Executive Insight, Smart Grid

Distributed Solar: Exploring New Opportunities

Over one million solar energy systems have been installed in the United States, with 80 percent of these installations occurring in the last five years alone. Attractive incentives and declining installation costs have created an opportunity for consumers to save significantly on their energy costs by investing in solar. Many expect this market growth to continue, potentially eroding utility revenues. At the same time, high-pressure sales tactics, poor quality installations and complex financial schemes are often targeting the most vulnerable customers, and issues related to these practices burden utility call centers with customer complaints.

All of this has created an opportunity for utilities to tap into the inevitable growth of solar and create new revenue streams, while also offering valuable services that protect their customers from unfair solar practices and reduce administrative responsibilities.

A Solar Marketplace

A solar marketplace is a vendor-neutral online platform that allows consumers to receive multiple quotes from high quality solar providers. The quotes are presented in a clear, apples-to-apples format for easy comparison, coupled with impartial customer support to help consumers make sound solar purchase decisions. Utilities like National Grid have chosen to leverage a solar marketplace to protect and assist their customers, while sharing in the revenues generated through the marketplace. National Grid’s SolarWise program in Rhode Island is a great example of how utilities can use a solar marketplace to turn lost revenue from customer defection into a win for both their brand and their bottom line.

SolarWise Rhode Island

In 2016, National Grid launched a new solar incentive program in Rhode Island that allowed customers to achieve higher performance-based incentives (PBI) if they invested in certain energy efficiency (EE) improvements that would lower their electricity demand. The incentive also required solar system sizing to offset no more than the adjusted annual load after taking into account these EE actions. National Grid engaged online marketplace company EnergySage to offer their energy audit customers a solar marketplace that includes:

·         A branded customer experience that protects participants

·         An instant solar estimate for each customer

·         A vendor-neutral solution for receiving quotes from local solar companies

·         Customization to include their unique PBI incentive structure

·         Ability to “right size” solar systems in the quotes to meet offset requirements

·         Real-time program reporting through an online portal

The requested solution was delivered in early 2016 and included the development of customized marketing collateral that customers receive during their home energy audits, as well as training of energy auditors on the SolarWise Solar Marketplace. Auditors were trained to inform customers about the program and handed out brochures that prompted them to visit a custom, utility-branded website.

SolarWise Customer Experience

Customers with interest in moving forward are invited to create an account on the marketplace to get solar quotes. The marketplace includes more than a dozen pre-screened, local solar companies, giving customers choice and significant transparency in comparing the quotes from these companies. If customers have any questions about incentives, system size, financing, etc., they have full access to a team of trained solar advisors.

About the author: John Gingrich is the SVP Strategic Partnerships at EnergySage, an online solar marketplace for rooftop and commercial solar.