I’m always on the hunt for the new products, trends and technologies that are decreasing the cost of clean energy solutions. In the past few years the innovation has mainly come from decreasing the cost of the large system components (modules, heatpumps, etc) and building up a trained labor force. When I started installing solar it took a four man crew four to five days to install the average 5kw system for a home. As my residential career was wrapping up, that same four man crew could do it in a little less then two days. 50% lower labor costs. We all know the same story has been true with module prices. But now that we have more trained workforce and the hard costs are decreasing rapidly, where can we looking to further decrease costs?
I’ve seen a lot of innovation around racking (Sollega, PanelClaw, Solaire Generation, Solar Flexrack) and BIPV (Lumeta Solar) but there is also a growing number of firms that are focused on utilizing software to make your business more efficient, decrease overhead and thus make each job more profitable. Here’s a short review of the couple companies I’ve found that could be useful for your business.
Paper Management: Solar NEXUS – I love the concept of Solar NEXUS. Why? Because the solar industry has to deal with a ridiculous amounts of paperwork and some coordination between distributors for materials. I feel the collaboration between distributors and working sub-contractors is already addressed but other software, because everyone in the construction industry needs to deal with this. However, heaps of paperwork is unique to solar. On April 13th 2010, SEIA published the results to their Residential Installer Survey and found that companies spend a staggering amount of time on paperwork.
Solar Production Modelling: Polysun – As solar projects are getting larger, customers are becoming smarter, incentives are being based off of production and not installed capacity and investors want to make sure they will receive their returns and thus production modeling is becoming extremely important. In the “old days” PV Watts was all the we had, and its still widely used for smaller projects. I’ve actually talked with designers using PV Watts for 1MW systems. Polysun is simply one of the top production software on the market, with a huge database of component specific data and roof specific weather data you’ll be able to get very accurate production models on your array. Polysun also has a Polysun software certification training program that will teach you how to best use their software in order to minimize your learning curve and design mistakes on large projects while gaining customer confidence. Also, Polysun has partners with Data Design Systems based on Sweden to provide a combined CAD program with solar production modelling so no more switching between tons of programs.
Roof Measurement and Verification: Eagle View – Everyone knows that decreasing the cost of a lead, and closing more jobs faster is critical for success in an industry that is getting more competitive. Yesterday, I had a great interview with Bob Grant at Eagle View (more on that later) and its clear that Eagle View’s roof measurement and verification systems allows their customers to close more jobs in less time. The best part is, their technology has been tried and true in the roofing and insurance industry and they have adapted it to fit the special needs of solar integrators.
Solar Sales: OnGrid Solar – Everyone who’s anyone in solar has heard the name Andy Black and OnGrid Solar. In an industry that is so new On Grids solar sales tool has been around forever. While I’ve never personally used the tool, those that I’ve spoken with say it is simply the most robust sales tool on the market. Why is this helpful for you? The tool will help you gain the trust of your customers faster by allowing you to become extremely knowledge about utility rate structures, solar incentives, and have proper presentations. Also, you don’t need to waste time creating your own system.
Clean Power Fiance – Upstart Clean Power Finance has take the more tradition Venture Capital business development approach, raised a lot of money and establish some very important industry partnerships. Again, I’ve never used their product but understand the benefits of using the cloud and have a SaaS business model, especially for larger companies with largish IT infrastructure. Also, Clean Power Finance has just begun to offer a financing product and we all know that financing is one of the largest bottlenecks in the industry today.