEP Executive Director Shawn O'Brien

## Aurora Solar: NABCEP is changing its requirements for recertification. What’s changing, and how do these new requirements reflect changes in the solar industry?

Shawn O’Brien: Some of the changes stem from the fact that the roles of individuals who previously obtained NABCEP certification have changed over the time that they've been in the industry. We recently conducted a survey that found that 26% of respondents opened up their own companies after getting their NABCEP certification. That underscores that roles really have changed; a lot of folks are no longer on the roof.

Because of that, it’s not always possible for them to pull permits or get documentation to show that they've directly done installations. The Board has recognized that the industry as a whole is changing, as are the roles of individuals.

What the board has done in the new recertification requirements is allow individuals to show other achievements that demonstrate that they're actively involved in the industry.

For instance, instead of requiring three completed installations, certificants can submit a letter from their employer on company letterhead confirming that they are still actively involved in the renewable energy industry and describing their role. That can include holding a leadership role in an organization that's doing solar design, commissioning, maintenance, inspection, or another role like financing projects.

We also have a lot of certificants who are full-time trainers, if they can show over a three year period that they've done 120 hours of full-time training that is another way to meet the industry involvement requirement.

Of course, for people who are installing, they still have the option to use their completed installations in their recertification process. But the industry is growing up and it's time to recognize that not everyone is up on the roof, there are much more diverse roles.

Additionally, in accordance with certification best practices, part of recertification involves making sure that the individual is maintaining current knowledge in the industry. For this reason, we require a certain number of continuing education hours. Another notable change to NABCEP’s recertification requirements is that we are now requiring 30 hours of continuing education during that three year recertification period, up from 18 previously.

## Aurora: What are some other industry trends that NABCEP is taking into account as it updates its programs?

O’Brien: Two trends we’re thinking about are the growth of commercial and industrial projects and the trend towards solar plus storage.

NABCEP originally started as a certification for residential solar installers. We want to make sure that NABCEP's certifications require the same level of expertise in commercial projects as those on a residential level, and that they provide the same assurance for the customer if they're a CFO instead of a homeowner. So we're also looking at certification requirements to make sure that the individuals being evaluated have that knowledge as well and not just residential.

The other development we are thinking about is solar plus storage. Historically NABCEP certificants have been evaluated mainly just on the installation of solar, not so much on storage.

These two industry trends require thought to ensure that individuals who are certified can work in those areas safely and effectively.

## Another big part of Solar Holler’s work is its job training program, which prepares West Virginians for careers in solar installation. What can you tell us about that program and how it came about?

After that first project was completed, we started to get so much demand for solar projects that it outstripped the capacity of all trained solar installers in the state!

So that led to the creation of our job training program. We partnered with a nonprofit called Coalfield Development Corporation to develop a  in West Virginia.

Participants sign on as apprentices for two years. During the apprenticeship, they are paid for their work and earn their Associate's degree and NABCEP certification—and they pay no tuition which differentiates our program from a lot of other solar job training options.

## In a past interview, you talked about how effective solar job training programs for coal mining communities must go hand-in-hand with building the market for solar energy, otherwise trainees need to leave the area to find solar jobs. How does Solar Holler work to build the demand for solar in West Virginia?

A big part of it is setting up the financing tools. West Virginia is not a well-to-do state; there's not a lot of cash floating around. It's definitely not California or DC or Massachusetts or other hot solar markets. What those solar markets have going for them is high prices of electricity and they tend to be wealthier states. We don't have either of those in West Virginia.

Compared to California, where electricity prices can go over 30 cents a kilowatt, for residential energy here in West Virginia we're in the 10-11 cent range. So in order to make it affordable for folks and actually build demand, you need to have the financing tools lined up, you need to drive the costs down. And, eventually when you do that it'll take off.

We didn't want to train people for a job that doesn’t exist. Our goal wasn't to just put people through the program and have them come out on the other side and move to California or New Jersey or Massachusetts to take a solar job, because we're doing this for West Virginia as well.

That's why we take a multifaceted approach. Absolutely we need the trained workers—we need the workforce, but at the same time we need financing tools, we need community marketing, etc.

We're really trying to tackle all of those parts of the puzzle at once. We could go out and set up a big fund, but then we’d need the workforce to actually deploy those projects; you can't have any one part getting too far ahead.

A solar array is installed on Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, Solar Holler's first project. Photo credit: Solar Holler.

## You've pioneered some new ways of financing solar. How do you identify and develop new financing approaches?

It’s a mindset. I think what we've really brought in, in some cases, is this approach to not always do what the broader solar industry has done. It seems like overall, especially on the nonprofit side, the tendency has been to chase tax credits (in other words to favor financing options like leases and PPAs, in which the solar system is owned by a third-party that can take advantage of tax credits like the ITC).

I've approached dozens of financiers over the last four years about projects, and so many commercial financiers only want to do PPAs. That approach is great for the states that have PPAs, but it leaves out 25 states that don't have legalized PPAs. So, we're really trying to expand beyond arrangements that are focused on a third-party owner taking advantage of the tax credits.

Across the board a central theme is that we try to pull in efficiency tools that we can use and bundle them in with solar. Whether that's water heaters or LED lighting or other improvements, we like to do those upgrades at the same time as we’re installing solar on the roof. By bundling all of that together you can make a solar project work, where it might not have without the efficiency improvements.

Beyond that, we’ve focused on identifying what resources we have in West Virginia that we can tap into. In these initial projects, one of the best things we have had going for us is that we're part of the . That enabled the initial approach of pulling in efficiency resources and other tools that you might not normally think of that are in lesser-known parts of the electricity market (like ).

## What are some of the successes that you’ve observed from your work to date?

One of the most gratifying things for me is that when we work with community organizations, we know that the energy savings are going back towards supporting their missions. If it's a library that means more educational programs; we've done work with homeless shelters, where the energy savings directly support the social programs that are so crucial. That's the most rewarding part for me.

We've also seen a huge impact on the policy front, in terms of building community support for solar in the state.

For instance, two and a half years ago, there was a bill to repeal the Alternative Portfolio Standard in West Virginia, which would have eliminated net metering—and this was about six months after we had completed our first church project with the support of all those member families.

In one night, every single legislator in the state was flooded with emails from 600 people. Out of those, we had over 100 associated with the church, saying "don't take solar away from my church." In one day we flipped literally the vote and the legislature voted unanimously to keep net metering in place.

I think that's one of the reasons this work is so important; by working with nonprofits and community organizations we’re counteracting the idea that solar is just for the rich.

That's not a politically stable place for solar to be. It’s a whole lot harder to take away solar from a church or a homeless shelter.

## What do you think the future holds for the growth of solar in traditionally coal-dependent communities like West Virginia?

I tend to be a really positive person when it comes to the growth of solar. I think we end up focusing a little too much on the negatives. Yes, there are things that could be streamlined about permitting and whatnot, but across the board, things are going really well. We're doing a couple of projects a week right now around Appalachia.

You need to get lots of people on board, in terms of skills and talent. We need electricians, engineers, marketers—we need all these different pieces. But we're pulling it all together.

Given the trajectory we’re seeing in our work, we've got all the tools right we need to really knock this out of the park, even in Appalachia.

Topics: Solar Spotlight

Pamela Cargill is Principal of Chaolysti , a consulting firm that helps residential solar contractors succeed and reach profitability. With over ten years in the industry, she has built an impressive track record of helping solar businesses grow.

In the first of two articles from our conversation with Cargill, we shared her advice for practices contractors can put in place to operate more effectively. Today, we’re pleased to share her observations on how the industry is evolving and what trends contractors should be keeping an eye on.

[Please note that this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]

## As someone who works closely with many different players in the industry, what can you tell us about the current state of the solar market and how it may be evolving?

I would say that we're going to continue to see small contractors take a larger and larger percent of the overall share of the market.

This whole idea of having a "long-tail" is going to become irrelevant because there are just going to be small contractors.

I really see that we're on track as an industry—as a specialty contracting industry—to look a lot more like HVAC. For instance, HVAC has somewhere around 450,000 to half a million contractors all over the nation and these are all small local businesses. There are some regionally focused enterprises, but there's really no such thing as a national, multi-state contracting business in HVAC.

Because the solar industry is a specialty contracting space that's still so small, we have a long way to grow. According to some of the numbers I've looked at from The Solar Foundation, we have somewhere between 6,000 to 8,000 contractors nation-wide. So there's a huge difference between what our industry looks like and what HVAC looks like. But then again they also have about a 100-year head start on us.

This creates some interesting dynamics. I think that as the overall growth and net profit margins of solar contractors start to look more like other traditional trade spaces, it's probably going to become less interesting for some businesses that are involved now to continue to be involved.

This comes back to the importance of having that sense of why [you’re running your business]. If a contractor doesn't have a long-term vision for why they are in this business or plans for how they're going to be there in the long-term for the customers in their portfolio, I don't really see a compelling reason why they'll be in this business.

