Products to watch: 9 customer service, proposal tools for the solar installer

solar installer customer service

The main components of a solar system, at this point, have been figured out. Module efficiency is higher than ever, inverters are more reliable and it’s tough to imagine more cost-effective and complete racking systems. So, what’s next? Storage? Sure, that’s coming at some point. Solar + storage + EV charging stations will be as common as air conditioning, and we’ll all be pushing buttons to create instant food like on the Jetsons. Heck, things will be so advanced, I’ll even have a reference to replace the Jetsons.

But in the meantime, the big opportunities for streamlining costs and improving lifetime system performance are in project modeling and monitoring. Finding, designing, pitching and selling systems in a streamlined way, and then extracting as much value out of that system as possible.

Luckily, there is a ton of innovation already in these areas. We rounded up a few platforms and products that might add that extra value to your process or save that extra Valium by easing your pain.

Aurora Solar SmartRoof

aurora solar smart roofAurora Solar Inc. is a fast-growing, cloud-based solar PV design and proposal software that is used to design over 12,000 new solar projects per week across the globe. Its latest creation is SmartRoof, a tool that allows anyone to accurately and easily model residential and commercial sites for solar projects. SmartRoof can intelligently infer the internal structure of a roof after a few clicks.

What’s cool about it?
Using the software, solar installers can just outline the perimeter of the roof and the software will automatically infer the rest of the roof’s structure. Aurora seems to have thought of everything, like quickly dragging and dropping dormers into the model and integrating them into their respective roof planes seamlessly. The remote site modeling tool enables designers to insert folds and intersect multiple roof structures, making modeling of complex roof structures significantly easier. This allows designers to create a permit-ready 3D model in less than a minute. In fact, its remote design and shade analysis tools are so accurate and reliable that several rebate authorities allow Aurora reports to replace measurements collected through a physical site visit and inspection, such as the Connecticut Green Bank, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Energy Trust of Oregon and a bunch more.

Continental Control Systems’ WattNode Meter

continental control wattnodeContinental Control Systems has designed a new meter module for mass production, the WattNode Meter, customizable for OEM metering design. Revenue-grade accuracy is obtainable using the CCS Accu-CT family of split-core current transformers.

What’s cool about it?
The WattNode Meter Module is a bidirectional networked energy meter offering energy measurement parameters such as energy (kW), power (kWh), voltage, current, demand, kVAR, kVARh, power factor, frequency, etc. These energy values are communicated using the Modbus RTU communication protocol over RS-485. The meter utilizes any external mounted or PCB mounted 0.333 Vac current transformers. Available as single- and three-phase modules, the meter is externally (instrument) powered from 12 to 24 Vac (isolated) or 6 to 24 Vdc. One model can measure 120 to 600 Vac, single-phase or three-phase, wye or delta services to measure bidirectionally, energy production and energy consumption. Available with a DIN rail mountable enclosure, the meter module is customizable, also available as a PCBA for imbedded energy measurement applications. The meter module is designed to be a low-cost customizable OEM meter. Cost reduction options such as no LEDs, no enclosure and component reduction for single-phase operation, are customizable examples that lead to a cost-competitive, high-accuracy meter for solar and energy storage applications.

Canvasser, by CutterCroix

cutter croix canvasser

With do-not-call and anti-spam laws in effect, it has made it difficult for companies to run direct marketing campaigns to reach potential customers. Canvasser, by CutterCroix is a mobile solution empowering organizations to streamline, optimize and take command of neighborhood campaigning efforts helping facilitate door-to-door prospecting, a $28.6 billion industry.

What’s cool about it?

  • Be more strategic in your campaigns and make data driven decisions using smart knocking and property data including homeowner, property and financial information.
  • Works on and off line, and is sensitive to data plans and battery consumption, to optimize its use in the field for extended periods of time.
  • Makes data collection a breeze and allows you to add custom questions to capture the data you want to collect to qualify prospects.
  • Follow-up appointments are scheduled using on-screen drag and drop calendar functions, giving visibility to other team members’ calendars.
  • Dictate notes using voice to text — spending more time knocking and less time typing.

