OnGrid and Energy Storage

OnGrid is excited to support energy storage modeling in the new upcoming OnGrid software.

Why energy storage?

1. Commercial demand charges.

While solar can significantly reduce demand charges when the utility customer’s usage profile lines up with the solar generation profile, we can’t model this savings with the same confidence that we can model energy-charge savings. This is because the demand charge is based entirely on the single 15-minute window with highest load…and stuff happens (clouds, high evening loads, grid fluctuations causing inverters to temporarily turn off).

Energy storage working in tandem with PV gives us the needed control to confidently project demand-charge savings. In some cases, this makes for a much more compelling investment opportunity than solar alone.

2. Utility resistance

Distributed solar without storage is a valuable contribution to the grid when effectively leveraged by utilities. But instead of embracing the new distributed-energy paradigm through bold transition to smarter technology and price signals, many utilities are maneuvering to entrench the old paradigm through lobbying efforts and media / smear campaigns (old paradigm: one-way power flow, with the utility in control and customers as captured passive consumers). Utilities are now taking distributed solar seriously, and campaigns against solar are well organized and funded. Many policymakers and citizens have been convinced that distributed solar is essentially a transfer of wealth from the poor and elderly to the liberal elite. Around the country, distributed-solar export credits are declining.

We can’t win with technology alone. For example, no technology can offset an electric bill based 100% on fixed charges. We need to engage more than ever on policy and advocacy at all levels (thanks CALSEIA for leadership in California). With that said, energy storage is a critical hedge in an increasingly-volatile market. With time-of-use peak windows shifting outside the solar window, energy storage can bridge the gap by storing solar generation for use or export during the peak window (“energy arbitrage”). A worst-case scenario is a utility giving no credit to exported solar — as the cost of energy storage continues to come down, “zero export” strategies are becomming increasingly economical where grid electricity is expensive.

3. Ancillary services

Distributed energy storage can help utilities and grid operators manage grid frequency and voltage (avoiding expensive infrastructure upgrades). It’ll be a while before these markets are mature and stable, but this could become a significant source of revenue for your energy-storage customers (most likely through a Distributed Energy Resource Aggregation platform).

OnGrid and energy storage

OnGrid will support energy storage modeling.

Going further, OnGrid won’t be satisfied until we can give you the most diligent, versatile, and user friendly energy-storage modeling software on the planet. We’ve established a strong foundation in the new OnGrid software (currently in beta), with interval data modeling and historical-bill verification at its core. We’re building it out as quickly as we can.

We first need to fully support solar modeling, so we can’t yet give a timeline for energy-storage modeling. But let’s please talk if you’re already comfortable with energy storage modeling — it might be practical for you to leverage the beta sooner than later for your storage modeling work.

The new OnGrid software is all about making it easier, faster, and more enjoyable for you to prepare the most compelling and trust-building financial presentations.

Michael Bishop, 7/14/17

Electric Bill Savings Guarantee

Solar Investment Security

Everyone who goes solar takes risk. Depending on the market, there might be substantial risk. Nevada is a textbook example — thousands of homeowners invested in solar only to see the Nevada PUC repeal net metering without grandfathering (following Nevada’s encouragement of solar adoption via incentives). Overnight, seemingly sound financial investments were shattered. Other markets are more stable of course. The California PUC for example has proven their longstanding commitment to distributed solar. While utility rate structure changes may weaken the financials in California, solar customers can at least rest assured that annual net metering will stay in tact for 20 years from interconnection date (whether NEM 1.0 or NEM 2.0).

As with any investment, financial returns need to be considered against the assessed risk of that investment. I’d rather invest in an S&P 500 index than a Bay Area tech startup, even if the startup shows potential to return my money 10 times over. That’s because I prefer basic financial security over the chance of extravagant wealth.

Let’s say I want to go solar and I receive a few electric bill savings projections from local install companies. If I’m looking at this carefully, I’ll need to weigh the risks around equipment reliability and degradation, manufacturer warranties and solvency, install company warranties and solvency, solar production and monitoring, utility rate structure and solar compensation volatility, electric rate escalation vs. projected (this factor impacts the investment exponentially over time, so it’s especially important to consider), potential property insurance and property tax adjustments, potential roof and electrical issues, roof warranty coverage, problems leveraging tax benefits, etc. It gets murky.

