Installers face a difficult task in educating and selling a solar + storage system to a prospective residential or commercial customer, but that task is becoming much more manageable, thanks to an evolving host of software programs and integrated software suites.
“New and evolving solar and storage economic variables are going to make it very hard for homeowners to understand the potential benefits of a system. That’s a challenge for us, and it’s not easy,” says Deep Chakraborty, the CEO of Enact Systems. Globally, the Enact platform has thousands of users in over 20 countries.
“It’s very hard to explain to a customer what batteries do every day in financial terms; you can show them unlinked graphs, charts, and calculations, but without cohesive software it’s difficult; it’s our job to do that,” Chakraborty says.
His company provides installers with tailored residential proposals for $20 and commercial proposals for $40, within 24 hours, helping sales teams to design, price and sell remotely, finalize contracts and track project execution.
So many variables at play
Pre-storage, explaining the economic logic of adopting a solar system was fairly straightforward. However, with the advent of storage, wild weather outages, EV charging and morphing utility rates, the task of presenting a clear economic advantage to a prospective customer became many times more complex, system suppliers say.
Enter graphic-based cloud software, outfitted with tax records, FICO profiles, roof mapping, weather databases, utility bills, local utility rates and far more.
The broad set of data helps, but the broader adoption of software tied to solar + storage assets can further enhance the local analysis necessary to show customers value.
“We can show a homeowner examples of existing systems in their ZIP code, and let them look at how energy is going in and out, without naming the system owners or revealing their bills. Showing these outcomes as aggregation is a very well, very powerful thing,” Chakraborty says.
EV charging & discharging variables
The latest complication thrown at solar + storage systems is the set of EV charging and discharging variables. With two-way smart inverters now becoming a standard feature, and with bidirectional EV charging entering the mix, wall batteries can charge the EV, and when the vehicle is idle at the home or office, the EV battery can help with chores like time of use (TOU) rate management and peak-shaving behind the meter.
As more EVs are adopted, two-way charging will offer new opportunities for savings management through software. “These days, we have homeowners with solar, storage and one EV looking to add another EV, asking us for economic comparisons of more panels and/or more storage. We do that all the time,” says Chakraborty.
EV charging, in and of itself, is also becoming a more complex activity to plan for. “Customers seeking to go from a regular charger to a fast charger end up with more complicated questions about how adding more solar or more batteries may work, and we address that,” Chakraborty adds.
Enter VPP & aggregate data
Many solar + storage software solutions are virtual power plant (VPP) ready, which means a storage system owner can both tap storage assets for energy and/or export energy to the grid as part of a wider aggregation, either as grid support, or in more advanced situations, as energy arbitrage in the wholesale market.
“The role of VPPs is very, very much the question in 2023,” Chakraborty says. “The bottom line is VPPs are coming. It’s no longer a very difficult thing to do aggregation of energy because it’s just collecting information, not electrons. It’s becoming common, we are on top of it. We have integrated our software platform with many inverter manufacturers, and many of them now allow the VPP aggregation feature on their storage system.”
The aggregation of data permits not only the export of energy to the grid, but also peer comparisons within the VPP. “On our platform, we have hundreds of homeowners, and there’s probably no single day where we don’t get performance insights based on data,” says Chakraborty. “We can show people their numbers and some exciting insight on what could be done with their usage.
“There are two sides to it,” he continues. “One is us driving those insights, guiding the owners, since we are integrated with the utility and get consumption data. Second, you’d be surprised how many homeowners now are on top of their systems, pushing back at us, saying, ‘Hey, we noticed this is coming — like a CCA just started a new service, or some utility rate just went up 30% like in Connecticut.’ So, we’re also learning about more needs from the customer, then providing solutions.”
Brand strength enhanced by software
At the February InterSolar North America 2023 show, in Long Beach, there were so many new battery storage solutions on the exhibition floor, it was difficult to count them all. Some analysts suggest there could be 50 providers in the market now. Whatever the actual number de jour may be, a key market differentiator for storage providers is the sophistication and ease of use of their sales, monitoring and control software.
Some solar + storage software providers offer their solution not only as a per-user service, but also under broad license as a white label platform for OEMs. Duracell Power Center, for example, has licensed the Enact solution for their home battery storage system.
As more vertically integrated solar + storage systems arise in the market under a single brand banner, software can also help to centralize the relationship between the system owner, the installer and/or maintenance provider, and the warranty holder.
“No matter what system provider you choose, the owner wants to make sure it works well and it doesn’t fail on them. They want to have a single number to call and find out what is happening. In the past the industry has had inverter apps — like those of Enphase and SolarEdge — and those have been the owner’s way to look things up,” Chakraborty says.
“But this is changing; people want more than just the inverter app. They want to know the whole system, whether it is up and running, whether there is a warranty problem with a panel or battery, and who is going to follow up,” he says. “Now you can manage the whole ownership experience in one place, so regardless of whose equipment is at fault, they know they have one call for the whole system.”
Long-term customer relationships
Thus, a key advantage for installers offering an integrated system and software platform is the opportunity for a life-time customer relationship. “In the past, installers have almost shied away from pushing monitoring sales. They want to get the solar project done and get a payment, and hopefully the phone never rings,” Chakraborty says.
“Today, the installer realizes that the homeowner, to whom they just sold $20,000 worth of solar, might need a battery next year, and then a second battery, and maybe some more panels, and maybe an EV charger; there’s so much more revenue left on the table in repeat sales,” he says. “By having a good engagement platform with a back-and-forth information flow, it permits the installation company to perform better in terms of serving the homeowner in the future.”
— Solar Builder magazine