If you're not a solar installer, you may want to skip this one ... or you may be curious in it nonetheless.
Also, by the way, this was originally published as a "page" on CleanTechnica, rather than as an article. Since that meant it wouldn't get into your news feed here on email, we decided to share it via a dedciated email. Go here to view it online and share with friends/colleagues.
We spend a lot of time serving the interests and needs of solar consumers on CleanTechnica, but on the other side of that golden coin, there are the indispensable solar installers, and we also love to support them (you?) as well. As part of that, we've decided to create this big and continuously updated "Resources for Solar Installers" page.
Some of these resources are technical resources, some are financing resources, and some are overall business marketing resources and ideas. Scroll through the subheadings below and take a deeper dive into the ones that interest you.
Which Solar Panels To Use
Clearly, a key thing for any solar installer to figure out is which solar panels he or she will offer customers. While solar panels typically look similar and some call them a global commodity, there are actually notable differences in the panels on the market, savvy customers will ask about the brand, and it's the job of the installer to bring the best value to the table. The same goes for the inverters, of course.
SunPower is well known for its leadership in producing high-efficiency solar panels (the most efficient). Panasonic is in a similar boat, but SunPower has performed better on the business front in recent years, and American homeowners are likely to prefer an American brand like SunPower. (Full disclosure: I'm a SunPower shareholder, but that's just because 1) I think it has significant technological and business advantages, and 2) I think the solar market will expand to a great degree in the coming decades.)
Efficiency is important, especially for rooftop solar installations, but it isn't everything. If a solar panel is 10% more efficient than one from a competing company but 50% more expensive, it's unlikely the consumer is going with the right choice just by getting the most efficient solar panels.
Aside from SunPower modules, some very popular rooftop solar modules globally include options from Trina Solar, Yingli Solar, Jinko Solar, JA Solar, and Canadian Solar. Note that all of those are produced in Asia, mostly China. That brings down their cost, but as I noted above, many American consumers have a preference for American products, and no solar panels on the market are as efficient as SunPower's, which are still cost-competitive enough to gain a sizable portion of the market.
In the end, if I were a solar installer, I think I'd have high-efficiency solar panels as well as slightly lower-efficiency but cheaper Asian-produced solar panels in my repertoire, and I'd explain to consumers the options (not only regarding efficiency, but also durability, reliability, and warranties). I think consumers, whether they need this level of detail or not, will appreciate that you are giving them a choice and helping them to understand their options.
How To Get More Customers
Ah, the inevitable and perhaps biggest question of all -- how do you get more business?
Working in the online media world, I'm of course a bit biased, but I think it's pretty common knowledge that the internet offers efficiency unmatched in any other segment of the industry. For that reason, consumers are increasingly finding installers via online ads and articles, and solar installers are increasingly bringing in business almost effortlessly via solar leads.
You can throw money at TV ads, radio ads, Mars rover ads, newspaper ads (oh my!), or whatever you want, but I think you'll be hard-pressed to find a better option than partnering with a solid solar lead provider.
As you can see at the top of this article, this piece is sponsored by Grid Freedom, one such provider. But I can also say I've known founder Joe Harris for several years, know that he comes from a business where he was receiving leads, and know that he is intent on both offering excellent service to leads buyers and helping the little guys compete with the big guys in the fast-growing solar marketplace.
Naturally, simply advertising on CleanTechnica isn't a bad way to get customers either. ;)
Solar Financing Partners
Other than getting the solar panels on their roofs, the thing customers are most likely to need a hand with is finding the financing for a solar power system. Rather than simply letting potential customers fend for themselves and find a good financing partner, something a good solar installer should do is have some financing recommendations on hand and ask a potential customer how she or he is planning to finance the project.
I don't have all the answers on this front, but I've read good things about Dividend Solar, Admirals Bank, and Mosaic.
Additionally, local credit unions can be great options, often the best option, and mainstream banks are increasingly jumping into the solar financing market.
I'd recommend that solar installers find out the options in their area, crunch some numbers themselves, and have some detailed comparisons on hand so that potential customers can see that they aren't just getting someone to put hardware on their roof, but are getting an independent consultant who knows what financing options are out there, the pros and cons of various financing options, and what would likely be best for the consumer. Not being tied to a single financing partner is, of course, beneficial here.
Also, make sure you're aware of solar incentives in your state, county, utility jurisdiction, and city, and pass the info on to buyers.
How To Win Over Solar Installation Customers
All of the above touches on this last part, but I think it's worth highlighting that specific resources for solar installers and things to have in your toolbox don't tell the whole story.
In fact, it's a story that you should be telling in order to win over customers.
Most consumers aren't actually rational when it comes to their purchases, and big purchases certainly are not an exception. Going solar may well make financial sense, but the cost is still large, and consumers who are motivated by an emotional story are more likely to take the plunge.
Don't just talk dollars & cents with potential customers. In fact, just pull those details in once the story the customer connects to is clear. Here are a few ideas to run with...
Hey, let's not fry civilization. Don't start off with that line, but get a sense whether the potential customer cares about the climate, or clean air. If so, roll into your own thoughts on global warming, health-destroying pollution, and the need to take a stand in our own lives. That's likely to help them make the final step to the cash register (so to speak).
Solar Democracy! No matter what the political affiliation, Americans are typically fond of the concept of democracy. Solar power, in a sense, is about putting power (electric power and economic power) back in the hands of the people. Electric democracy is a theme for engendering a sense of civic engagement and empowerment that is hard to find pretty much anywhere else.
Beat the monopoly. No doubt about it, Monopoly is a popular game, but monopolies are bad for the economy and the public. Going solar is a way to "fight" the monopoly ... even if you aren't going off grid. If you can get a sense that the potential buyer resonates with this chord, let the melody flow.
I hope these resources are useful to solar installers who made it this far. Drop us a note if you have suggestions for improvement.