Enter a financial insurance product for the solar investment. I could optionally pay a monthly premium to a trustworthy insurance provider, guaranteeing an electric bill savings floor over a selected term. The premium per solar owner would vary depending on the provider’s assessed risk given factors mentioned above and others. The provider would be in a much better position than each individual solar owner to analyze and quantify risks across the U.S. The provider’s overall risk would be mitigated by serving a wide variety of markets.

I think many people who want to go solar would be willing to pay a premium for this peace of mind. I know I would.

Note: OnGrid has no plans to offer this insurance product. Our priority is improving existing products for our users. Just putting an idea out there for consideration.

Michael Bishop, 9/12/16

A Solar Solution For Renters

Over a third of Americans are renters. Over half of these renters are under 30, and the millennial generation wants solar.

Renters are a black hole in the solar galaxy. Community solar is working to address this. Another option is renters purchasing on-site solar energy from property owners. But the added value doesn’t justify the increased complexity in the owner/renter dynamic (red tape aside). How would the renter know how her total energy cost compares to the utility-only scenario? And how does the property owner address this tension while earning a required return on the solar investment? Flat PPAs don’t cut it in the age of time-varying rate structures, rate structure reform, and myriad NEM variations.

A third-party app with access to the site’s utility interval data and solar interval data could determine the renter’s utility-only electricity cost. The renter would simply pay what she would have otherwise spent every billing period via a third-party app, which allocates that payment to the utility and the property owner. If the property owner offers a discount or charges a premium, it’d be a simple percentage of the utility-only electricity cost…ahh clarity. The tenant would have the satisfaction of powering her life with sunshine, along with a superior user experience offered by the app.

Note: OnGrid has no plans to build this app. Our priority is improving existing products for our users. Just putting an idea out there for consideration.

Michael Bishop, 8/25/16

Thoughts on Net Metering — Part 2

I like California’s approach with Net Energy Metering (NEM) 2.0. It’s clear that full retail credit for all distributed solar production won’t be tenable at scale. But it’s not clear what’s best long-term. Intermittent distributed energy is more valuable in a grid that’s designed accordingly. U.S. grids are generally relics of the 20th century, designed for one-way transfer of energy from central locations to destinations with relatively consistent load patterns. This is a setup that utility engineers understand and can optimize for. In this context, intermittent distributed energy isn’t optimally leveraged and isn’t preventing transmission/distribution infrastructure investment. Which makes it very difficult to reach a long-term agreement re: valuing solar.

With NEM 2.0, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is ensuring that every kWh provided by an invested-owned utility will earn revenue earmarked for special purposes (e.g. low-income assistance). This “nonbypassable charge” (NBC) varies by utility and rate structure and is currently as high as 2.6¢ per kWh. By making this a 3-year interim solution, the PUC is essentially buying more time to gather information and clarify the new energy vision for California.

Michael Bishop, 8/18/16

Thoughts on Net Metering — Part 1

I won’t be requesting full net metering. Solar without storage isn’t dispatchable. The utility can’t rely on aggregate solar exports at a specific time. The utility (and ISO) can make smart predictions with good data, but they can’t rely on what they don’t control. Exported distributed solar might be more valuable than utility-controlled energy resources when considering externalities (environmental, grid security, etc), but that shouldn’t be used to justify retail credit. Retail credit for a specific rate structure is an arbitrary number in the externalities context.

I’d like to see retail credit continue for the portion of distributed solar that serves on-site load. I think it’s right to treat this local usage offset in the same way we treat conversation and efficiency. A consumer should be permitted to reduce the quantity of a good she consumes by whatever safe and legal means are available to her. That begs the question — should electric service be pay-per-use or fixed subscription? While it’s historically been mostly pay-per-use, many utilities are now pushing for the latter. In other words, they want to shift ratepayer cost to non-offsettable fixed charges. The correct split between variable cost and fixed cost is complicated to say the least. For example, who should pay for a utility infrastructure investment made in the 2000s that could have been avoided had the utility anticipated the transition towards distributed energy and power electronics?

To be continued next week.

Michael Bishop, 8/12/16

OnGrid’s Tesla Factory Tour

Yesterday my co-worker Evan and I toured the Tesla factory in Fremont, CA through NorCal Solar and Intersolar. The one word that best captures my impression? Ludicrous. As in, ludicrously pristine and state of the art. …Every square inch of the 80-football-fields-equivalent of factory space.