MODsolar open platform proposal

Here’s what we know about selling solar: Inundating customers with too much complex information is intimidating. Also, a slow turnaround can make them impatient and lose interest. This is why the MODsolar platform only includes what your customers really need to know, saving resources and time (yours and theirs).

What’s cool about it?
The MODsolar platform is the solar industry’s first open platform for proposal creation, designed specifically to help regional installers close more deals. The MODsolar platform lets you create proposals in less than five minutes: Bring up a satellite image of your client’s rooftop, place the arrays, select the mounting type, compare different panels side-by-side and provide detailed computations of incentives and financing options. With a few clicks, you can print out proposals or email them straight to your clients while you’re still on the phone.

PayStand

Paystand solar payments

PayStand is a cloud payment suite that helps eliminate some of the largest financial challenges in accounts receivables and payables.

What’s cool about it?
With PayStand, solar distributors, manufacturers and installers, can take payments across multiple channels such as PayStand’s 0 percent network, as well as echeck bank transfers and wholesale ACH and card transactions all in one system. Further, PayStand works directly with invoices, automating financial processes alongside accounting software and ads powerful management and reporting capabilities.

eGauge multi-circuit monitor

egauge multi circuit monitor

The eGauge multi-circuit energy monitor combines a meter, data logger and server all into one. This powerful combination lets you record data for the lifetime of the device and analyze it with a graphical interface for free online. eGauge meters are built to be efficient, reliable and accurate and are made in the United States.

What’s cool about it?
Monitor everything: Measure up to 30 points of energy and power, including solar inverters, generators, battery backup systems and EV chargers. Record electricity with bi-directional current transformers to see which circuits are using or producing power. Track AC and DC power systems simultaneously.

Get analytical: The eGauge user interface displays graphical and numerical data for everything you measure on a web browser. You can access the interface with or without an internet connection (if you’re on the local network). Export data to spreadsheets, view custom time-frame summaries, see energy costs for each monitoring point. If you’re a true data junkie, there’s even an oscilloscope that shows voltage and amperage waveforms in real-time.

Promote your brand: The eGauge user interface has space on the home screen for a custom installer logo, which lets users advertise their installer’s brand every time they show off their solar production.

Stay informed: Send text or email alerts which trigger at user-defined thresholds. Alerts are particularly useful when offering performance guarantee contracts because they allow installers to proactively address problem systems.

PVSketch with PVCAD

pvsketch

PVSketch is used by hundreds of solar companies big and small to visualize solar designs, accurately model energy production, choose equipment, calculate customer energy savings with a detailed database of rate schedules and plop it all into a proposal.

What’s cool about it?
PVSketch is a one-stop-shop for solar project design. The hook for PVSketch is that it requires no training time and is designed for sales teams. PVSketch designs solar projects between 2 kW and 3 MW in size with accuracy in design, energy production and avoided costs calculations. Its functionality on mobile devices allows you to adjust designs on-site in real time with a customer.

PVSketch has a database of racking systems to help installers generate a bill of materials with their favorite racking hardware, modules and inverters, then move quickly on a closed sale by ordering the permit plan set or engineering diagrams delivered to their inbox. PVSketch also has a database of utility rates and tariffs for all 52 states for accurate savings calculations.

In addition, PVSketch can export project data to PVCAD. With PVCAD, engineers and drafters can build detailed permit plan sets including layouts, electrical drawings and bills of materials and quotes for projects of any size, whether rooftop, ground mount or utility scale. PVCAD quickly creates detailed drawing sets including array layouts, structural calculations, single line diagrams and everything else you need to obtain a permit and bid on any project — from a single-family home up to a multi-megawatt solar farm. Having a CAD software with a database of racking equipment allows you to generate layouts, bills of materials and wind zone calculations specific to your favorite racking manufacturer.