This is not a sales business, it's a contracting business. And I think we're at a juncture right now where that needs to split. Yes, we still do need to have better sales and marketing practices, but we need much more focus on running a good contracting business. That's really what a lot of this is going to come down to:

The more we're focused on running contracting businesses, the more we're going to start looking like other traditional trades.

## Recognizing that a focus on efficiency will be needed as the industry matures and profit margins become tighter, can you speak to the role of automation in solar contracting? What elements in the process of taking a solar installation from conception to project completion do you think are best suited to automation? Are there areas where you think automation can be counterproductive?

The parts of the process that I see as most suitable for automating are anything that helps you track how often you follow up with a customer. During the sales process as you're continuing conversations with the customer, and you're going back and forth with them—that cadence of follow up is ripe for automation.

I would be careful, though, about over automating that.

You want to build a genuine relationship with the customer that you're working with. You don’t want to over send automated emails in a way that isn't personal and genuine.

Automations should help you track when you had a conversation with a customer and remind you to follow up at a specific cadence, say a 5-day window. That's a good automation. Then you should personally shape that follow up. You may have a template you work from, or a content library that you send some articles from, but ensuring that the touch is really personal is critical.

Another area well suited to automation is the design process. There are a lot of aspects of the initial design that can and should be automated. I can say for a fact, based on my early experience in the industry doing a lot of this work by hand—going into a string sizing website, and then going to PV WAtts, and then going to an Excel workbook for pricing, and then going to another Excel workbook for material take-off—that was not particularly effective. It took a long time, and if I got interrupted in the middle of it, it was difficult to come back to and figure out where I was. That I think is where we've made a lot of progress.

Software that automates more routine aspects of the design process, so that the designer can stay more focused on ensuring that the design is meeting the objectives that the customer has stated, that I think has a ton of value.

## Any final thoughts you'd like to share?

I would close by noting that the easy days of floundering around to be a solar contractor in this business are behind us now.

My old boss called me the other night and we were catching up about the changes in the industry. We've both been in the industry for a long time and we were reflecting on how easy it was for us in those really early days to just kind of make it up as we were going along and not really have the tightest processes in place, because there was so much margin to work with.

While we both had skills in construction, we hadn't worked at an HVAC company where you live and die by very small percentage points on your margin and you have to be constantly focusing on the operational effectiveness of your business. In solar, we've had [some] time to muddle through and not really focus on process.

I think as we're moving into the future, it's really going to be worthwhile for us to look much more at how are other contracting businesses operate. What are the best practices from those spaces that we could bring over?

Whether it be in terms of project management, scheduling and dispatching, long-term customer support, service plans, keep in touch, re-marketing, etc. That's really what's going to start driving excellence in this business in the very near future and going forward.

We only have growth ahead of us in this space. It’s definitely going to be tough and there's going to be some weeding out, but I'm bullish on the growth of rooftop solar and I'm sticking with it!

Pamela Cargill is Principal of Chaolysti , a consulting firm that helps residential solar contractors succeed and reach profitability. Her decade plus of experience in the solar industry spans the entirety of residential solar operations including design engineering, project management and installation, process design/automation, operations strategy, and software planning and integration. Cargill started her solar career as the second employee of a small solar installation company and played a key role scaling it into a $1M 8-person operation and, after two acquisitions, into a$60M regional installation leader.

Needless to say, Pamela Cargill has a wealth of solar industry knowledge. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with her and bring some of those insights to you. In the first of two articles resulting from our interview, Cargill shares some management advice for running a successful solar business. In a subsequent article, we will share her perspective on how the solar industry is evolving.

[Please note that this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]

## Why is it important for solar contractors to have a clear sense of their business goals?

Of all the businesses I meet with, the ones where the leadership has the clearest and best-articulated vision of "why"—why everyone including themselves is showing up every day—those are the companies that I find are really run in the most sane manner.

The why is very important. Defining a sense of why gives contractors the ability to step back from what they're doing and focus on the big picture.

Where things start to get fuzzy is when we talk about "why," because the why is not something that's easily expressed in language. It's usually deeply felt beliefs and personal convictions. But when we can articulate those convictions, that's how we achieve values-alignment across the company. It allows us to ensure we're bringing in employees that are aligned with those values, and that we're reaching out to our customers and aligning with their values.

When I see that alignment happen, because people understand “why,” that's really where I see the magic happen.

## What are some best practices for solar contractors to adequately balance their long-term, big picture business goals with the daily demands of their work?

The most important one is to set up structures within your company that help you check in with that sense of why on a regular basis. A critical part of that is to have regular team meetings where you focus on the most important things (not just status updates) and use that time to make decisions together.

If the only thing you're meeting about is what is going on, then you're never going to have time to consider whether how you're doing that is the most effective approach.

And if you can't evaluate your processes, then you're never going to have a chance to reflect more deeply on whether you have the right motivations, the right "why" behind what you’re doing.

## When choosing metrics to measure success, what should solar companies bear in mind?

I definitely see people tracking too many metrics, and a lot of them aren't actually important enough to drive business decisions. It's easy to go after things like how fast you're moving a project between one milestone and another. But unless you understand why that matters, there's really no reason to be tracking that level of detail. Having more data in front of you doesn't necessarily help you make better decisions, it can actually end up clouding your ability to act.

When advising companies, I usually start with first making sure the contractor understands their sense of why, and then their sense of how, and then their sense of what. From there you can have a goal that comes out of that—that goal is a big picture goal for the business. It needs to be measurable, it needs to be actionable, it needs to be timely.

From that big picture goal, you can then line up the key performance indicators to help you reach it. And a lot of that is going to come down to very big numbers—things like your customer acquisition costs, your operating expenses, and your cost of goods sold.

Those three things are the picture of health for your company. If you can keep track of what's happening in those three areas, and how they're affecting each other, then you can start drilling down into more detailed metrics.

I'm big on the rule of three; anybody at any given time, shouldn't be tracking more than three metrics. Otherwise, you can have all the data in the world and have zero insight.

## One of the services you provide for solar contractors is to help them identify inefficiencies in operations and processes that cost them time and money. What are the most common mistakes you see solar companies make that lead to decreased revenues?

I would say it's having too singular a focus on optimizing their sales and marketing.

Understandably, customer acquisition cost is a very hot topic in the solar industry—it's definitely hurting a lot of contractors. But what I want to help contractors understand is that adopting solar is a process that your customer engages in; it starts before they even get to the funnel, and it's not over when their project is completed. Given that, they spend less time in the sales process than they spend, proportionally, in any other part of the process.

So why are we spending—let's just say, theoretically—90% of our resources optimizing their experience in sales, and just 10% of our resources optimizing the customer experience within the project delivery cycle and post-project completion?

Contracting is mostly about the experience a customer has as the project is happening.

As they are getting notifications, as the installation is happening, as the inspections are going on—that's the customer experience. All of those elements add up to whether or not a customer is, in the end, satisfied or dissatisfied. That is more likely to lead to them referring or not referring other customers than what happened during the sales process.

Topics: Solar Spotlight, Management

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.

Commissioner David Hochschild serves on the California Energy Commission (CEC) , the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency. The CEC’s responsibilities include promoting renewable energy development; advancing energy innovation through investments in energy research, development, and demonstration programs; advancing energy efficiency; and promoting affordable, reliable, and environmentally sound transportation energy infrastructure. The California Energy Commission is one of California’s three governing institutions for energy, along with the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Independent System Operator.

Appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in February 2013, Commissioner Hochschild fills the environmental position on the five-member Commission, where four of the five members by law are required to have professional training in specific areas. Hochschild’s career has spanned public service, environmental advocacy, and the private sector.