I was struck most by the ranks of perfectly-behaved robotic arms performing hair-splittingly precise tasks. And the overall flow of the factory reflected the harmony of a healthy ecosystem…our wonderful tour guide Adam likened it to a single river with hundreds of tributaries.

Tesla factory layout

Tesla factory layout via

We saw several machines that were the largest of their kind in the world (something that might give Elon Musk special satisfaction). There was a friendly, playful, and bright atmosphere throughout the factory, added to by some very funny signage.

Tesla factory

Tesla factory image via

The factory was historically significant before Tesla — it was the site where, with touching openness, Toyota introduced GM to the game-changing lean manufacturing method (which has since been adopted to great effect by best-in-class software companies).

I didn’t realize that Tesla car motors have a single moving part (compare that to the complexity of an internal combustion engine). And I appreciated that the batteries along the bottom of the car contribute to structural support. It occurred to me that the simple elegance of a Tesla car pairs perfectly with the simple elegance of a solar array.

I’d like to share more detail but will respect the Tesla NDA. If a Tesla factory tour is offered through Intersolar 2017, register early because it will sell out fast.

Michael Bishop, 7/14/16

Dual Glass Solar Panels

Consider solar panels with glass on both sides of the cells (no plastic back-sheet, no frame).

I don’t know how their pricing compares to standard crystalline panels, but they sure look beautiful. (And they protect the cells better for lower degradation over time.)

Aesthetics matter. If the price is right, I think dual glass solar panels will become the residential-solar-market norm.

Image from Home Power:

Image from Home Power:

Michael Bishop, 7/12/16

What Greentech Media’s April Fools Joke Taught Me

The headline: A First Look at Amazon’s New Drone-Based Solar Installation Service
My initial reaction: Fear

Why fear? Because I’m gullible and totally believed it. But more tellingly, because I was afraid Amazon would sell distributed solar at a fraction of competitor pricing, and would soon dominate the industry. Local solar companies would fail. OnGrid revenue would tank, and I wouldn’t be able to support my family. My 18-month old daughter would be impoverished, and I’d drown in despair. …At least that’s what my lizard brain insisted.

For the first time, I could relate to the obstructive utility executive.

I’m trying to build a better business. This is challenging enough in a stable market, let alone a fiercely-disrupted market. I want to keep leveraging OnGrid’s current resources…not abandon them and start over. I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m hopelessly archaic. I just want to continue offering the reliable service we’ve offered for 10 years.

Fortunately I was able to pull myself out of this headspace quickly. I remembered that any related technology advances will get us to a sunshine-powered planet faster. And that I’ll be damned if I don’t see a sunshine-powered planet before I die. I remembered that I can win by embracing change with humility and gratitude. And that I have value and options…my daughter won’t become a vagabond.

I ditched that headspace quickly because the transition towards renewables is good for OnGrid. I might be stuck in it if I was an older utility executive.

I’m challenging myself to approach future utility dialogues with a little patience and understanding. In these tumultuous times, the emotionally mature will prevail.

Michael Bishop, 6/30/16

The Challenger Sale

If you sell (and everyone does somehow), I suggest you check out the Challenger Sale book or audiobook.

I’m all for quickly establishing some level of rapport with a prospect. If a prospect places you in one of her social groups, she’ll be more comfortable buying from you. But you’re a sales professional making power moves to take your game to another level…listening to a prospect talk for half an hour about golf courses in Africa won’t get you where you need to be.

Enter the Challenger Sale approach to selling. From the first point of contact with the prospect, you control the situation. And the prospect is grateful, because you quickly demonstrate that you understand her situation better than she does. Once that’s clear, you help her identify and come to grips with a major point of failure that could potentially destroy her business or leave her struggling in later life. This point of failure should of course be real, or else she’s going to rightfully see manipulation (or she’s a sucker, and manipulating suckers is a lame way to earn revenue).

A prospect will typically have several unknown points of failure. You’re of course going to focus on the point of failure that your product or service will best address. Leading the now-concerned prospect from the point of failure to your product or service will probably be forced and awkward for a while. The focus has to stay on her solving her problem — a shift to you solving your own problem of closing more deals will fully restore her wariness of being sold.

What’s a common unknown point of failure that solar could resolve? Many solar sales reps highlight upcoming exponentially-explosive electric rate escalation, but recent history doesn’t support that — average U.S. electric rate escalation from 1997 to 2015 was 2.2% for residential and 1.8% residential for commercial, which is in line with general CPI inflation of 1.9% from 2000 to 2015 (sources: U.S. EIA, I’ll save my approach for a future blog post (after I’ve tested it in the field!).

