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

Sunrun, Comcast ink deal on new solar installation marketing campaign

Sunrun logo

One of the solar’s big barriers is just simple awareness by the public, which makes deals like the following interesting: Sunrun reached a 40-month agreement with Comcast to accelerate the adoption of solar energy. Sunrun will be the exclusive residential solar energy provider for Comcast Cable, and Comcast Cable will serve as one of Sunrun’s strategic partners through marketing campaigns in selected markets.

“At Sunrun, we know homeowners love the savings, backup power and control they get with our solar energy and storage plans,” said Lynn Jurich, Chief Executive Officer at Sunrun. “Our challenge is making homeowners aware that they can save money with solar today. We are excited to work with Comcast to help their customers go solar and save on their electric bills while reducing their dependence on fossil fuels.”

“We believe the residential solar industry will continue to expand over the next decade as consumers look for more cost-efficient, independent and cleaner alternatives for their energy,” said Jon Kaplowitz, Managing Director and GM of New Businesses, Comcast Cable. “By working with Sunrun, Comcast can help customers take more control of the price they pay for energy, save them money and help contribute to cleaner communities.”

Four steps for converting more solar sales

Comcast currently offers customers the ability to manage, control and operate a number of key smart home functions, including energy consumption management, with its Xfinity Home service, a next-generation home security and home automation solution. Working with Sunrun to make smart solar energy and storage solutions available to consumers complements Comcast’s efforts to offer smart home services.

Comcast plans to begin marketing Sunrun’s rooftop solar services to its customers in selected states later this year. This agreement follows a successful one-year solar pilot-program in which participating Comcast customers chose Sunrun’s BrightSave offering, paying little to no money down to enjoy 20 years of solar energy at a fixed monthly rate.

As part of this agreement, Comcast will receive fees for new customers they bring to Sunrun. Comcast may also earn a warrant of up to 9.99% of Sunrun’s outstanding common shares. The warrant is earned pro rata only after 30,000 customers under the agreement are installed by Sunrun. The warrant is fully earned if Sunrun installs 60,000 customers under the agreement. More information on the warrant agreement can be found in an 8-K filing that Sunrun will file with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

— Solar Builder magazine

Sunrun becomes first large national installer to try Midwest expansion

Sunrun Inc., still plugging away as one of the largest national residential solar companies in the United States, is making its first bold stride into the Midwest and expanding its home solar service to Wisconsin.

Sunrun says customers in the state can either own their system outright with Sunrun BrightBuy, or own and finance it with Sunrun BrightAdvantage, using a loan arranged by Sunrun.

Sunrun logo“We are excited to bring affordable clean energy solutions to homeowners in Wisconsin,” said Lynn Jurich, Chief Executive Officer of Sunrun. “We see a demand for solar that has been underserved in the state and look forward to giving residents a choice to reduce their electric bills with solar, while providing value to the grid.”

Sunrun is now available to serve homeowners throughout southeast Wisconsin including, but not limited to the following counties: Dodge, Fond du Lac, Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Sheboygan, Walworth, Waukesha, and Washington.

RELATED: Why high-efficiency modules are the best value for installers, homeowners 

Midwest jobs

The company’s expansion into Wisconsin marks Sunrun’s entrance into the Midwest region, the first for any major national rooftop solar company. Sunrun is banking on its ability to enter new markets in a low fixed-cost way through collaborating with local partners in the state. Sunrun’s economic investment is adding job opportunities in Wisconsin, and it is currently hiring for several positions for their solar team in Southeast Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is a great place to do business and we are always encouraged when companies decide to set up shop in the Badger State, especially to see them investing in our talented workforce,” said Ray Allen, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD). “The energy sector offers good job opportunities and a path forward for the state to continue growing its economy and developing the workforce.”

Sunrun employs over 3,000 people across the country and has already helped nearly 135,000 homeowners save on their electric bills.

— Solar Builder magazine

Sunrun adds LG Chem batteries to its U.S. solar-plus-storage system

Sunrun logoSunrun Inc. and LG Chem, are launching a partnership for the U.S. residential solar market, in which Sunrun will offer LG Chem’s lithium-ion RESU batteries through Sunrun BrightBox solar-plus-storage systems.

LG Chem’s lithium-ion batteries have a track record of performance success in the electric vehicle market and offer durability at an affordable price point. LG Chem is the world’s largest automotive battery supplier, counting 16 of the top 29 global automakers as partners.

“The energy storage market is advancing at a breakneck pace. At Sunrun, we are enabling a home energy management service that integrates rooftop solar generation with onsite energy storage to offer greater energy choice and savings to our customers while helping to modernize the grid,” said Chief Marketing Officer Michael Grasso. “We’re thrilled to offer LG Chem’s best-in-class battery technology to homeowners. The partnership with LG Chem supports our financing advantage, enabling our customers to install solar plus energy storage for little to no money down.”

What is the Sunrun BrightBox?

sunrun bright box solar storage

Sunrun BrightBox combines solar generation with energy storage giving consumers new ways to manage their energy. In Hawaii, Sunrun BrightBox is giving consumers the ability to self-supply their own energy day and night. In the future, Sunrun BrightBox will allow consumers with time-of-use tariffs to time shift when they use solar energy to minimize paying peak rate energy prices.