Prior to being appointed to the Commission, Hochschild served as a Special Assistant to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown in 2001, where he launched a citywide 100 million initiative to put solar panels on public buildings. He went on to co-found Vote Solar, an advocacy organization working at the state level across the country to make solar affordable and accessible to more Americans. He served as executive director of a national consortium of leading solar manufacturers and worked for five years at Solaria, a solar company in Silicon Valley. From 2007-2008, he served as a commissioner at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. For his work to advance clean energy, Commissioner Hochschild was awarded the Sierra Club’s Trailblazer Award and the Department of Energy’s Million Solar Roof True Champion Award. Recently, Aurora Solar’s Chief of Staff, Sunny Wang, and Content Marketing Analyst, Gwen Brown, had the privilege of speaking with Commissioner Hochschild—fresh off his recent TEDx talk —to get his take on the current state of solar and clean energy policy, here in California and beyond, and on trends and future developments in the industry. ## Do you think that California is feeling an added pressure to double-down on its climate and clean energy efforts? Oh, absolutely. I think the will has never been stronger than it is right now. California has the sixth largest economy in the world and is home to 40 million people—we're larger in many metrics than most countries in the world. I think particularly given recent events, leadership on renewables has shifted to the states. Fortunately, most of the policies that really matter—in terms of accelerating renewable energy—are actually still made at the state level. By that I'm referring to renewable portfolio standards, net metering, interconnection standards, rate design, state tax credits, etc. that really dictate the markets for clean energy around the country. I think the will is very strong to continue what we've started, and I have actually seen an increase in activity and interest here in California. ## Speaking of renewable portfolio standards (RPS), California’s RPS sets the ambitious goal of obtaining 50% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. For those who haven't been closely following California's progress, can you provide a quick update on where we are? Are there major hurdles for California to overcome in order to achieve this target sustainably? Today, 27% of the state’s electricity is from renewable sources; that's up from 12% renewables in 2008. And, we're on a path not just to hit 50%, but to exceed it. There are hurdles to overcome, however. One of these issues is renewable energy integration. That involves a number of different levers, including energy storage, regionalization, and load control options. Regionalization—having a broader balancing area to be able to draw on and send renewable energy to—gives you more flexibility. Load control enables us to better align electricity demand with times of high renewable energy production. This includes demand response measures, as well as electric vehicles that are designed to charge intelligently and at times of the day that support the needs of the grid. You could think of the process of achieving high levels of renewables as having two phases. The first chapter of this work was really bringing down the cost of renewable technologies. That work has largely been successful, particularly with solar and wind. The prices of solar and wind have both fallen about 80% in the last decade, so we’ve seen really substantial cost reductions which are very good for the future of the market. The second chapter is integrating renewables successfully onto the grid. Another related challenge that goes hand-in-hand with renewable integration is electrification. We want to see a migration of services that are now fueled by natural gas, diesel, and gasoline to being powered by this new, clean electric grid. That's everything from vehicles—we have 275,000 electric vehicles on the road today (a trend I am happily now participating in as of about a month ago)—to all-electric homes, electrified rail, etc. ## Continuing on the topic of California renewable energy policy, part of the California Solar Initiative that the Energy Commission is advancing is the New Solar Homes Partnership program. Can you share some updates on the program and its successes? The way to understand this program is that it’s really the glidepath for California to reach zero net energy in [building] code. The goal originally was 2020 as our date to mandate zero net energy in code and you don't want that to be an abrupt change. You want homebuilders already building a significant number of homes with solar before that becomes a mandate. This incentive program was created to help get that going. One of the main challenges with new construction is that the homebuilder is not the occupant of the home. The builders’ main goal is typically to contain costs so adding extra features is often not what they are seeking to do. This program helped kickstart that market, and in Southern California about a quarter of the new homes being built today are being built with solar. ## Our energy markets to date have been built around fossil fuels–which differ significantly from renewables. From a market perspective, what will need to change about how we buy and sell electricity in order for our energy markets to function with higher levels of renewables on the grid? Well, I think the first realization is that along with renewables comes distributed generation and a distributed model. Where California used to have just a couple hundred power plants providing all the electricity, today we have roughly 600,000 when you count all the rooftop solar. As a result, intelligent infrastructure that's designed to allow for a friction-free market for distributed generation is essential. That includes having the ability to meter distributed generation. It also includes having smart inverters that have telemetry and voltage regulation capabilities. So, for example, we can send signals to rooftop solar systems to tell them to adjust voltage to help support the grid. I think that's one of the main changes that is needed. I also think you're going to increasingly see a movement among utilities towards more of a "pipes-and-wires" model, where their focus shifts from generation to managing the interactivity of all these other generators and consumers. We need the utilities to succeed—I want to be clear about that. I think it's really in everybody's interest to have the utilities succeed, but what they are doing is going to change. I also think that, increasingly, the role of utilities is going to shift towards transportation. I believe the electrification of the vehicle fleet is one of the single most exciting potential developments in the next few years. It offers great promise—not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our transportation sector, which is California’s greatest source of emissions right now—but also to help facilitate higher penetration of renewables. ## Do you believe it’s possible to supply 100% of our electricity from renewable sources? I absolutely believe it is possible. I think it's actually inevitable. The real question is whether we get there fast enough to make a meaningful difference on climate change. Here's the big picture. Over the long haul, basic laws of economics hold that as reserves of finite resources like fossil fuels—whether they are reserves of coal, or petroleum, or natural gas—become constrained, the prices go up. Technology, on the other hand, as it scales, prices go down—whether we're talking about cell phones, flat screen TVs, electric vehicles, or solar panels. The foundational technologies of the clean energy future are all going down very steeply in price: solar PV, wind, energy storage, LED lights... that is reason for great optimism about our ability to achieve this future. There will be a lot of adjustments to be made. We're going to have to be much more nimble about things like load control, for instance. The traditional model has been that electric load (electric demand) drives electric generation... your factory turns on, and you have to turn on a fossil-fuel burning power plant. Now, for some subset of that load, it's actually going to switch; renewable generation is going to drive electric demand. For instance, if you have a fleet of electric vehicles and you have some flexibility in the time of the day you charge them, or you have a building that needs to be cooled but you can do some pre-cooling, you have windows of time for electric demand that can be aligned with renewable generation. That will become a much more refined science. There are plenty of other technology hurdles to cross as well—but there is nothing about the transition to 100% renewable energy itself that is outside the realm of a solvable problem. It's all solvable; it's just new types of problems, and our ability to solve these problems has gotten infinitely better. I look at our capabilities and where we are in our technology development at the moment, and even if innovation were to basically halt and we were just working with current pricing and current technology, we could get to 100%. The good news is it's actually getting better. Every year, we're getting larger and more efficient wind turbines, more efficient solar panels, and cheaper batteries with longer duration. The technologies are all getting incrementally better every year so I have no doubt we will get there. And, now there are cities, like San Diego, and whole states, like Hawaii, that have mandated 100% renewable energy. San Diego is the first major city in the United States to mandate 100% renewables by 2035, and Hawaii has mandated it by 2045. That's already underway. ## The solar industry requires cooperation between different actors, such as businesses, utilities, and policymakers. In your career, you've worked in the solar energy space from many different perspectives—including public, private, and non-profit. What are your thoughts on the state of cooperation among key solar players? Well, I think there is room for greater coordination in the industry. Early on, the solar industry was fractured in terms of industry associations; there were multiple overlapping associations. That has gotten somewhat better but it is not entirely resolved. The parallel is made, for example, to the NRA. There's not a National Pistol Association and a National Shotgun Association, right? And the NRA is pretty effective. I think there is more maturing necessary, and I would like to see more "pan-renewables" advocacy and collaboration where everyone unifies around the vision of 100% renewable energy and the electrification of almost everything. I think there's a role for all technologies that serve that purpose, whether it be geothermal, solar, wind, or biomass energy, energy storage, or electric vehicles. ## Where do you think we can expect to see new or significantly refined policies encouraging solar adoption in the next few years—either within or outside the United States? One area is Mexico, which the California Energy Commission has been working with quite a bit on promoting clean energy policy and sharing best practices. The CEC has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the Mexican states of Aguascalientes and Jalisco to cooperate around clean energy, and collaborates with Mexico’s Ministry of Energy under a 2014 MOU signed by California Governor Brown and Mexican Secretary of Energy Pedro Jaoquín Coldwell. We've seen some very exciting developments in renewable energy pricing, and as a result, we're now seeing Mexico think seriously about renewables. For example, they're now looking closely at energy storage—what its role should be in the future of Mexico and what policies they should adopt. These are things that weren’t under serious consideration about two or three years ago because renewables were seen as too expensive. Commissioner Hochschild signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Aguascalientes Mexico on behalf of the California Energy Commission. Photo credit: California Energy Commission. ## What developments under these MOUs are you particularly excited about? One of the most exciting things is how greater participation in clean energy markets is leading to financial innovation. Banks and other financial institutions have to think about how to finance renewables and that has a cascading effect, even to educational institutions. Until recently in Mexico, you could not get a master’s degree in renewable energy, now a university in Guadalajara, Jalisco just launched the country’s first renewable energy master’s degree program. All of these changes are happening right now before our eyes. It's changing so quickly it’s hard to track. For example, the states of Jalisco and Aguascalientes, which the California Energy Commission has signed MOUs with, have both recently adopted fleets of electric vehicles. Those are the some of the first states in Mexico, if not the first, to formally adopt fleets of electric vehicles and that is thanks to some of the collaborative efforts between the Commission and Mexico. ## What is the most innovative solar design you have ever come across? That’s a good question… there have been many of them. I've been involved in solar for my whole career, and some of the most innovative things I’ve seen were things that didn't ultimately work in the market. But, the truth is, the things that I'm most excited about are not what I'd call revolutionary innovation, but rather what I'd call evolutionary innovation. It's things that are not particularly sexy or noteworthy, but which are the incremental improvements driving the whole market. Every year the efficiency of solar panels and inverters has been going up. The early solar panels had 5% efficiency, right? Now they're roughly 20%. The early inverters had about 60% efficiency—so you would lose over a third of the power just converting it from DC to AC. Now, utility-scale inverters are at 99% efficiency. It wasn’t an overnight change; literally every year they became 1 or 2 % more efficient, with little tweaks and improvements. That evolutionary progress is what I find most exciting. That’s what's been working and I'm optimistic that will continue. Topics: Solar Spotlight, California The work of Dr. Richard Perez has been integral to the success of the solar industry. He developed the mathematical model used to predict how much irradiance (solar energy) will be on solar panels at different times throughout the year based on weather patterns. Perez’s model has been incorporated into many software modeling programs, including Aurora’s. It enables solar designers to more easily and accurately predict how much light will be available to different solar installations, and therefore how much energy they will be able to produce and what financial returns they will offer. Dr. Perez is a Senior Research Associate at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, State