GTM: Sunrun tops SolarCity as lease sales leader, and more residential solar sales stats

Sunrun logo

2017 isn’t quite the banner year for solar that 2016 was. Aside from the trade case drama, it has also been a tumultuous year for the big names in the residential solar space. Three of the largest installers, including NRG Home Solar, Sungevity and Direct Energy Solar, have gone bankrupt or exited the residential sector. Since struggling SolarCity was acquired by Tesla, its residential business has dwindled. But Sunrun, who has seen moderate and consistent deployment growth over the last few years, has worked to fill the gap and serves as a prime example that struggles in the residential solar industry may stem from company-specific failings rather than industry-wide trends. GTM Research saw this coming, and relayed the following stats on the residential solar sector.

sunrun solar city leases

As a residential lease and PPA provider, Q3 earnings presentations indicate that Sunrun has already surpassed SolarCity based on capacity financed so far in 2017. Through the first half of the year, Sunrun narrowly missed the top spot in the TPO market with 27% market share, just behind SolarCity’s 31% share and up considerably from its 18% share in 2016. That difference of 4% market share between SolarCity and Sunrun equated to just 19 MW over two quarters. And in Q3, Sunrun financed 80 MW of systems, while SolarCity financed no more than 59 MW (a ceiling, as some of SolarCity’s systems were from its commercial business), a difference in Sunrun’s favor of more than 20 MW.

Of course, there are other ways to look at the market outside of who is financing systems. Much of SolarCity’s fall as a top residential financier has been due to its deliberate pivot away from TPO financing in order to increase its cash position. Today, nearly half of SolarCity’s systems are sold for cash or loans, and this pivot is inextricably linked to loan provider Mosaic’s prominent position in the loan market.

But looking at the residential market by total deployments (including leases, PPAs, loans and cash sales), GTM says Sunrun likely surpassed SolarCity as the leader in the space for the third quarter of 2017. According to the U.S. Residential Solar Finance Update, SolarCity deployed 233 MW of residential solar in H1 2017, Sunrun deployed 148 MW, and Vivint Solar deployed 93 MW. Yet in Q3 2017, these companies deployed 109 MW, 90 MW, and 47 MW, respectively (SolarCity’s 109 MW includes its commercial business).

So, if 18% or more of SolarCity’s Q3 installations were in its commercial business (which is reasonable given SolarCity’s historic channel mix), then Sunrun would have narrowly out-installed SolarCity in the quarter.

New sales channels and finance offerings

sunrun solar city

Both SolarCity and Vivint have endured high customer acquisition costs as mature markets have become oversaturated, and the companies have been forced to scale back operations in unprofitable markets. Specifically, SolarCity has dropped its door to door sales channel and instead is focusing on acquiring customers through digital leads. Vivint Solar, which has traditionally relied primarily on door to door sales, has added retail sales to its mix. And while these customer acquisition strategy changes are aimed to bring costs down in the long term, the slow-moving transition to these new strategies has had a short term effect of increasing costs and decreasing sales.

Equally important, both SolarCity and Vivint Solar have made concerted efforts to increase cash and loans sales as a portion of their product mixes.

While the companies make better margins off their TPO products, years of selling leases and PPAs (where the companies receive payment from the customer over a 20 year term) have left both companies in dire need of cash in the near term. Cash and loan sales allow the installers to realize immediate payment for systems they install. But even this change comes at a cost. SolarCity and Vivint Solar employ salespeople who have been selling leases and PPAs for more than 10 and 5 years, respectively. The transition to selling loans has been difficult on sales teams that are forced to change their long-honed pitches, contributing to the sales declines by these companies.

But as nearly every other large national installation company has struggled to grow this year, Sunrun is a standout as its growth has outpaced the market. Unlike its largest competitors, Sunrun has seen customer acquisition costs come down in recent quarters. And unlike SolarCity and Vivint Solar, Sunrun services the market both through its direct installation business as well as with Sunrun leases and PPAs delivered through its dealer network. By utilizing a dealer network to deploy systems, Sunrun is able to grow as the long tail of installers in its network grow as well. And while not all long tail installers are growing, Sunrun’s stringent vetting of installer partners weeds out the weaker installation companies who are more likely to go in and out of business with market boom and bust cycles.

Fact: People want solar energy. Here are some stats on why

Is the residential solar financier shakeup here to stay?