Tigo Energy SMART app

tigo energy smart app

Tigo’s latest creation is the SMART app, an asset management and commissioning solution that lets you design, lay out, configure, commission and monitor your PV system all from your mobile device. This app enables you to interface directly with Tigo’s Cloud Connect Advanced (CCA) software via an automatic WiFi Bluetooth connection. Select from more than 2,000 inverter types or add your own on the SMART App. For those installing a lot of Tigo systems already, you can also scan barcodes from a mobile device, troubleshoot system issues on-site and more.

What’s cool about it?
Tigo’s module-level online monitoring app provides system owners greater visibility into module-level performance. System analytics track production, send alerts and proactively suggest maintenance actions to keep systems operating at maximum efficiency. For increased safety, Tigo’s SMART website can remotely power off each module individually, eliminating high voltage for maintenance or safety purposes. The newest updates to the 3.0 version in late January 2018 include:

  • New languages: English, French, German, Chinese (Simplified), Italian, Korean and Spanish.
  • Saved searches: Terms and last position are saved when searched in System List.
  • Saved images: A system’s image are saved and reused once downloaded.
  • New metrics: Year-to-date (YTD) and Lifetime production data metrics are available.
  • WiFi connection screen: UX is more applicable to that of iOS and Android.

Solar-Log WEB Enerest

Solar-Log WEB Enerest

The Solar-Log WEB Enerest App is a new way to view your solar plant data. Powered by the Solar-Log WEB Enerest monitoring portal, this app provides a way to stay up to date on solar PV plant performance on the go, saving both time and money for solar installers and plant owners.

What’s cool about it?
The new premium features and comprehensive, interactive graphics create a convenient monitoring tool to keep plant operators fully informed about the status of their solar PV plants. A single solar plant or several plants can be presented on a dashboard with customized views. The Solar-Log WEB Enerest App can also show current and historical plant data, as well as data from connected components like consumption meters, weather sensors, heat pumps and heating rods. Actual yield can be compared to expected power production according to integrated weather data. This information allows the O&M provider to ensure maximized solar power production and protect the solar PV asset.

Swipe through energy production with daily, monthly, yearly and even lifetime graphs. Visualize home or building energy usage and energy flow to better understand how the energy is being used. Access any plant in your fleet with just one tap.

— Solar Builder magazine

Four services, tools to ease solar installer pain in 2018

The following article will appear in the Jan./Feb. issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for your free subscription (print or digital) today.

1. Education tools.

solar education preview

Often, the biggest hurdle for selling solar is a lack of understanding by potential customers. Energy costs can be hard to understand, not to mention the value propositions of different financing methods or the basic effect of the investment on home value. Luckily, more guides are available to aid in your explanation.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), How Owning a Solar System Impacts My Home Value: A Guide to Valuing Residential Solar Energy Systems, walks consumers through the various methodologies that professionals use to value a solar system and provides homeowners with tips along with a recommended valuation method. In the guide, SEIA advises readers to focus on the projected income a solar system will generate for the owner over its expected lifetime. According to a recent study by Sandia National Labs and Energy Sense Finance, that approach is typically used to determine value in home appraisals in major solar markets.

smappee solar storage

But the education shouldn’t stop at the sale. Smarter homes are starting to make the general public more aware of their energy use, which is also a helpful nudge toward selling solar systems. Smappee Plus is the coolest device for this that we’ve seen. It measures real-time energy use from household appliances, offering valuable insights into a homeowner’s energy use and production. Smappee Plus is the only energy monitor that combines load disaggregation with submetering technology to provide real-time data also for appliances with variable output –such as air conditioning, electric vehicles, heatpumps, etc. Consumers are able to see how much energy a device uses and its daily, monthly or annual energy costs. Consequentially, owners can make informed decisions on their energy consumption (e.g. when to buy a more energy efficient fridge) and act to save on energy costs and efficiency.