Reading the Challenger Sale and hearing positive feedback from sales professionals (including a SolarEdge rep, who told me yesterday that he “sleeps with this book under his pillow”), I’m convinced that the Challenger profile is generally the space to be in (vs. other typical sales profiles: the hard worker, the relationship builder, the lone wolf, and the problem solver). It’s not only likely to improve your close ratio, but also puts you in a position to change lives for the better while you’re at it. If you take this on, please let us know how your experimentation goes at Twitter or at

Michael Bishop, 6/22/16

Thoughts on Selling Solar #1

I’ve supported solar sales professionals with software for a decade now. But I’ve never tried to sell solar. I’ve been wondering lately how I’d do. I’m pretty sure I’d fail hard for a while.

Selling isn’t easy. Nobody wants to be sold…nobody wants to sign a contract without full confidence and trust. But at the same time, nobody wants to buy from someone who’s afraid to ask for the sale.

Responsible prospects will need to understand the investment opportunity well enough to make a confident decision. But responsible prospects are probably disciplined in their time allocation and are committed to keeping their minds on their core responsibilities and interests…they don’t want to learn the nuances of module-level electronics (unless they’re Silicon Valley nerds, but let’s focus on mainstream buyers).

In the fascinating lecture series Your Deceptive Mind, Steven Novella mentions that the human brain is essentially a uniquely-human brain outside a primate brain outside a mammal brain outside a lizard brain. Different parts of our brain respond to different things and move us further away from or closer to a decision on going solar (for example). Steven also mentions that when rapport is established, a prospect’s ability to critically disect a sales pitch is straight-up physically inhibited. My point here is that humans are friggin’ complicated, and selling effectively to different prospect profiles requires adept sensitivity to human psychology.

I have huge respect for solar sales professionals. Who’ve honed their craft over years of experimentation (with plenty of awkward failures), reflection, and adjustment. I’m honored to support your work.

Michael Bishop, 6/14/16

SaaS Idea: All-In Solar Investment

Purpose: Investment in a solar electric system as a bridge from consumer mindset to (impact) investor mindset. Establish a long-term investment fund with no or limited lifestyle change.

Quick sketch: A homeowner goes solar with up to 100% financing. The homeowner commits to pay (to a third party) what her monthly electric bill would have been had she not gone solar. Portions of the payment are sent to the financing company (if applicable) and the utility (for the electric bill portion not offset by solar). The remaining portion is her net electric bill savings, which is automatically invested on her behalf (TBD what this investment portfolio looks like).

Michael Bishop, 6/10/16

Solar Power. The Movement

Sometimes I remember how many passionate people are in the solar industry. People who see a world powered by sunshine. With robust communities meeting needs with local replenishable resources. Moving further into gratitude and compassion on a restoring planet.

I remember that once in a while. I’d like to remember that always. I’d like to know 8760 that I’m contributing to something much bigger than myself, a company, a technology, an industry. As with any industry, the solar industry has destructive elements that set back the loosely shared vision (unrealistic financial projections, bad installs…). But I’ve talked with countless solar professionals who do the right thing without thinking about referral sales. Thanks for inspiring me, and I hope to know you better.


Michael Bishop, 6/2/16

California, Meet Net Metering 2.0

By Noah Ginsburg, OnGrid

California’s major utilities are quickly approaching their 5% net energy metering (NEM) caps, and NEM 2.0 is just around the corner. Depending on how long permitting and installation takes, a San Diego solar customer that signs up for solar today will likely be credited for their solar energy exports under NEM 2.0 rather than traditional NEM.


NEM vs NEM 2.0: What’s the Difference?

In addition to eliminating the one megawatt system size cap on commercial solar installations, NEM 2.0 has three major differences from California’s traditional NEM. Under NEM 2.0, new solar customers have to:

  1. Pay a one time interconnection fee that is estimated to be $75-150
  2. Enroll in a time-of-use rate
  3. Pay non-bypassable charges for all energy delivered by the utility (read on for details)


What Are Non-Bypassable Charges?