University of New York at Albany, where he directs applied research and teaches in the fields of solar radiation, solar energy applications, and daylighting. We had the privilege of talking with Dr. Perez to learn more about his research and its applications in the solar industry, as well as his thoughts on future industry trends and the changing role of weather modeling research. #### Tell us about yourself, and your involvement in the solar industry. I've been in the solar industry for over thirty years now. I started in the early 80s, and I am a research professor at the University of New York at Albany. I develop solar resource (solar radiation) models. Since day one, I have been also interested in solar energy applications. In fact, my students and I installed one of the very first systems in New York City on the rooftop of the Lincoln Center—before it was a business to do that. We also powered a radio station at a local university. These were the early projects. Back then, doing solar resource research and the actual installations were one and the same. Installation slowly became a business, so I moved away from that, and I continued the solar resource research. But I always keep an eye on the nuts and bolts of solar design. All of the research work I do is geared toward putting more solar on the grid one way or another. That's my driving motivation. We could reach 100% [renewable energy] easily in my opinion. As the proportion of renewables increases, you will really want to manage that flow of power, accounting for weather changes the best way you can… that's where [weather] models are going to become really important to drive those systems. #### How would you explain your irradiance models to someone who is not familiar with them? The first model I developed, which I was lucky to gain recognition and subsequent funding from, was designed to calculate the irradiance on a tilted plane in an arbitrary orientation, from basic Typical Meteorological Year (TMY) data. [Typical Meteorological Year data is the most common way to describe the average local climate from the perspective of solar applications. It is developed based on hourly meteorological measurements over many years to build a picture of the typical weather conditions.] I was lucky to develop that model at the right time and the right place. There was an International Energy Agency study comparing all the different models on the planet to do that kind of thing and my modeI was ranked first. Since then, that model has been embedded in all kinds of software. Later, in the early 90s, I became interested in using satellite remote sensing to get solar data, because satellites are up there 24/7 and see the whole planet. You can actually get data anywhere you want on the planet if you have a good model to do that. So I started satellite model development and I worked with a company in California, called Clean Power Research. Our model materialized into something called Solar Anywhere, that many people use today to get data. This model has since been built upon to support forecasting, which is a big focus these days. We are developing a lot of forecasts, trying to predict, for instance, how much energy will be produced from solar tomorrow at 3 p.m. in a certain location—to help the integration of PV on the grid by making it easier for utilities to better manage that power. I think the long-term trend is that to better manage [solar energy] on the power grid, it's going to be curtailed somehow… it's going to cost less to overbuild PV than to, say, put in things like storage. #### How is your model applied to energy production simulation? It gives you a more accurate reading of how much a solar system is going to produce given its orientation and tilt; shading can then be factored in on top of that. It lends itself well to complex simulations in any orientation. Some of the [earlier] models worked pretty well for panels facing due south, but they became less accurate when applied to panels facing east or west or north. The model I developed is robust enough to work in any circumstances. I predict that eventually models and related software will evolve to the point where you will simulate data in real time from all the systems you have installed, using satellite data and forecast models linked to that data. [Note: Dr. Perez’s model is built into Aurora’s irradiance engine. This mathematical analysis is applied to TMY data from local weather stations to develop an irradiance map of the site, such as the one shown in Figure 1 below, which provides solar energy values (kWh/m2/year) at each point across the rooftop.] Figure 1: An example of an irradiance map produced with Aurora’s irradiance engine. #### How does accurate weather modeling affect the solar industry at large? You want to be able to predict exactly how much energy your system is going to produce so you can make a good economic assessment of your system. That was especially true a long time ago when PV cost a fortune so you really wanted to optimize designs. Today, PV is getting cheaper and cheaper. I think the long-term trend is that to better manage it on the power grid, it's going to be curtailed somehow, because it's going to cost less to overbuild PV than to, say, put in things like storage. So there will be an optimum management. In that case, the model will not be as critical to making the economics work. However, it’s going to be really important to manage the flow of solar power on grids. Renewable energy penetration is increasing.... We could reach 100% easily in my opinion. As the proportion of renewables increases, you will really want to manage that flow of power, accounting for weather changes the best way you can, and that's where all of the models are going to become really important to drive those systems. #### Your model has been the industry standard for decades. How do you predict that irradiance modeling will evolve over the next ten years? Over the next ten years, I think it will evolve to focus on energy flow management, so forecast models will be the models most in need to do solar energy calculations. I predict that eventually models and related software will evolve to the point where you will simulate data in real time from all the systems you have installed, using satellite data and forecast models linked to that data. That information could be transmitted to the people that operate the power grid so that they can make sure all those systems are working perfectly. That will enable us to put tons of renewable sources on the grid without breaking the system. #### Does climate change affect the Typical Meteorological Year in a way that would impact solar energy production? Well, there is a lot of research going on on that. Based on everything I've seen so far for solar, it’s a very mild effect. A couple percent here and there. On a yearly basis, it's not going to change all that much from all the simulations I've seen. Unless you live in the Northern-most latitudes, like above 60 degrees latitude — then you will probably have more clouds up there. With arctic melting, there will be more water leading to more clouds. But in the US, and similar latitudes, solar resource availability is going to be pretty much the same. I've seen simulations that go 100 years in the future taking into account climate models and I've not seen anything that shows me that solar will decrease significantly. #### What current research in weather or solar energy production modeling do you find particularly exciting? Because solar energy production is variable based on the weather and time of day, it’s not a consistent power delivery mechanism for now. However, there are ways to optimize that with the right amounts of batteries, oversizing, demand-side response load control, and geographic dispersion. You can optimize all of that, and you could deliver close to 100% penetration PV at a very reasonable price. Achieving that optimum and driving it is really what excites me right now. ~~~~ Enjoyed this post? Subscribe to our blog to be updated about new articles. Background photo credit: Warren Gretz / NREL David Arfin is the inventor of SolarCity’s groundbreaking SolarLease, which has enabled over 300,000 residential, commercial, and government customers to adopt solar power and save money, without having to make a large upfront payment. Aurora had the privilege of talking with David Arfin to learn from his years of experience in the industry, and we are excited to share his insights in a two-part series. In Part 1, he shared his expectations for the development of the solar finance industry. In today’s post, Arfin offers some advice for small and medium-sized solar companies on financing best practices. ## What steps do you think small and medium-sized installers can take to gain more financing options? Small to medium-sized installers need to have more than one supplier so that they are not completely dependent on one loan product, one third-party owned product, or one PACE product. In that way, the "long-tail" as we think of it, can — individually and collectively — can hold the bigger companies more accountable. For instance, consider if you are a local installer and you're selling to your provider—you only have one—at, say,3/watt. If they come to you and say, “We have a problem and have to lower your rate. The most that we can pay you is $2.60/watt,” then you have just lost your margin, and you don't have an easy second choice. In the medium- and long-run, we should be able to grow as an industry into something that looks a lot more like the real estate industry. Solar customers should be able to get financing from a lot of different sources. Just as in the mortgage industry buyers are not dependent on the real estate broker that sold you your house to get your mortgage. Financing should be much more transparent and much easier. ## What are your three biggest pieces of advice for solar installers trying to expand their financing options? 1) Have your customers' interests at heart. BTC—“Be the Customer”—as they used to say in business school. Really understand what's in it for the customer and don't just accept what the financial provider is providing to you. There may be some inaccurate assumptions out there. 2) Diversify. Have more than one financing partner for each product line that you want to offer. 3) Be very careful of cash flows and try to lean on financing partners to help with cash flow requirements as much as possible. ## What advantages, or disadvantages, do you think large firms have when accessing financing options? I had the benefit of joining SolarCity early and watching the growth over the first amazing four years. When we were small, nobody paid attention to us. We couldn’t buy panels in 2008 from some vendors because they had a certain amount of panels and they only sold to their bigger or longer-term accounts. As we grew, however, and became the dominant player and eventually the leader in market share by a wide margin, we had a lot of advantages. We were able to get meetings and capital easier than smaller firms could. There are high transaction costs in any of these tax equity deals or securitizations, which makes these kinds of deals harder for smaller firms to access. Larger firms have always had an advantage in terms of getting capital—and they always will have an advantage—until the point comes where there is too much concentrated risk on one firm. If Wall Street thinks that a large solar installer is overexposed, then that becomes a problem. A big risk for large companies is this: when you have a solid footprint in a place and regulations change, the whole thing can go down. We saw this in Nevada last year, where overnight the industry got crushed [when the Nevada Public Utilities Commission eliminated one-for-one net metering for residential solar customers, moving solar from compensation at the retail rate to the wholesale rate]. Companies had invested in warehouses, trucks, and, most importantly, employees and then that market dried up. These companies tried to move these “assets” to their other installation centers, but there is a huge cost to doing so. In a low margin industry, taking on a huge cost hit is hard. We saw some of that in Arizona as well [when Arizona replaced net metering compensation for solar customers with compensation at a lower “export rate”]. So, when your company is big and has a big footprint in a lot of different jurisdictions, and one or two of those jurisdictions goes bad, it might affect five to ten percent of your business. In a low-margin industry, that five to ten percent can spell really hard times. ## What are some good resources for solar professionals to educate themselves on solar finance? I recommend going to conferences with sessions on clean energy finance. You need to understand a bit about the Investment Tax Credit, depreciation, and SRECs- but you can pick that up pretty quickly if you're motivated. We hope you found these insights helpful! Do you have your own solar finance tips? Let us know in the comments below. ~~~ Want to be in the loop on our latest articles? Click here to subscribe to our blog! Topics: Solar Spotlight, Solar Finance David Arfin is the inventor of SolarCity’s groundbreaking SolarLease, which revolutionized the U.S. residential solar market. This unprecedented solar financing program has enabled over 300,000 residential, commercial, and government customers to adopt solar power and save money, without having to make a large upfront payment. In November 2009, the SolarLease was named by Scientific American as the first of twenty world-changing ideas to build a cleaner, healthier, and smarter world. Arfin also received the first ever Innovation in PV Financing Award from the Solar Energy Industry Association in 2009. Today, Arfin continues to create innovative financial solutions and structures to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies. He is the co-founder of Certain Solar , a cleantech startup harnessing the power of big data and behavioral economics to make solar energy more affordable. He is also the founder and CEO of First Energy Finance , which provides products and services to accelerate the growth of renewable energy-generating projects. We had the pleasure of sitting down with David Arfin to learn from his years of experience in the industry. In today’s post we’re excited to share his take on where solar financing is today—and where we may see innovations in the future. In the second article in this series, we continue our exploration of solar finance by sharing Arfin’s advice for solar companies on financing best practices. David Arfin ## How has solar finance evolved since you created the first lease at SolarCity? Solar financing has evolved in a few small ways, but today’s product does not look all that different from what we had in 2008. I think that’s a shame. There are still evolutions of the product that we need to see. “...there is still asymmetric information between the solar provider and the solar adopter. Very few people know much about how electricity rates work, where their rates have