BrightBox will also allow customers the ability to have access to power when grid power isn’t available. Sunrun and their installation partners take care of everything from permitting to installation so customers can go solar hassle-free. BrightBox is currently available in Hawaii to customers as an affordable monthly or prepaid lease for little to no money down or as a direct cash or loan purchase. All customers need to think about is how much money they’ll be saving. More states will be announced in the coming months.

Sunrun will also make LG Chem’s battery solution available to the entire solar energy industry through its subsidiary AEE Solar, the leading nationwide distributor of solar products.

RELATED: Primer for buying, installing residential solar+storage systems 

— Solar Builder magazine

What is next for the solar industry? Executives share their thoughts

Get a group of solar industry leaders on a stage in 2016, and all discussions tend to veer into the existential. This is our takeaway from this year’s Solar Power International conference, which took place in Las Vegas, Sept. 12-15. Obviously everyone on those stages agreed that solar power should be the way of the present and is the way of the future, but the path to that future is the main subject of debate. How do we get there? Is it net-metering? What role do utilities play there? What is the collaborative solution?

The bad news is no one has the final answer on those questions, but the fact that these are questions in the first place is good news because it means the solar industry has a crucial role to play in the world going forward. We just have to pick a path. Here are some routes to get there, according to voices on stage during the general sessions over the course of three days.

SPI Lead photo

From left: Jeffrey Ball, Stanford University; David Crane, Pegasus Capital Advisors; Nat Kreamer, Spruce Financial; Steve Malnight, Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Misalignment of interests

California is the world’s sixth largest economy, and the success of its solar industry should be instructive to the rest of the country and world. But as Nat Kreamer, president and CEO of Spruce Finance, pointed out, you can’t draw a straight line from California policy to every other state in the union. In places like Nevada, there is a misalignment of interests in the utility business model and public policy that instead leads to lines drawn in the sand.

“We ran monopolies to utilities to serve the public good. In California, they changed their business to serve the public good, but in a way to attract investment capital,” he said. “In New York, it’s shifting but almost everywhere else it’s not true. So what it means for distributed generation and residential solar is a fight.”

SunLink CEO insight

SunLink CEO Michael Maulick

Evolving business models

Does the business model for solar need to evolve? Several panelists thought so. Kreamer placed the industry’s missteps to this point in this context: “We have this really great technology and value proposition that people want to take, and it saves money and the planet, is good for community, has really long cash flows — we took that fun, exciting thing, and we sold it to people as an equity in a way that loses money.”

Without the benefit of hindsight though, distributed generation got its start in many places the way it had to, considering it wasn’t price competitive, noted David Crane, senior operation executive at Pegasus Capital Advisors. In retrospect, too many companies went public too early and hurt the industry’s ability to be nimble.

“Having run a public company … the public market doesn’t like divergence in strategy,” he said. “They want something predictable. I think it would have been better for the business model to evolve in nonpublic companies.”

“We were still so small as part of the energy mix that we could push the product out in a way that was inconvenient, but people were so motivated they would find their way through it,” said Craig Cornelius, president of NRG Renewables. “Being a supply-push industry, we put a lot of inconveniences on the customer or the electricity system that we inhabit. We now have to take those inconveniences upon ourselves.”

RELATED: Four steps for converting more solar sales 

Changing hearts and minds

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From left: Julia Hamm, SEPA; Kenneth Munson, Sunverge Energy; Ron Nichols, Southern California Edison.

The other battle that panelists continued to bring up was for the more nebulous concept of the hearts and minds of consumers. Is there a tipping point for solar panels to be the “next iPhone” or a part of a similar shift in the way people live?

Getting there is a challenge. As Crane put it, simply, “customers want cheaper rates to charge things.” But as Kreamer put it: “We need a change in behavior. You will fail if you only focus on price.”

As the industry has shown getting to this point though, changing prices are somewhat integral to changing behavior. To Lynn Jurich, CEO at Sunrun, the goal right now is almost to stay that same course, just work to reduce the complexity of everything — so, changing behavior through simplicity.

“From the consumer perspective, there needs to be more certainty and longevity in rate structures,” she said. “They want to know ‘what’s my bill before and what’s my bill after?’ Attempts for demand charges to complicate a bill halts all of this adoption. It is complicated to explain.”

But on the other hand, maybe adding all of this distributed generation to the grid involves too much complexity. That’s at least the utility side of the story. Ron Nichols, president of Southern California Edison, noted the sheer amount of customers they are trying to serve: “Just to meet load changes we had to make 122,000 changes short and long term. We have to make all of that work in a harmonious system that works every second.”

“When we look at solar, it’s a no brainer, but we look at it as its own entity instead of looking at it from the utility perspective,” said Michael Maulick, CEO of SunLink. “They are providing a great service, so how do we look at their problems with retiring coal-fired plants and make solar a viable alternative?”

“What we’re talking about is fundamentally upending the way power is generated, served and distributed. It’s going to be complex,” said Kenneth Munson, president and co-founder of Sunverge Energy. “How we bridge that is going to be driven by devices within the home that are going to be meant to interpret these complexities in real time to provide the solutions. We don’t necessarily have to have all the answers today.”

— Solar Builder magazine