Under traditional NEM, a solar customer is billed for net energy consumption over the course of a billing period. The customer can use the grid like a free battery, exporting solar energy to the grid during the day to generate NEM credits that can be redeemed for energy consumed at night or on rainy days. The traditional NEM customer’s monthly electricity costs are not impacted by the amount of solar energy that they consume immediately (self-consumption) vs how much solar energy they export to the grid during the day, generating NEM credits that they consume at night or on a later date.

Under NEM 2.0, a solar customer will have to pay non-bypassable charges (NBCs) for every kilowatt hour of energy that the utility delivers to their property. These NBCs can no longer be offset with solar exports to the grid, which means that a customer who exports a lot of solar energy to the grid during the day and consumes a lot of energy at night will have higher utility electricity costs under NEM 2.0 than they would have under traditional NEM. How much higher? The NBCs are approximately $0.02/kWh for energy delivered by the utility, however the number of kilowatt hours for which the solar customer has to pay NBCs depends on the customer’s individual energy profile; a customer with high self-consumption will see almost no difference in  electricity costs under NEM 2.0 vs traditional NEM. On the other hand a residential customer with low self-consumption (e.g. someone who exports solar energy during the work day and then consumes a lot of energy at night) could see $5-10/month of NBCs added to their monthly electricity costs compared to what their costs would have been under traditional NEM.


NEM 2.0: Is it Bad News?

While NEM 2.0 will deliver some solar customers slightly less savings, its adoption is considered a major success for solar customers, environmental advocates and the solar industry. Just a few months ago, there were fears that NEM 2.0 would allow utilities to levy high fixed charges on solar customers or credit solar energy exports at significantly below retail value (utilities are still challenging the regulators’ decision). Such a decision could have landed California’s solar industry in hard straits. Fortunately, thanks to strong advocacy from consumers, environmentalists, and the solar industry, the California Pubic Utilities Commission adopted rules for NEM 2.0 that will allow California’s rooftop solar industry to continue to grow and thrive.


Will NEM 2.0 Impact Existing Solar Customers?

Nope! The changes to net-metering apply to future solar customers and existing customers are “grandfathered” in under traditional NEM.


How Can I Model Solar Savings With NEM 2.0?

We know of two software options that  help solar professionals model solar savings with NEM 2.0; The OnGrid Tool and Energy Toolbase.

Noah Ginsburg, 3/21/16

The Solar Customer’s Hero’s Journey

 By Fred Greenhalgh, ReVision Energy

About Fred: Fred is the Digital Marketing Manager of ReVision Energy, which serves ME, NH, VT, and MA. Revision Energy was featured on the Cover of Solar Pro magazine, in no small part due to their ‘viral’ music video, “The Cover of the Solar Pro,” performed by the ReVisionistas and produced by Fred.  Naturally, Fred lives off-grid in the woods of Maine.

Note that this article was originally published at Renewable Energy World on February 4th, 2015. Republished by OnGrid (because we really like it) with the author’s permission.


Most of us in the solar field see ourselves as renewable energy warriors, working every day to thwart the dastardly deeds of fossil fuel energy, to disrupt utility monopolies, and to provide our customers with the gold from the slain dragons’ coffers – free solar electricity!

But are we doing a good job making our customers feel like heroes?

Inspired by the work of the Content Marketing Institute and thought-leaders like Seth Godin, I’ve retouched the thinking of Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth to form the “Solar Customer’s Hero’s Journey” – and thought that you, too, might need to hear its call.  Mighty solar warrior… you are but the Obi Wan Kenobi, and your customer is Luke (or Lucille) Skywalker.

Grab a walking stick and join me for the adventure.



The Call to Solar

Picture3In our world, we live and breathe ITC, dual MPPT, SRECs, bypass diodes, rail-grounding and understand the vast difference between nameplate ratings and real-world performance – yet the average homeowner still doesn’t understand what the heck a kilowatt is.

But then… Luke Skywalker didn’t know about the Evil Empire, lightsabers, or The Force, and maybe he still doesn’t know exactly what midi-chlorians are, but by the end of his journey he was able to transform from farm-boy to hero.  While we don’t exactly expect our customers to single handedly take down the forces of The Empire of Fossil Fuels (though that would be kind of cool), we do expect that by the end of their sales journey that they’ll be transformed. They’ll have gone from people generally unaware of how electricity is made and financially exposed to the vagaries of utility energy markets. After interconnection, they will become potential solar heroes who will champion our cause—your cause—to their friends and neighbors.