been, or where they likely to go...” Third-party financing grew at an exceptional rate for several years. It proved that there is a large appetite for homeowners to adopt solar if you make it easy and affordable for them, and if they believe that they will save money by going solar. Other products have come into the markets, like solar loans and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans, but they are still not priced very well and pass off a lot of risk to homeowners. I don’t think we’ve hit the “Holy Grail” yet for solar. ## Why do you think we haven’t yet hit the “Holy Grail?” Good question. I think it’s partly that current product pitches still sell reasonably well. Leases, PPAs, and loans are still moving the quarterly needle for sales teams’ objectives so the installers and developers don’t have a great incentive to reinvent their offerings. The other reason is that there is still asymmetric information between the solar provider and the solar adopter. Very few people know much about how electricity rates work, where their rates have been, or where they likely to go over a period of decades. That makes homeowners subject to believing whatever representations a zealous solar salesperson chooses to present to them in the sales process. I think we need adopters to become much better educated about what they are signing up for—much in the same way that other industries evolved. If you look at car loans, home loans, and credit cards—they have all gone through cycles whereby poorly informed buyers get oversold on the offering, followed by a backlash, which in turn is followed by investigations and data gathering initiatives. This may lead to consumer advocacy, followed by truth-in-selling regulations that end with improved consumer-facing offerings. Sometimes these can crush companies and even industries. As an advocate for proliferation of solar and other forms of Distributed Energy Resources (DER), I’d like to see the industry short circuit the process by self-regulating its selling practices and coming up with better consumer offerings. ## Where do you think we are in that arc that you see in other industries? We are still really early and I hope we are still on the upward trajectory of adoption of all DER. We are no longer in the phase of the earliest adopters, as there are a million American homeowners that have already adopted solar. A lot of these adopters can look at precisely how much energy their PV system has produced, but it’s very hard to do the math to know whether they are actually saving money by having gone solar. “To use a baseball analogy, we’re in the top of the third inning for innovative solar financing. A million U.S. homes that have adopted solar, but there are 60 million or more residential dwellings that are ripe for switching to clean energy.” As an industry, we have to be very careful of overzealous selling. For example, Aurora’s software enables one to accurately know how much solar radiation there is going to be on every panel, on every spot... and you’re only going to be off by a couple percentage points. But when it comes to the other side of the equation, which is not how much systems generate but the economic value of the energy generated—which is dependent on local policy makers’ decisions 15–20 years into the future—it’s not possible know what that’s going to be for any net-metered system. ## What evolutions in solar finance would you like to see? I would like to see shorter-term obligations. I think 20 years is a terribly long time for someone to sign up for an obligation like a solar installation. I would like to see solar installers and developers–and I will disclose that I have an interest in this—guarantee savings to homeowners who sign PPAs, loans, leases or make cash purchases. It’s a very different sale if you said to the customer, “Sign this contract and we hope that over 20 years you’re going to be saving money.” It would be much better to say, “We guarantee you’re going to be saving money.” One company that I’m involved in called Certain Solar, which has a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, is looking to do just that. By using unique data and analytics, it allows financiers to be comfortable with the risk of having long-term cash flows from a portfolio linked to future utility rates. Today homeowners take on risk when they sign a 20-year agreement to lease or purchase and they cannot have a very good visibility of future electricity prices. However, this risk could be shifted to investors with the benefit of good data and analytics. What we want to do is transfer utility rate risk from homeowners to investors who have the data to understand how prices are going to move and can also invest in a large national portfolio—whereas every homeowner makes one decision at one point in time for their roof within their utility. In addition to shifting the utility rate risk, energy storage is going to become an important part of the story. We are going to see more time-of-use rates apply to when one is generating and consuming electricity. I think there are still a lot of interesting services and contracts that will be built as a result of these changes. “I think you will see PV generation, storage, smart meters, demand response, and EV financing starting to blend together in creative ways. It’s an exciting time to be in cleantech...” To use a baseball analogy, we’re in the top of the third inning for innovative solar financing. A million U.S. homes that have adopted solar, but there are 60 million or more residential dwellings that are ripe for switching to clean energy. ## Where do you see the future of solar financing over the next 5 years? There will be a lot more and better data. Hopefully there will be better consumer education and better consumer protections. I think you will see PV generation, storage, smart meters, demand response, and EV financing starting to blend together in creative ways. It’s an exciting time to be in cleantech—especially on the business model side to create and deliver innovative “energy as a service” offerings. On the challenging side, energy is delivered within a regulatory environment and mere humans are making a series of policy decisions; politicians and regulators are motivated by different political agendas. A key enabler for solar and DER adoption will be having a positive and stable regulatory environment. Without this regulatory stability investment in clean assets will suffer and so will our transition to a cleaner energy world. ## Any other final thoughts about solar financing? I’m a born optimist. We've seen game-changing successes in the United States as we evolved from “solar as a sale” to “solar as a service” and I think that will turn into “distributed energy as a service,” “storage as a service,” “EV-by-the-mile,” etc. As costs to manufacture and deliver systems decline, while data, software and analytics improve, we will create an ecosystem that will make it easier for energy consumers, investors and financiers to be able to invest in solar and other DER. All of that then generates more data and innovation, which further de-risks adoption. It’s a virtuous circle. Want to be in the loop on our latest articles? Click here to subscribe to our blog! Topics: Solar Spotlight, trends, Solar Finance Here at Aurora, we’re constantly thinking about how we can help you be more successful in selling solar installations. We retained Katherine Glass, founder of SpringMark and an expert in helping companies create their marketing and branding strategy, to offer some insights for solar companies. Katherine spent seven years at Lippincott where she worked on branding strategy for companies like Delta, Petco, and Starbucks. Four years ago, she launched her own firm, SpringMark, which works with young companies on creating, developing, and launching a cohesive and powerful brand. We are excited to share what we learned with you in the form of a three-part series. This is the second of two articles from our interview with Katherine on what solar contracting companies should know about branding (check out the first one here!). The third provides actionable tips on how you can make your solar sales proposals more compelling ### What are the 3 biggest pieces of advice you give to your clients? 1) The biggest piece of advice is to clearly identify your brand objective. Every company is going to need to address different parts of their brand at different times. At the beginning, it’s all about building awareness. You’d rather have someone misunderstand who you are than not know who you are at all, because you’ve got to get your name out there. As you grow, your objective might change to clarifying who you are, and getting everyone onboard with exactly what makes you special or different. Then, at some point, it’ll change to actually making sales and it’s all about driving revenue. Stop to do a competitive audit and look at who else is out there. What are they communicating about themselves? What are they offering? Where do you stand relative to them? 2) Second, always look at the competition on a regular basis. A lot of companies when they first start out, they’ll take a little bit of a look around and see who else is out there, but then they dive into their own world. After a while, it’s hard for them to get their heads out of the sand. On a regular basis – whether that’s once a month, every six months, or once a year, depending on how quickly the industry changes – stop to do a competitive audit and look at who else is out there. What are they communicating about themselves? What are they offering? Where do you stand relative to them? You need to be constantly going out there and talking to your clients... and reflecting on how their needs are changing. 3) Finally, always get customer feedback. When companies start out they’ll do some initial consumer testing, make sure people are understanding their product, etc. They’ll set it up once and think it’s done. But the reality is you’re always getting new customers, and technology, expectations, and your product are always changing. You need to be constantly going out there and talking to your clients or customers and reflecting on how their needs are changing. ### How else can consistent branding be applied? As you become a bigger organization, constantly checking in and reminding your team of the importance of being consistent with your branding across the company is key. It’s easy to set up a brand the first time, have your templates in place, have your business cards, have your website and then you think you’re done. The reality is that’s just one small piece of building your brand. Whether it’s every six months, once a year, or even more frequently, communicating with your company what your core values are, who you want to be, and how you want people to think about you will help your employees rise to the occasion. They’ll start to internalize that and reflect it back. ...make sure the way your company runs and what customers see are one and the same. I think the internal brand (aka employee culture) really has to match your external brand. If you’re claiming to have the best customer service, then you need to treat your employees that way too. If you’re claiming to be the fastest to install, then you need to hire people that are able to work efficiently and have efficient protocols and processes in place. Build both your internal and external brand from the same root; make sure the way your company runs and what customers see are one and the same. ~~~ We hope Katherine’s branding advice — clearly identifying your brand objective, paying attention to the competition, getting regular customer feedback, and ensuring consistency in your internal and external brand — can help take your company to the next level. As the solar market becomes increasingly crowded, attention to branding and marketing can help your company stand out from the competition. Whether it’s offering a unique sales experience through solar design centers, or approaching solar from a roofing perspective, differentiating your brand can have a big payoff. Do you have additional advice for successful branding in the solar market? Join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn with the hashtag #SolarBranding2017 and let us know what you think! Want to be in the loop on our latest articles? Click here to subscribe to our blog! Topics: Solar Spotlight, brand, Solar Sales Here at Aurora, we’ve been thinking about how we can help you better sell solar to homeowners. We retained Katherine Glass, founder of SpringMark - a marketing and brand strategy firm, to interview homeowners and solar installers on our behalf. Our research culminated in a day-long roundtable session with a collection of leading solar sales professionals at our office in Palo Alto. We are excited to share what we learned with you in the form of a 3-part series: the first two articles will cover what we learned about branding, and the third will highlight tips for developing strong solar sales proposals, and unveil some new features to help you sell more solar. Brand is a word that every business owner has heard, but few know exactly what it is, why it is important, and how to build it effectively. Katherine Glass is an expert in helping companies create their marketing and branding strategy. She spent seven years at Lippincott where she worked on the branding strategy for companies like Delta, Petco, and Starbucks. Four years ago, Katherine launched her own firm, SpringMark, which works with young companies on creating, developing, and launching a cohesive and powerful brand. Here, Katherine shares her insights on how solar companies can use branding to increase sales. ### What is your definition of the word “brand”? Different people have different definitions, but the one that I always like the most is what Jeff Bezos of Amazon said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Your brand is everything about you that creates a reputation or sets an expectation for a customer. It doesn’t really matter what you’re saying about who you are if that’s not what people think about you. ### Now that you’ve gotten a feel for the solar industry, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to a burgeoning solar installer? Customer service is king. Because solar is becoming more of a commodity, I think good ol’ customer service is crucial for differentiation. Going in person to the house, giving fast responses to phone calls and emails, and really showing that you recognize this is a big purchase for most people will help garner loyal customers. Usually, customers are going to be living with the installation for many years, probably as long as they’re gonna be in the house, so acknowledging that fact helps sow the seeds of trust. Building that rapport will be the strongest way to win business. A lot of that is reflected in your brand by being professional, from wearing nice shirts with your logo on it to putting together a short and to-the-point presentation that tells a good story about what they’re doing. Anything they can do to create a cohesive