Solar Installer Survey: Two-thirds will absorb solar tariff costs instead of passing to customers as confidence climbs

solar installer confidence

Solar installer confidence continues to climb nationwide, according to the third annual Solar Installer Survey, released by EnergySage and NABCEP. This is the largest and most comprehensive business climate survey of solar companies nationwide.

With nearly half of the 590 respondents stating they are more confident in the solar industry now than in prior years, confidence rose in key states such as Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington. However, customer acquisition challenges and changing regulations in the country’s largest solar market, California, resulted in a 27 percent drop in installer confidence. Additionally, installers called for better customer service and support from manufacturers, financiers and software providers as they try to win more business in an increasingly competitive solar market.

Three key insights from the 2017 Solar Installer Survey

1. Demand for solar-plus-storage surges – Nearly one in three solar shoppers are also interested in a home battery, according to respondents. Close rates for customers who receive quotes for solar-plus-storage are nearly 50 percent in some markets.

2. Installers may absorb solar tariff – The recently announced 30% tariff on imported solar cells and panels by the Trump administration may have less of an impact on residential solar than initially expected. Two-thirds of solar installers say they plan to absorb some or all of the cost of the tariff, rather than pass those costs along to the consumer.

3. Customer acquisition remains difficult – 37% of respondents stated that customer acquisition was harder in 2017 as compared to 2016, and that confusion created by competitors is still their number one challenge. Additionally, installers are prioritizing growth in market share over margins.

“For the second year in a row, confidence in the solar industry among installers is on the rise, with a meaningful jump in 2017,” said Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage. “From speaking with our installers across the country, we believe there are several reasons for continued optimism. Consumer interest in solar energy and home energy storage has never been higher. Given that prices remain competitive and the solar tariff is expected to only have a limited short-term impact, solar installers have much to look forward to in 2018 and beyond.”

EnergySage fielded this survey between December 14, 2017 and January 13, 2018. In addition to EnergySage, NABCEP, the leading certification organization for renewable energy professionals, as well as several large manufacturers, distributors, and industry associations sent the survey to their own installer networks. In total, 587 solar installers located across 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico participated.

You can download the full report here: Solar Installer Survey

— Solar Builder magazine

Solar Installer Survey: Two-thirds will absorb solar tariff costs instead of passing to customers as confidence climbs

solar installer confidence

Solar installer confidence continues to climb nationwide, according to the third annual Solar Installer Survey, released by EnergySage and NABCEP. This is the largest and most comprehensive business climate survey of solar companies nationwide.

With nearly half of the 590 respondents stating they are more confident in the solar industry now than in prior years, confidence rose in key states such as Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington. However, customer acquisition challenges and changing regulations in the country’s largest solar market, California, resulted in a 27 percent drop in installer confidence. Additionally, installers called for better customer service and support from manufacturers, financiers and software providers as they try to win more business in an increasingly competitive solar market.

Three key insights from the 2017 Solar Installer Survey

1. Demand for solar-plus-storage surges – Nearly one in three solar shoppers are also interested in a home battery, according to respondents. Close rates for customers who receive quotes for solar-plus-storage are nearly 50 percent in some markets.

2. Installers may absorb solar tariff – The recently announced 30% tariff on imported solar cells and panels by the Trump administration may have less of an impact on residential solar than initially expected. Two-thirds of solar installers say they plan to absorb some or all of the cost of the tariff, rather than pass those costs along to the consumer.

3. Customer acquisition remains difficult – 37% of respondents stated that customer acquisition was harder in 2017 as compared to 2016, and that confusion created by competitors is still their number one challenge. Additionally, installers are prioritizing growth in market share over margins.

“For the second year in a row, confidence in the solar industry among installers is on the rise, with a meaningful jump in 2017,” said Vikram Aggarwal, CEO and founder of EnergySage. “From speaking with our installers across the country, we believe there are several reasons for continued optimism. Consumer interest in solar energy and home energy storage has never been higher. Given that prices remain competitive and the solar tariff is expected to only have a limited short-term impact, solar installers have much to look forward to in 2018 and beyond.”

EnergySage fielded this survey between December 14, 2017 and January 13, 2018. In addition to EnergySage, NABCEP, the leading certification organization for renewable energy professionals, as well as several large manufacturers, distributors, and industry associations sent the survey to their own installer networks. In total, 587 solar installers located across 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico participated.

You can download the full report here: Solar Installer Survey

— Solar Builder magazine

Battery chemistry matters: What to know before installing solar + storage systems

battery

The days when a residential or commercial solar installer did not need to know the difference in performance between lead-acid and lithium-based batteries are over. Battery storage has emerged as an unavoidable complement to solar, slashing peak charges and outwitting utility time-of-use charge games, not to mention saving microgrids from outages.