This solar customer journey starts with the moment of truth: The Call to Solar.

In Campbell’s monomyth, the classic ‘call to adventure’ involves some initiating event where the world of normalcy is stripped away.   A stranger comes to town.  A letter arrives in the mail.  A bunch of random robots show up in the desert.

For our solar customers, it’s not so different.   Maybe that letter in the mail is an unbelievably high electric bill – something that inspires them to type ‘help with high electric bill’ into a search engine.  Maybe it’s a booth at a tradeshow that catches their eye.  Maybe it’s a solar energy truck that’s showing up on their street to install for a neighbor.  A photo on Facebook or a Vine video of a friend’s solar install.

There are dozens of ways for someone to first encounter the world of solar, but what we as marketers need to understand is that it is the unknown.  We are not selling Campbell’s Soup or bars of soap.  The vast majority of the populous has never had to think about energy except in the ‘turn it on, there it is’ way, and the concept of going solar opens up a whole world of possibilities, myths, and questions.

Don’t think “We need customers how can we get customers let’s pay to get customers” think – “How can I be the most valuable and trusted advisor someone will find when they are ready to embark on this solar journey?”

Some pro tips:

  • Make it easy to find you – “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear… Unless of course the teacher has a terrible website that ranks poorly in Google.” Know that SEO black magic no longer works but Google is happier than ever to rank quality, educational information about solar’s benefits.
  • Make the first impression of your company positive – The solar heroine will be looking for a good mentor. Everything from your website, the dress and professionalism of your install crews, to the way you answer your phone says either “Yes you can trust me” or “No this is scarier than you think run away.”
  • Cast a wide net – Future customers may initially refuse the ‘Call to Solar,’ so be sure that you have ways to stay in touch for when they are ready to start their journey. We use monthly newsletters and social media as a way to stay in touch with people who are still 3-5 years away from going solar the first time we meet them.

Helpers and Mentors

Picture4Once the would-be solar hero crosses the threshold from the known (high electric bills, fossil fuel dependency) into the unknown (clean, reliable electricity, fixed long-term costs of energy), there is a journey ahead of them, fraught with perils that will lead them astray (‘Will it cost too much!’ ‘What if I need to sell the house!’ ‘Is it really going to work the way you say it will?’).  There are electric bills to dig up, technology to understand, paperwork to sign and file.

Here your team – and your marketing materials – form the whole supporting cast of Star Wars… Your sales team is both Obi Wan and Yoda, guiding the young hero towards understanding the power of solar and how to resist the temptations of the evil fossil fuel side (do nothing, doooo nothing!).  Your website can be your R2D2, ready to help out with whatever information is needed to support the efforts of your heroes – reliable, searchable, and, while robotic, does have a sense of personality.  And the Ewoks, eh… well the Ewoks maybe are the cute furry things you post to Facebook or bring to trade shows to get people to stop by your booth.

How to support your customers with Helpers and Mentors:

  • This is about them, not you. You should not be ‘selling’ solar, you should be inspiring people to go solar.  Solar sells itself.  Trouble coming up with blog topics? Listen to the questions your office staff is answering and write blogs about them.
  • Sales teams should have awesome websites, flyers, videos, photos, and other collateral so they can slash down trolls and ogres when they appear in your customers path (“I heard all about Solyndra, does that mean solar sucks?” “I heard going solar will make it harder to sell my home, is that true?”) It is much easier to send a link to an article or show a video than it is to train 50 people how to answer the same question well.  Plus, all that content helps people who discover you for the first time.
  • Be human. Even though the money needs to work, people ultimately make most purchasing decisions for emotional, not rational, reasons.  You think you can’t sell a product that costs more than the other product?  Then why do people line up before dawn to get the latest Apple gadget?  Be the company that people want to do business with.

The Moment of Revelation / Transformation

Thanks to your awesome solar mentors and helpers, the road to solar is a lot easier than the stuff of legend, and the heroine of the solar journey makes the call to your sales rep and says – “Yes, let’s get this thing started!”  Congrats!  You have done well today.

Your solar hero will never be more excited than she is today.  Capture that energy and help facilitate it.  You have the opportunity to help them become your greatest marketing force or to sour the whole experience.

We’re lucky in that our product is not just a new color paint on the wall or that new deck.  This is a purchase that means something –for some, a tangible way to slow the advance of climate change; for others, the opportunity to shuck the reins of the utility company and generate their own energy.  Know your customer well, and help them tell their story, which is, in turn, your story.