brand is helpful, but having customer service people being genuine and helpful is most important. Customer service is king... building rapport will be the strongest way to win business. ### In your research with both solar buyers and solar installers, what are two things you saw solar installers doing right, and two things you saw them doing wrong, from a branding perspective? A lot of the solar installers I spoke with were very cognizant of being consistent with their brand. They make sure that typography, color palette, and messaging in their proposals matches their website and their business cards. This is a great step to both look professional and to reinforce who they are as a company. Another thing they’re doing right is experimenting. A lot of solar installers are looking at new and different ways to advertise and reach out to consumers. They’re using more traditional methods like radio ads and direct marketing, but also trying new things like customer referrals structures or throwing block parties after an installation within the community. I think constantly being open to trying new things is always great; you’ll see what works best and what reflects your values and personality as a brand. I think that since solar is becoming much more of a commodity and it’s hard for homeowners to differentiate this product, many homeowners focus on price. Smaller companies have to differentiate the value that they bring as a company in order to get people away from price. That may be emphasizing warranty or customer service, or whatever it is that makes them unique. Another thing for solar installers to improve upon is to be really clear about the story you’re telling when you’re selling. From a sales perspective and the way that you’re branding your sales decks, really be clear about what type of customer you’re talking to and address that customer specifically as fast as you can. Be really clear about the story you’re telling when you’re selling. ### How would you say that one’s branding strategy changes with size? The similarity between companies of all sizes is that everyone needs a brand. It doesn’t matter if you are business to business, business to consumer, small, medium, or large, your brand has to tell a clear and engaging story. What is different about small brands and big brands is that when you’re small, you have the opportunity to be a little more flexible; if you start out communicating that you’re one thing, chances are you will pivot and evolve over time. You need a brand that is flexible enough to accommodate that, from the name you have to the messaging on your website. A bigger brand, on the other hand, is more established; it’s a lot harder to change people’s perceptions of them. With a company like Coca-Cola or Nike, people have a very clear expectation in their minds about what that company is, and so it takes way more marketing dollars and touch-points with customers to actually change their viewpoints. Often times, a smaller company can make a splash more easily with the same amount of marketing dollars because it’s something novel and piques people’s curiosity more. Enjoyed this article? You can read more branding insights from Katherine Glass in the next article in this series, and learn about how to make your solar sales proposals more compelling in the third installment. What have you done to create your brand? Leave us a comment below, or tweet us at @AuroraSolarInc! Topics: Solar Spotlight, brand, Solar Sales This is an installment of our Solar Spotlight series With a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and a decade of solar experience, Michelle Meier is one of those people you want in your corner and never on the other side of the ring. She is the founder of Solar Roof Services, a company that helps roofing contractors boost their income by adding solar installation services to their existing book of business. I had the opportunity to peek inside the mind of the woman who is helping drive the adoption of solar by monetizing the natural synergies between the solar and roofing industries. ### Tell me a bit about yourself and your relationship to solar over the years. I started in solar in 2007. I have a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and I was in the semiconductor field for 20 years before solar. When I decided to reinvent myself I got hired by a roofer in San Jose and started their solar division. I learned solar from a roofing perspective from day one, which is really unique in the industry. I later went to work for GAF and became their national solar sales director, essentially incorporating their residential roofers into solar. When we decided to part ways, I thought "I've done this for two other companies, let me do this for myself." ### What exactly does that entail? I teach roofers how to take their roofing business and extend it to solar. It’s logical. We do that by partnering them with their current favorite electrician! I created an office that lets that contractor have no overhead. Our office does what you guys call a proposal, I call it a financial analysis. We do all of the utility paperwork, the permit package, and I even connect them to distribution. I help roofers turn every single roof lead into a solar lead. Michelle trains her clients to use Aurora for their remote site assessment or creates projects on their behalf. ### You’re a seasoned marketer in the solar industry. Can you describe the solar landscape from your perspective? My best way to describe it is—when I started doing this 10 years ago, people would look at you and say “Oh my gosh, you have solar?” Another five years from now and it’s gonna be exactly the opposite: “Wow, you don’t have solar?” In terms of the feasibility for homeowners getting solar, it varies. In California with the rates the way are, it’s almost stupid not to get solar when you can do the "no money down" options. No matter which financing option you go with, if you’re paying less for your solar payment plus whatever’s left on your utility bill than your current bill, it’s just stupid not to do it. I work with other states where it’s a little bit harder. However, the industry is ours to win or lose. Mar our reputation or build a great reputation, it’s ours. 10 years ago, people would look at you and say “Oh my gosh, you have solar?” Another five years from now and it’s gonna be exactly the opposite: “Wow, you don’t have solar?” ### How do you help the industry win? I come at it from the roofers. One of the things that we’ve found over the years is an average home has 14 penetrations. A bathroom vent, a kitchen hood vent, other normal penetrations on the roof of a typical home. An average solar system has 25-50 penetrations. So you took that 14 to 64! How much more of a chance did you make of having a leaky roof? Why is Joe Blow allowed to poke all those holes in a roof and not have it inspected? The direction that I come from is what makes the difference. The more and more we can give homeowners a trustworthy installation, the better our image will become. An average home has 14 penetrations. An average solar system has 25-50 penetrations. So you took that 14 to 64! ### What are the three most important pieces of advice that you give to your clients? First, always lead with your value-add as a roofer. The fact that you’re licensed to do penetrations, and you’re giving them a 10-year warranty on the roof, plain. On a tile roof that’s significant, for the following reason: if you walk across even a lightweight tile roof, you’re gonna break tile. Second, pull the local card because your locality is one of the bigger advantages against the big guys. Do you really want to depend on a company that doesn’t even have an office here? Third, go with the facts, don’t cheat. Underpromise, overdeliver. Always lead with your value-add, pull the local card, and underpromise, overdeliver. ### What is the biggest challenge facing solar installers today? For the roofer, the biggest challenge is that they’re new to the market and you’ve got all these established guys out there. So they have to sell their roofing reputation and hope that clients will trust them as they get into solar. ### If you couldn’t work with roofers who would you work with to help transition into solar? Electricians. Teach them how to do the roofing properly. Those penetrations; how to find that rafter, make sure it’s in the rafter, waterproof it, etc. ### Any secret talents? I was a competitive baton twirler. I put myself through college doing it; I was Featured Twirler for Mississippi State University for 5 years on a full tuition scholarship. That’s my secret hidden talent! We often receive requests from our clients asking us to make proposal templates for them. While our solar sales proposal tool does have all the information you need from a project, it’s up to each company to tailor their proposals to convey their company’s message and meet the needs and concerns of their specific customers. To help out those companies who are still confused about what exactly they should feature in a proposal, I talked to Ian Lochore, the Director of Residential Sales at Baker Electric Solar , for his advice on composing solar proposals. Baker is one of the country’s most respected solar installation firms and was twice ranked the #1 Solar Electrical Subcontractor in Solar Power World's Top 500 Solar Contractors List. Ian has almost 10 years of solar industry sales experience under his belt, so he was the perfect person to give me insights on mastering the ‘Why Solar’ pitch. ## Avoid ‘Green Preaching’ to Your Customer “People understand the social benefit of solar, and typically don’t like to be preached to,” Ian says. When customers are shopping for a solar system, they don’t need to be lectured on climate change or air pollution from coal plants. Your solar proposal should not be an Al Gore documentary. Instead, focus on making a solid case for energy bill savings. ## Highlight Instantaneous and Long-term Savings “It is more important to focus on the economics: What difference is it going to make to them and their family from a budgeting perspective?” Ian says proposals should stick to the financials. Show your customers compelling numbers that will convince them to make the purchase. “It’s similar to buying a new car.” Explain the benefits of installing solar on their homes over the entire lifetime of the system. Customers will want to see both the short-term and long-term effects. “What difference will this make to the client today or in the next year?” That is an important question to ask. “You should demonstrate the cash flows and utility bill savings over 5, 10, 15, 20 years in your proposal.” ## Offer Multiple Design and Financing Options “From there, it’s about making sure that the customer understands what’s right for them,” Ian says. The customer is always right. With today’s technology, creating solar designs and generating solar proposals is faster and easier than ever before. There is no reason a customer should not be able to see various panel configurations on their roofs. Salespeople should be prepared to show multiple solar design options and quickly adjust solar proposals to their needs. Every solar proposal should include a side-by-side comparison of available financing options. The customer should understand what the differences are, whether it’s a lease that’s allowing them to save more money upfront, or a cash purchase where the system is an investment with greater long-term savings. "A complete solar proposal gives the customer access to all the financial information out there." ## But don’t force your customer into a decision Cash, lease, or loan? Your client has options, but the choice is not always simple. You should guide your customer through the financing comparisons and find out what the best solution for them is. “What’s their cashflow situation? Do they want to use their money for a college fund?" "Different strokes for different folks.” Successful solar salespeople work with the client to find out what’s best for them. At the end of the day, the client should be able to freely choose between all the solar design and financing options that you have pitched to them. That is the secret to customer satisfaction. ## Demonstrate your company’s longevity and reliability Reassure your customer that you will be there to support them. “Who’s going to be there in seven years if there’s an issue?” Guarantees, warranties, and service packages should be included in every proposal. Going back to the car analogy: “What’s the service plan? Sure I want a car that will get me to places in style. But I also want to know, if there’s an issue with the car, is there a roadside warranty? What’s the history of issues with that make or model?” Building customer trust is important, especially because solar is a long-term investment. Guarantee that if 15 years down the line, their solar system has difficulties, your company will be around to answer their phone calls. “It’s not just price, but the value of their purchase as well.” ## Beyond the Solar Proposal One way of building trust is to engage in the local community. Baker Solar is engaged with local charities, such as the San Diego Food Bank and Habitat for Humanity in the Orange County area. Partnerships will help establish the presence of a solar installer in a neighborhood. Word of mouth is the oldest and most powerful marketing and sales tactic. Ian can attest to that: “60-70% of our business comes from referrals.” Maintaining your company’s integrity and branding is an underlying ingredient of any solar proposal. It could make or break the purchase decision for your customers. Hungry for more tips for top-notch solar proposals? We conducted extensive research to develop our updated proposals tool; you can check out our findings on what makes a great solar sales proposal here! This is an installment of our Solar Spotlight series. Click here for our last interview! The students of San Ramon Valley High School have to vie for parking spots on campus. Parking is a nightmare. According to one student, the demand for spots is so high that she rents a parking space from the Chinese restaurant across the street. After all, who wouldn't want to park in their lot? In 2011, the San Ramon Valley Unified Schools District installed a solar PV carport structure over the lot. They probably have one of the coolest parking lots in the Bay Area - the sun-tracking solar panels shield cars from the California heat, while generating two-thirds of the school’s electricity too. The solar carports in San Ramon Valley. Image courtesy of San Ramon Valley Unified Schools District. Carports with solar panels were also installed in four other schools in the district. The cumulative 3.4-MW system is expected to generate two-thirds of the electricity needed to power the five schools. The project was not cheap: the$25,000,000 construction and design costs were funded by Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs), meaning that the school district did not have to pay out of pocket for the solar installation, or any interest later on.