As SolarCity and Vivint Solar have deliberately scaled back operations and moved away from employing a strictly vertically-integrated installer and financier model, Sunrun has jumped on the opportunity. Unlike its competitors, Sunrun continues to primarily sell TPO systems through its direct and installer network businesses.

But recent success for Sunrun does not guarantee continued success. While Sunrun is now the leading TPO financier in the residential solar market, questions remain as to the size of that addressable market. As the residential market grows into the future, GTM Research expects the TPO market to stay relatively flat through 2022, putting a ceiling on the market that Sunrun can address. The current transition of the market away from TPO, which, according to GTM Research, will make up just 37% of the residential market in 2017 as compared to 53% in 2016, is primarily due to what leading installers are choosing to sell.

But there is downside risk to the size of the addressable TPO market. As residential system costs continue to decline, consumer-driven demand for TPO financing could become a prevailing force squeezing that market, leaving Sunrun behind the curve. There is certainly ample opportunity for Sunrun to increase its market share with its leases and PPAs, though the company has little room for error in a market with a low ceiling.

— Solar Builder magazine

Fact: People want solar energy. Here are some stats on why

solar customer stats

See? They love it.

One truth that gets glossed over in the debate over how much or how little to incentivize solar energy as part of our energy future – people actively want it. Two reports were released last week to provide some more insight into who these people are and what they like about solar.

The 2017 Residential Solar Industry Study, an in-depth study of the residential solar market produced by market research firm Provoke Insights, surveyed 2,666 consumers nationwide and specifically examined consumer attitudes about purchasing solar power.

“People are motivated to buy solar because of the dramatic cost savings,” explains Carly Fink, principal, head of strategy and research, Provoke Insights. “The cost of residential solar to consumers has decreased by 40% over the past 5 years, making the decision to go solar completely viable for an increasing number of homeowners.”

The conversation about solar power is often initiated when neighbors see solar panels on other homes; approximately two-thirds of referrals are given in person. The study also revealed underlying factors in solar provider choice, looking at net promoter scores. Full disclosure: The Provoke Insights study was commissioned by SunPower and distributed in July 2017 to identify trends, purchasing patterns and customer insights.

Study highlights

  • 41% of those surveyed say that the primary reason for choosing solar is potential savings over time and protection against rate increases from the utility company.
  • More than half of solar users say that 75% of their electric bill is covered by solar.
  • Men are 66% more likely to be the decision-maker in purchasing a solar energy system. Political party affiliation does not dictate the choice to switch to solar.
  • Regarding aesthetics, roof orientation is a concern for 70% of solar energy users; panel aesthetics are a concern among 63% of women vs. 59% of men.
  • 66% of solar energy users would install a solar energy system again if they moved to a different house.
  • 50% of consumers will choose a solar provider based on the recommendation of a neighbor or friend.
  • Consumers use three primary payment methods to going solar: Paying cash (36%), financing with a lease (36%) and financing with a solar loan (28%).

Customers favor bundling

solar system bundling

Research firm Itron recently released a report, Non-Tariff Revenue Models for Energy Providers, showing 20-25% of homeowners in U.S. broadband households are interested in bundling energy with a home service such as HVAC, warranty, or home security. These findings were presented at the Smart Energy Summit, which focuses on energy efficiency, demand response, and home energy management solutions.

“Bundling solar with energy services received the most consumer interest — 40% of U.S. homeowners in broadband households are interested in bundling solar power purchasing with their electricity bill,” said Tom Kerber, Director, IoT Strategy, Parks Associates. “Roughly 25% of homeowners are interested in bundling HVAC maintenance services or home warranties with energy services. As retail energy providers experience narrowing margins in their core business, they are examining alternate strategies to build new revenues. At Smart Energy Summit, we examine these efforts to diversify and the role of smart home solutions in creating new opportunities.” generation, and energy efficiency offerings.

Other stats from the report:

  • 40% of U.S. broadband households are familiar with smart thermostats, but only 11% own one.
  • About 50% of U.S. households have smart meters, but the number of the utilities and energy providers offering time-varying rate structures is relatively small.
  • Over 50% of U.S. broadband households would purchase a smart device to manage energy consumption during TOU peak hours.
  • 38% of U.S. broadband households would purchase a smart thermostat for use in TOU programs.
  • 45% of U.S. broadband households have interest in TOU plans.
  • 22% of U.S. broadband households would purchase a $250 smart thermostat with a $100 mail-in rebate.