Recommending battery chemistry to a customer is no less complicated than recommending a particular solar array solution. Depending on customer goals of low initial cost, ease of maintenance, frequency of use, depth of discharge, source of recharge energy, longevity and warranty, however, choices narrow down rapidly. Lowest life-cycle cost, or total cost of ownership calculations, performed for site-specific use, also help customers understand the variations in side-by-side options.

“There are some applications where lead-acid still presents the lowest cost of ownership, so if you are just doing peak shaving or off-grid backup, you can use lead-acid as long as your usage is tightly controlled and meets the requirements of a lead-acid system,” says Jason Zerbe, the systems marketing manager at Enersys. “In other cases the most important function of the battery is that it has 100 percent up-time. There, lithium starts to make sense because it can do more in a partial state of charge and because it is not necessary to fully recharge the battery periodically without affecting the lifetime of the battery, unlike with lead-acid.”

Historic leader: Lead-acid

Lead-acid battery solutions are far from antiquated, still capturing over a third of the global battery market. While it is true that lead-acid batteries are heavier than alternatives, charge more slowly and generate hydrogen gas as they age, lead-acid still provides a solid value at a low cost, and can disprove criticism of poor longevity in some configurations.

Deep-cycle lead-acid batteries can last as long as a solar array, with designed use. Trojan Battery recently branded a line of batteries specifically for the solar industry to prove this point. At the high end, Trojan’s Industrial grade lead-acid batteries can last up to 17 years, delivering 3,600 charge/discharge cycles at an average 50 percent depth of discharge (DOD). In comparison, Trojan’s solar absorbed glass mat (AGM) lead-acid battery lasts eight years, delivering 1,700 cycles at a 50 percent DOD.

Top 5 battery installation issues for solar installers

You need to consider how much your customer wants to participate in the storage process. Less-expensive flooded lead-acid batteries — costing from $100/kWh to $200/kWh — provide between 600 and 1,200 cycles and require water refilling maintenance, but AGM or gel chemistry lead-acid batteries, which are 20 percent more expensive, can provide about 1,700 cycles without requiring the extra maintenance, according to Erguen Oezcan, senior sales director for renewable energy at Trojan Battery.

The safety and environmental story of lead-acid is tricky. On the one hand, flooded batteries carry the extra costs of a venting system needed to draw off the hydrogen gas that is formed over time as well as a containment basin to guard against spills (a code requirement). But, on the plus-side, lead-acid batteries are 99 percent recycled — one of the most recycled products in industry today. Lithium batteries are not yet recyclable.

There are some relatively new additions to basic lead-acid chemistry to consider. Carbon-enhanced anodes limit the formation of sulfate deposits, which hamper performance and decrease battery life. Other innovations include the use of metallic agents to enhance the electrolyte, layered insulating wrappings for AGM mesh and so-called moss shields that limit internal shorts.

JLM Energy

JLM Energy recently installed more than a dozen residential Phazr MicroStorage plus solar projects in locations throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area to shave peaks when demand spikes.

Up and comer: Lithium-iron phosphate

When lithium-ion batteries came into common use, they seemed destined to capture the bulk of the battery market. But high prices — which thankfully are falling rapidly — combined with fire concerns have encouraged manufacturers to experiment with a variety of other lithium chemistry variations. One that’s emerging is lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP), which exhibits fast discharge, long life and greater operating safety than other variations.

LFP is a nontoxic, thermally stable material and is much safer — from fires and explosions — than the standard cobalt-containing lithium-ion (LiCoO2) chemistry. The difference in chemistry also makes the LFP less expensive than the lithium-ion battery.

The cost of LFP batteries is down to about $400 per MWh and should drop further as more large-scale production comes onto the market. “LFP battery costs have dropped 25 to 30 percent over the last two years,” says Catherine Von Burg, the CEO of SimpliPhi.

Still, commercial and industrial customers are seeing a return on investment for LFP in four years or less, when targeting problems like peak shaving, says Von Burg. Her company routinely installs LFP battery banks on C&I rooftops.

A host of local regulations have arisen to mitigate the fire risk from lithium-ion, which adds cost to both residential and commercial applications installed indoors. This is where LFP’s chemistry can make a difference — at the point of installation completion.

LFP performance can beat lithium-ion, with LFP batteries generally providing about 2,000 charge/discharge cycles, compared to about 1,000 for lithium-ion batteries, according to one industry source.