And that's not even the best part: the system will eventually pay for itself in energy savings after 16 years, and will save them millions for years to come.

Along with many other California schools, the San Ramon Valley district experienced budget cuts adding up to $20 million within five years. With their savings on electricity, the district can still invest in teachers and health resources for its students. And the students never have to worry about their cars overheating. San Ramon Valley is a great place to go to school. But the same is not true for the rest of the California. Back in 2011, the Department of Education published a report that indicated 40% of low-income schools are not receiving their fair share of funding. While the state has made efforts to restructure the school funding formula, California public schools are still lacking between$22 and $42 billion in funding, according to the California School Boards Association. California public schools spend over$700 million on energy every year according to the California Energy Commission. So why aren’t more districts installing solar carports and saving money like San Ramon Valley?

## Barriers to installation

Last week, I visited the four summer fellows of the Stanford Solar Schools Project, an initiative funded by the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy. The undergraduate fellows spent eight weeks of their summer break addressing this exact issue.

The 2016 Stanford TomKat undergraduate fellows.

To begin, the team reached out to several government agencies to learn about their projects. For example, Proposition 39 is set up to help schools with energy efficiency and other energy projects through grants. While funding schemes are available for schools, getting the money isn’t easy.

“There are a lot of programs out there, but it’s difficult for schools to find out about these programs and find the time and resources to fill out some of these applications, which are very expensive,” said Sneha, a junior majoring in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

## Modeling savings

To create the solar designs, the team needed the school’s energy consumption data and electric rates. The information was either provided by the school or from the online database of the California Energy Commission, which contains data from 400 schools across the state.