Smappee Plus is also the only energy monitor that you can program to take on the role of an “energy traffic controller” in the home. The product can automatically steer excess energy production, such as solar power, to appliances in order of preference, further increasing a homeowner’s energy efficiency and cost savings. You can choose from numerous “recipes” that automate certain actions.

2. Comparison shopping

EnergySage_Screenshot-1

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) has a wealth of information on incentives and policies that support renewable energy and energy efficiency in the United States, including solar. In order to make that info more accessible to those who need it, when they need it, the DSIRE teamed up with EnergySage, an online comparison shopping marketplace for solar. EnergySage and its full set of tools are now available through DSIRE, including comprehensive solar data on pricing and savings.

Like DSIRE, the EnergySage Solar Marketplace provides consumers with access to a free, unbiased content library built to simplify the process of researching and going solar. By collaborating with EnergySage, DSIRE is offering consumers the option to seamlessly move from education and research, to evaluating their solar options online.

3. Stronger protection

solar production warranty guarantee

Two stigmas to address here: 1) The worries of some customers (especially in a market like Ohio) of relying so much on the sun for energy when it feels like it’s cloudy all the time. 2) The reality that some solar systems are installed with subpar quality equipment that either underperforms, or fails but can’t be replaced because the company that provided the warranty went out of business.

One defense is always installing quality equipment by trusted brands with solid warranties. Another new concept is looking to third parties that guarantee performance for the lifetime of a PV system. Omnidian, for example, is a nationwide provider of comprehensive protection plans for investments in residential solar systems. Omnidian’s performance guarantee includes 24/7 continuous monitoring, proactive service alerts and 100-percent covered hardware and software through a nationwide network of field service professionals, as well as 100-percent guarantee of promised energy or plan owners will be reimbursed for energy loss.

Omnidian’s proprietary technology integrates with all major third-party monitoring platforms and quickly identifies underperforming assets requiring field service dispatch. The firm partners with a nationwide network of pre-certified field technicians. Omnidian’s 100-percent performance guarantee transfers solar energy production risk away from the asset owner. This risk transfer secures the solar energy investment, enhancing asset security and liberating capital.

4. Streamline payments

solar payments streamlined

Solar contractors are in a constant battle against soft costs, so every gain in efficiency helps. Frequently installers have disparate and fragmented systems in place for their billing and payments that increase the cost of their cash and require high degrees of financial and IT labor. Operationally, these legacy systems often mean solar businesses are taking a combination of extremely expensive credit cards (fees of 3 percent or more!), manually intensive bank payments, and a staggering number of paper checks that delay cash settlement. Rarely do these payments tie back to the financial systems or the POS/invoices, so manual labor and reconciliation end up introducing needless costs in lost productivity and customer maintenance.

In 2018, consider a new cash management process: from accounting software, to invoice, to receivables, to payments, to settlement, to reconciliation. PayStand is one such cloud payment suite. With PayStand, solar distributors, manufacturers and installers, can take payments across multiple channels such as PayStand’s 0% network, as well as echeck bank transfers, and wholesale ACH and card transactions all-in-one system. Further, PayStand works directly with invoices, automating financial processes alongside accounting software, and ads powerful management & reporting capabilities.

PayStand has recently added Allterra Solar, Geoscape Solar, Gunthers, and Simplify Solar to its ranks of solar customers. With PayStand, these new customers are enjoying the many benefits including: faster time to cash, a frictionless customer payment experience, automation & improved billing efficiencies, and significantly reduced transaction costs.

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar contractors ease payment, billing headaches with PayStand

Paystand solar payments

Solar contractors are in a constant battle against soft costs, so every effort at adding efficiency helps. Solar industry installers, distributors, manufacturers, and power producers are facing increasing cost pressures and competition as the industry grows. Frequently these companies have disparate and fragmented systems in place for their billing and payments that increase the cost of their cash and require high degrees of financial and IT labor.

Operationally, these legacy systems often mean solar businesses are taking a combination of extremely expensive credit cards (fees of 3% or more!), manually intensive bank payments, and a staggering number of paper checks that delay cash settlement. Rarely do these payments tie back to the financial systems or the POs/invoices, so manual labor and reconciliation end up introducing needless costs in lost productivity and customer maintenance.

