In the Ask an Expert series, HeatSpring instructors and industry thought leaders answer a question on the minds of the HeatSpring community. This session, we are joined by Chris LaForge, instructor of the Designing Small Scale PV Systems with Energy Storage and co-instructor for the Utility Scale Commercial & Industrial Solar and Storage Series. He answers the question – who is making money in residential solar plus storage today? Tune into his answer below. 

Brian: All right. I’m here with Christopher LaForge and we are talking solar plus storage, specifically residential solar plus storage. I recently finally put solar on my house. And as I investigated my options on backup systems, I was learning a lot about batteries, EVs, the electrification in general of my house, the different software tools that allow for all these systems that talk to each other. 

And my sense is that it’s maturing really quickly and it’s changing fast and it’s really exciting. So my question is a business question. I want to know who’s making money at residential solar plus storage today, without necessarily naming names. I’m just wondering like what types of players in the industry are succeeding at that today. And then as the technology and industry matures over the next three years, where are the opportunities that you think are the biggest for other types of firms to make money.

Chris: Great question. And it is just a tremendous time to watch this end of the industry blossom because, unlike solar, you know, I started almost well… it’ll be 33 years ago in a few months. And it took that long to really blossom the industry. 

It was the last 15 years, especially the last 10 where we saw it grow rapidly and be mature enough to take on the questions of utilities and things like that. In the storage space, we’re seeing this kind of growth happen over not 30 years, over 10 years –  and it blossoming in the last five rapidly.

And part of that is the development of automotive electric vehicle technology, demanding the batteries mature quickly, and that leaving us in the static storage world – whether it’s residential, small commercial or C&I – able to take advantage of this new whole product set. And it’s happening fast enough, that there’s a lot of question as to where we know where the value is. 

And the question of who’s going to make money – it’s clear that the early adopters end up making money first. They become the go-to people in their region. They make money during the development of it. When you get past first adopters and it starts to become a more typical commodity product, like solar is becoming. Storage – the people that get into it first are going to lead the way and probably make the most money.

And so on industry level, we’ve got several big players that are doing that for us. And then a bunch of medium and small players developing batteries that operate in ways that either mate with our current technology voltages or use higher voltage and bring in the whole realm of the kind of vertically integrated technology like Elon Musk’s company does.

The interesting thing is that to vend that product line, you have to get vetted by that company. And this is true with most of the companies because we’re moving to storage. We’re dealing with an inherently more challenging and significantly more dangerous product. Solar is not particularly dangerous.It’s actually very benign. But batteries have all these extra challenges. So the players that are leading in to giving us the chance to deploy their product, give us trainings, and then we go ahead and we’re ready to deploy it. And the people that get in and get those trainings and get to deploy the cutting edge products are going to nail the field right now, because certain companies have a lot of name recognition and people want that wall or whatever you want to call it. And whether or not it’s the best product is kind of irrelevant in a marketing sense. It’s the product that people know about first that they call for.