They imported the information into Aurora to closely model the load profile and potential energy savings of these schools. Then, they used the software to model the system in 3D, estimate the system’s energy production, and run a financial analysis, saving them from the hassle of having to go to the schools.

A school could save anywhere from $40,000 to$125,000 per year with a 313 kW solar PV system, according to estimates from the Environment California Research & Policy Center.

Since the designs needed to be as realistic as possible, the structural integrity of the school roofs was a key consideration. “Some of the roofs of the schools that we’re working with are really old, so probably couldn’t support the weight of solar panels,” said Claudia.

“So most of our designs are carports or some sort of shading structure on the school grounds,” she added, which also explains why carports are more popular for older schools, like in San Ramon Valley. In addition to carports, ground mounts could also be installed on unused property.

## Next steps

Over the course of the summer, the Solar Schools Project team modeled unique solar designs for 26 low-income schools across 10 school districts in California, serving a total of 20,910 students. Each proposal was complete with a shading analysis and financial estimates. While their skill with solar design can now rival that of some installers, they know that they have only scratched the surface, and that designing the models is only the first step.

While the team always waits for schools to express interest before sending the solar design proposal, they have to put faith in the superintendents and the facilities managers at the school to move forward with the project.

“We’ve shown them all the money they can save, proven that it’s worth the investment, and directed them to all the financial help they can get out there,” said Chewy.

Claudia expressed her concern that the receiving side might lack motivation: “We’re worried that they’ll think that it’s a good idea and that they’ll agree with us, but that no one is actually pushing to take action on the next things that are involved, like more work or more money going into it.”

## The power of local advocates

Even though the team has realized that there is only so much they can do from a distance, they still have hope for their proposals.

“We’ve learned the importance of the local advocate for our projects,” said Sneha. “They’re the people we’re trying to connect with, and we’re trying to give them tools to champion their project.”

All of them agreed that bureaucracy in the school system was expected, but the extent of it was still shocking. The processes can take months in the school districts, given complications with multiple stakeholders: the superintendent and the community, as well as the three-year turnovers in school boards.

“There are a lot of hoops to jump through,” Trevor reaffirmed Sneha’s statement, “That’s why again it’s so important to have a champion at the local level.”

The team has discussed using their research to make policy suggestions. They have become quite adept at navigating funding and other processes involved with solar installations for schools. “We want to give recommendations to actors at the state government level so that they can make those processes a bit simpler, based on what we’ve learned this summer.” said Chewy.

Perhaps the best local advocates are the high school students themselves. Trevor hopes that the implementation of a solar project will be a community-wide effort.

“If these superintendents get this big packet of information that we’ve provided, I can see high schoolers just jumping all over it and going to school board meetings and promoting it on a regular basis. That’s what happened in that San Ramon Valley.”

“So Myron, have you installed solar panels on your house?” I asked.

The answer was no: “I have these magnificent redwood trees, so that gives me trouble..”

Indeed, we performed a shading analysis on Myron’s house with Aurora. Shading from the trees prevented his roof from receiving enough irradiance to generate a meaningful amount of energy.

But we weren’t here to try to sell solar to Myron, or to convince him to chop down his magnificent redwoods. We wanted to get some insight into how economists think about buying solar installations for their homes. We were also looking for advice on solar business strategy and key economic indicators we should be following.

So on a sunny Monday morning, we sat down with Myron Scholes for a quick lesson on the macro- and micro- economics of solar.

Myron Scholes was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Economics for "a new method to determine the value of derivatives." His famed Black-Scholes formula is used by investment bankers every day to calculate options pricing around the world. Myron is a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and has been a long-time adviser to Aurora.

## What is your take on the current US and global economy?

It does appear to me that the risks of inflation have increased, consequently there could be unanticipated surprise on the plus side of inflation, in the US and around the world. We’re seeing that many inflation type assets have tended to increase in price such as oil, or gold, which is an indicator of inflation.

There is a real belief in the markets today, regardless of the party that’s elected to the presidency in the United States, that in 2017, at least in the first months, we will see many bills going through congress that will either increase infrastructure spending in the United States, and/or have some form of tax reduction for the middle class so they can foster consumption.

All of these tend to lead to a stronger US economy in the short run with the proviso that the debt increase necessary to bring this about means that future generations will have to pay it back, other than through the possibility that the projects they invest in will actuate positive present value. If they are positive present value, they’ll be self-sufficient and sustainable, otherwise they won’t.

## Given all of this, how would you advise solar installers to position themselves?

Being flexible at this time, especially with decision making. [Solar installers] don’t have large capital costs since they are providing things at the margin.

The question is how do you see [inflation] affecting the prices of the [solar] panels themselves. So they come from foreign countries. If China’s devaluing [their currency] and wanting to encourage their economy then they’re exporting the deflation… this makes the US Dollar stronger, which makes the cost of panels less. So it actually helps the importers more. If the US has the inflation to counter the deflation in China, Japan, then the benefit is to the solar panel installer.

## Any other suggestions on how to manage a solar business today?

Through the power of technology, you can’t just say one shoe fits all. You have to figure out how to handle a whole cross-section of different clients and their needs, and be efficient in doing that.

Technology always moves down to the individual and away from the total. When [the solar installation industry] first started, there was just one panel, and now you’re getting more differentiation and that’s a force that will continue. Installers will have to really be aware of that force and realize you need different types of panels, different configurations, different ways in which you address the clientele.

And speed. Clients like things to be done quickly. The question is how do you create a business that allows you not only to quote bids but to also satisfy and fulfill them.

The whole technology world is moving away from a product-focused to a solutions focus in the true sense of the word. That’s something they will have to be aware off. We’re getting closer and closer to a bespoke world and away from a product world.

The business person always wants to think of it as one product. But the individual wants something that works for them, so there’s this fight: take this product it’s good for you.

In economics, it’s what [the customers] want that counts, not what they supply for you.

## What does it take to sell solar to an economist?

The way I look at any installation is that it’s somewhat akin to buying a new car. It’s not whether you replace it, it’s when: should it be now or should it be next year?

And the way you think about that decision is that if the marginal cost of holding your car, holding your old power for one additional year is greater than the time-weighted cost of replacing, then you should replace.

There’s the cost of installing my solar panels, which is the fixed cost. I have the cost of the power itself plus the amortization of the cost of the panels over the expected life of the panel. You have to discount the same way that you do the mortgage on your house.

Each year you pay a mortgage, principal plus interest. You do the same with solar. You pay it down, period, such that at the end of its expected life, you’ve paid it off. And that’s the comparison of your marginal cost each year compared to the marginal cost of staying as you are.

So you can build a model very easily of which would show that. What’s the cost of your current power? What’s the cost of your solar power? And how would I amortize the cost of the panels over time such that at the end of the life of the panel I’ve paid it off and I can start over again. (Exactly how Aurora does it)

## What have you been up to nowadays?

I’m teaching a class at the GSB called The Evolution of Finance.

Additionally, I’m building a new investment business where I am concentrating on how to increase the value of your terminal wealth conditional on wanting to have a limited drawdown, or how much drawdown risk one is willing to take. So it’s a whole different focus from the current focus of the industry.

The current debate is between passive-active, should you invest passively in ETFs or index funds or active in active managers. That’s completely the wrong analogy.

Everything is relative. Everyone likes: “How am I doing relative to everyone else in the investment world?” I remember the titanic and everyone on the top level of the Titanic drinking champagne, while people below were drowning, trying to get to the lifeboats.

Absolutes are more important in life, not relatives.

## Any highlights of your career or what are you particularly proud of?

It might sound trite, but it’s true: I’ve always tried to give to students and others through what I know. That, I’m really proud of. It’s transferring my thinking either through research and papers and also transferring my thinking to students or others to whom I can transfer knowledge.

As you get older, you don’t only have theory, but you also have experience. The combo of theory and experience is very rich rather than either on its own. So I have a lot of theory and ways in which I think about a problem because I’ve studied them for a myriad of years. And on the other hand I’ve had a lot of experience and understand how things work and through that combination of experience I think I’m getting smarter and smarter over time. As I get smarter and smarter, it allows me to transfer that knowledge to others.

So I enjoy giving and that’s an important part of life.

## Not the Nobel Prize?

I mean obviously if you get awarded the Nobel Prize don’t turn it down- it’s a wonderful thing. But sometimes what you do in life is in part luck, if you’re in the right time right place and obviously having the vision to see things that others didn’t see for a long time.

There’s two parts to life: one part of life is what happens all time and how you see this and what you do with all the mystery around you and how you add value.

The other part is the tails of the distribution. Go for the tails, don’t go for the middle.

Obviously not the bad tail. Avoid the bad go for the good. So many people in life just stay in the middle.

Topics: Solar Spotlight