Few solar companies have in place an end-to-end digital process for their cash management: from accounting software, to invoice, to receivables, to payments, to settlement, to reconciliation.

Meet PayStand

PayStand, is a cloud payment suite helps the solar industry eliminate some of their largest financial challenges in accounts receivables and payables.

With PayStand, solar distributors, manufacturers, and installers, can take payments across multiple channels such as PayStand’s 0% network, as well as echeck bank transfers, and wholesale ACH and card transactions all-in-one system. Further, PayStand works directly with invoices, automating financial processes alongside accounting software, and ads powerful management & reporting capabilities.

Four steps for converting more solar sales

PayStand has recently added Allterra Solar, Geoscape Solar, Gunthers, and Simplify Solar to its ranks of solar customers. With PayStand, these new customers are enjoying the many benefits including: faster time to cash, a frictionless customer payment experience, automation & improved billing efficiencies, and significantly reduced transaction costs.

“PayStand has been a tremendous asset to our business. I don’t have many partnerships I can trust like PayStand,” said James Allen, CEO of Allterra Solar. “They helped consolidate our multi vendor billing process, they lowered our transactional costs by 24%, and improved the speed we receive cash by over 2x. Not only that, but it’s nice that our team can pickup the phone and folks over there know us by name.”

“PayStand has helped Simplify Solar streamline efficiency in the solar market by not only coordinating payments with our customers but also with our vendors,” said Sohail Hassan, CEO of Simplify Solar. “This helps us achieve our mission to lower industry soft costs typically related to solar.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar contractors ease payment, billing headaches with PayStand

Paystand solar payments

Solar contractors are in a constant battle against soft costs, so every effort at adding efficiency helps. Solar industry installers, distributors, manufacturers, and power producers are facing increasing cost pressures and competition as the industry grows. Frequently these companies have disparate and fragmented systems in place for their billing and payments that increase the cost of their cash and require high degrees of financial and IT labor.

Operationally, these legacy systems often mean solar businesses are taking a combination of extremely expensive credit cards (fees of 3% or more!), manually intensive bank payments, and a staggering number of paper checks that delay cash settlement. Rarely do these payments tie back to the financial systems or the POs/invoices, so manual labor and reconciliation end up introducing needless costs in lost productivity and customer maintenance.

Few solar companies have in place an end-to-end digital process for their cash management: from accounting software, to invoice, to receivables, to payments, to settlement, to reconciliation.

Meet PayStand

PayStand, is a cloud payment suite helps the solar industry eliminate some of their largest financial challenges in accounts receivables and payables.

With PayStand, solar distributors, manufacturers, and installers, can take payments across multiple channels such as PayStand’s 0% network, as well as echeck bank transfers, and wholesale ACH and card transactions all-in-one system. Further, PayStand works directly with invoices, automating financial processes alongside accounting software, and ads powerful management & reporting capabilities.

Four steps for converting more solar sales

PayStand has recently added Allterra Solar, Geoscape Solar, Gunthers, and Simplify Solar to its ranks of solar customers. With PayStand, these new customers are enjoying the many benefits including: faster time to cash, a frictionless customer payment experience, automation & improved billing efficiencies, and significantly reduced transaction costs.

“PayStand has been a tremendous asset to our business. I don’t have many partnerships I can trust like PayStand,” said James Allen, CEO of Allterra Solar. “They helped consolidate our multi vendor billing process, they lowered our transactional costs by 24%, and improved the speed we receive cash by over 2x. Not only that, but it’s nice that our team can pickup the phone and folks over there know us by name.”

“PayStand has helped Simplify Solar streamline efficiency in the solar market by not only coordinating payments with our customers but also with our vendors,” said Sohail Hassan, CEO of Simplify Solar. “This helps us achieve our mission to lower industry soft costs typically related to solar.”

— Solar Builder magazine