  • ‘Nudge’ customers to use social media and talk about you. I mean, they already are talking about you, whether you like it or not, so you might as well be part of the conversation.  Heroes are often eager to show off installed photos or to be profiled in case studies.
  • Ensure the customer experience of the install team is incredible. If you have promised a fantastic journey and then your new solar hero is let down when they’re finally about to experience their own solar, this will negatively shape their perception of the entire process.
  • Keep up the excitement. Now is a great time to make an ‘ask’ for referrals or follow-up marketing events, like open houses. We have recently discovered the social site Generaytor and are eager to get our solar heroes on it, chatting with each other, fostering connections within the tribe.  Going solar is not just about being the hero of your own story, it’s about joining a community of fellow warriors on the path to a cleaner planet.


Marketing is storytelling.  Story is the narrative structure that we humans use to make order out of chaos.  Never underestimate its importance.

The status quo has both a powerful story, and the power of inertia.  Even though it’s painful to pay for electric bills, it’s still easier to just go ahead and pay them.   People are always trying to make a better life for themselves, but they are also just trying to get through the day.

It surprises me just how bad solar marketing can be sometimes. Most often, the reason is because marketers make the product or service the hero, not the customers and their experiences going solar.  Make the customers the heroes.  Celebrate their desire to go solar, empower them with information, and give them the tools they need to slay the dragons – and your army of solar warriors will soon be great in number.



Originally published and featured at Renewable Energy World on 2/4/15

Evan Nicoles, 3/18/16

The Winning Solar Sales Tip from OnGrid’s SPI Contest Might Surprise You

By Michael Bishop, OnGrid

Note that this article was originally published at Renewable Energy World on 9/25/14.


As featured in Solar Fred’s blog, OnGrid asked SPI 2014 attendees who sell solar to share their best tips for “selling more solar to happier customers”. We then asked 500 PV professionals to vote for the best of the best. We expected one of the many tips emphasizing integrity and straight talk to win. But surprisingly, the winning tip was about what happens after the customer is won.

Winning Solar Sales Tip

“Customers remember the 3 days the installers are there more than they remember the sales process. Have great install teams = more referrals.” — Dana Smith, SolarCraft

SolarCrafts install team helping their sales rep “walk the talk”

Fleshing Out the Tip

We followed up with Dana after SPI. He said that while SolarCraft takes great pride in its sales team, customer feedback tends to focus on the install team. Dana notes, “Customers always talk of how their install team was on time, performed as promised, and left the job site cleaner than they found it”.

Install team emphasis makes great sense now that Dana mentions it. The most vulnerable moment for a customer is right after she signs the contract and commits to an optional construction project. She’s given up thousands of dollars or credit flexibility, and that friendly sales rep is off to the next customer. It’s a leap of faith that the install team will be professional, and the company will come through as promised. And the install team, still strangers, will be very present houseguests (even the nosiest uncles usually stay off roofs and out of attics). In Dana’s words, “Having an install team of 3 people on your property and on your roof for 3 days is something that has a direct effect on your property, lifestyle and privacy…customers remember that.”

So it must be hugely relieving to open the front door for a cheerful and polite install team, not a minute past the scheduled time. The solar customer chose to trust her sales rep, and he’s coming through. That’s when the nervous anticipation stops and the unbridled excitement begins. The excitement that gives the solar customer something wonderful to share with family, friends, and new friends (better conversation starters are hard to come by).

Solar Customer to Friend:  I’ve been wanting solar for years, but it’s always been a little scary. I’m so glad I did it! It was easy, and the solar company I went with is awesome! I know you want solar too. Trust me, just go for it!


Referrals are a great low-cost driver of new business. And customers probably won’t be comfortable recommending to their friends and family if the install team falls short. Solar sales professionals who take responsibility for the customer’s entire experience will have the greatest success in the long run.

Enphase Survey on Installer Credibility

In Enphase’s survey of 3,000 solar customers, over a third of those surveyed chose their installer because of a friend or family recommendation (versus 18 percent from internet search and 15 percent from the installer reaching out to them). And over two thirds considered trust and high ratings a key factor when choosing their installer (versus 56 percent for system price and 38 percent for system quality). Credibility counts!




Originally published and featured at Renewable Energy World on 9/25/2014

Michael Bishop, 3/17/16