Because of its safety, rooftop battery solution provider JLM Energy also uses LFP in its Phazr battery system, which is mounted underneath each panel in a rooftop solar array.

One forward-looking advantage of using LFP battery systems is the growth of community solar, microgrids and other aggregated forms of distributed energy resources. As utilities become more capable of interacting with these DER systems, more smart, fast battery systems will be called upon to support the grid, if not also enabling some form of private-sector energy arbitrage, suggests Von Burg.

New standards

Comparing battery lifetime has become more standardized with the advent of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC) standard 61427 test, which provides performance criteria that all batteries for PV applications should be measured against. It offers a common, internationally accepted platform to compare and contrast batteries from different manufacturers.

Warranties are also widely variable, so trust in solid companies unless a reliable third-party warranty policy has been issued on the product. “There is a trend among battery companies with a limited reputation to give unbelievable warranty terms. Then the owner has to prove a lot of things to collect on the warranty, which is really tricky and in-transparent,” Oezcan says.

Battery showcase: Four solar + storage solutions for your next project

To aid in the information battle, independent energy certification body DNV GL just developed Battery XT, the first testing-based verification of battery lifetime for lithium-ion batteries. The independent verification tool compiles battery lifecycle data and predicts battery degradation under different conditions and duty cycles, providing renewables stakeholders with an objective way to compare the value and reliability of types and brands of energy storage technology as well as provide consulting on battery size and chemistry selection.

“As the storage market continues to expand, the ability to manage risk at the point of purchase is becoming increasingly important,” says Rich Barnes, executive vice president and regional manager for DNV GL Energy in North America. “Battery XT will empower stakeholders to make better purchasing decisions based on objective, third-party testing.”

This section was featured in the January/February 2018 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for a FREE subscription here.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

What makes a highly rated residential solar installer? Here’s three common attributes

solar contractor success

SolarReviews.com has analyzed consumer data from more than 3,500 solar installations and has identified these three characteristics that they think define the most successful residential solar installers as expressed by the customers themselves.

The most successful residential solar installers, based on information provided to the site by consumers themselves, are:

  1. Either family or privately owned,
  2. Limited in geographic scope (are not national companies) and
  3. Aren’t larger than 100 employees.

In contrast, the three companies with the worst consumer-provided ratings—all of which are national installers—are:

  1. Publicly held,
  2. Large companies with national (and sometimes international) footprints.

“Our data reinforces that in general, consumers prefer companies with deep roots in their communities, owned by people they know and see around town,” said Andrew Sendy, CEO of SolarReviews.com. “Companies like these receive the highest rankings in customer satisfaction and are often praised for their laser-like focus on customer service—and that makes sense. Once companies reach a certain size, it’s harder to maintain a personalized customer-service experience.”

The data also reveals that the average review score for all 2,800 installers reviewed on the site in 2017 is 4.63 out of 5 stars, indicating solar electricity still maintains a high standing among solar consumers. SolarReviews.com features a Top Rated Solar Installers list where customers can directly check the reviews of their prospective contractors. The site is a comprehensive solar information service providing prospective and current solar customers a wide variety of resources including, industry news, actual solar customer reviews, cost calculators by state/region, access to payback calculators and a vast array of content and advice written specifically to help solar customers.

Four steps for converting more solar sales

— Solar Builder magazine

Sunnova to offer solar installations in Nevada once again

Sunnova residential solar-001

Sunnova Energy Corporation says it will be offering solar installation services in Nevada once again. You may remember the net metering controversy in 2015-’16 that caused a bunch of solar companies to leave the state, with Sunnova being one of them. Then in June 2017, Nevada passed Assembly Bill 405 into law which reinstated net-metering for rooftop solar customers across the state. And now Sunnova is back.

“We are excited to bring our solar services into Nevada and offer consumers the opportunity to power their lives with solar energy,” said William J. (John) Berger, CEO of Sunnova Energy Corporation. “The demand for solar is an unstoppable force and we are thrilled to be a part of Nevada’s clean energy future.”

“On behalf of the state of Nevada, I am happy to be one of the first to say, ‘welcome back’ to Sunnova, the jobs they will help create, and the residential rooftop solar options they will provide consumers,” said Paul Anderson, Executive Director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “The solar industry is very much a part of the emergence of the new Nevada, and it’s always a positive sign when a company like Sunnova recognizes this and views our market as a growth opportunity.”

By offering various rooftop solar system solutions, Sunnova will give customers in Nevada the opportunity to customize and either own their systems, through Sunnova’s EZ Own plan, or purchase the power generated by the solar system through its EZ Pay PPA or PPA solar plans.

— Solar Builder magazine