— Solar Builder magazine

Watch: Stellar Solar goes inside some of its residential installations on Solar Cribs series

I don’t know about you, but we love a good solar installation story, which is why we enjoy this Solar Cribs YouTube series launched by Stellar Solar, San Diego’s oldest SunPower dealer and one of two Master Dealers in San Diego County. Above we have episode three, which features the story of Michael and Jeanne Powers from their first solar installation in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, to their new home that features a unique racking system custom built to optimize a less than perfect roof pitch and direction.

As Michael describes in this episode and has been preaching for years, going solar should be an easy decision for most homeowners when they look at the history of utility rate increases and the ever-shortening return on investment.

“I’ve always asked homeowners a few simple questions when they ask about going solar. The first is to do the math and see what their current utility bill will cost them over the next 20-30 years. Then ask them add in a very conservative utility rate increase based on historic averages. When they look at the numbers they see the light and that’s what gives me the most satisfaction.” He added, “It’s been a thrill for me to see solar take off not only in San Diego but nationally and globally. I’m proud to have played a part to educate consumers to help spur that growth.”

Michael has also been a vocal supporter of Community Choice Energy, a program that allows cities and counties to buy and/or generate electricity for residents and businesses within their areas. The Climate Action Campaign in San Diego is an organization whose goal is to “Stop Climate Change – One City at a Time” is a proponent of Community Choice Energy and has worked closely with Michael over the years on that and other renewable energy related issues.

SB Buzz Podcast: Discussing rail-less mounting with Ecolibrium Solar

— Solar Builder magazine

SB Buzz Podcast: Discussing rail-less mounting with Ecolibrium Solar

Ecolibrium

We ventured out to Boulder, Colo., to discuss rail-less solar mounting with Chris Berg and Jonah Coles of Ecolibrium Solar. Because it is Colorado, the Ecolibrium office was located like 50 feet from a brewery, Asher Brewing Co., so that seemed like a good place to chat.

Click to listen (and subscribe!) below. Here’s what to look for in the discussion:

First minute: Beer selection.

2-min mark: Ecolibrium has a streamlined process for testing UL 2703 compliance because it is a certified partner lab of TÜV Rheinland Group. Chris explains how having this testing in-house adds to its product development.

4-min: We discuss the acceptance level of rail-less mounting in the market right now, and why, in Jonah’s view, it will only gain more ground as more installers get trained on these systems.

“Installers might not like it in the first week; they will come around in week two, and by the end of the month they won’t want to go back,” Jonah says. Then explains what hurdles need to be overcome in that first month and what advantages that can be gained, both on site and by doing more jobs overall.

10-min: Jonah dives into what he sees as myths about rail-less racking. One of them being that rail-less is only good if you have a perfect rectangle.

“I feel it’s the exact opposite. I installed rail for years before I came to Ecolibrium and was introduced here to rail-les, and if I have a couple of offset rows of panels [with rail] I have to square up that rail every time I have a new offset panel. But the panel is square, so if you don’t have a rail and you’re dropping a panel in, as long as you’ve placed your mounts where the panel is going to cover … there isn’t any squaring to do.”

14-min: We discuss the challenges and new considerations that exist with rail-less mounting. Plus, what should you look for when procuring a rail-less system?

18:50: We decided whether to stop the podcast and eat lunch or keep going.

19:01: We keep going.

19:08: What more can we expect to see in terms of rooftop solar product development, both residential and commercial – and how these developments can continue to grow the solar contractor market.

27-min: Examples they’ve seen (or things they would like to see) to keep removing soft costs from the installation process.

— Solar Builder magazine

EnergySage, DSIRE team up for better solar system comparison shopping

solar online shopping

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 is teaming 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.

“The collaboration represents DSIRE’s ongoing effort to better assist its users. Visitors who are interested in solar now have a seamless bridge that connects important incentive and policy information with ways to take informed action. The value of bridging this gap cannot be overemphasized because progress is made when good information leads to doing the right thing,” states Henry Tsai, Deputy Director of the NC. Clean Energy Technology Center, which administers DSIRE.

Backed by the U.S. Department of Energy and with a growing network of more than 400 pre-screened solar installation companies, EnergySage is recommended by more than 50 prominent organizations that utilize the EnergySage platform to help their employees, customers, members, residents, etc. better understand their solar energy options.

Four steps for converting more solar sales

— Solar Builder magazine