Software Innovation Drives Community Solar | Community Solar Hub

Software Innovation Drives Community Solar

Posted on Tuesday October 18, 2016

Community Solar Hub - Software Innovation Drives Community Solar

Recently I learned about a new community solar program that is being offered by my local utility. This is exciting news because I’ve always wanted to use solar energy, allowing me to walk the solar talk that I do so frequently. But because I rent my home, I haven’t been a candidate for solar until now. So I hopped online and found the website for this program. After a few minutes of reading about the cost savings and environmental benefits that this particular program offers, I decided to enter my information into the system sizing calculator and within moments I had a proposal available to review, showing multiple options of system sizes and costs. The proposal was generated using the information I provided, so I know it was accurate and specific to my household usage. Once I chose which level worked best for me, I was able to request a contract, review it, sign it, and bam, just like that, I became a participant in a local community solar program and a user of solar energy.

Over the past few years, innovation in software has helped increase the availability of renewable energy through community solar programs. This evolution in e-commerce platforms provides solar energy customers with an appealing, user-friendly experience while researching community solar and making those buying decisions. This experience is sure to make community solar stand out to consumers, allowing them to avoid the intensive sales process of roof inspections and kitchen table negotiations that comes with shopping for rooftop solar.

Not only is software innovation making community solar more accessible to the consumer, it’s making lead generation and customer acquisition an efficient and cost effective process, reducing development soft costs and increasing sales margins for developers. This efficiency is contributing to the widespread growth and adoption of community solar as the best resource of renewable energy.

Experts seem to agree on this anticipated growth. Community Solar Customer Wants, a new report from Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and Shelton Group, states the potential market for community solar ranges from a floor of around 3 million households to more than 12 million, depending on program design and marketing. Simultaneously the U.S. Department of Energy expresses their expectations in generation totals, stating the U.S. is on track to add 11 GW of community solar power by 2020.

Solar energy represents a positive, progressive concept for most people. Customers are proud of their solar investments and want to see their panels and stay informed of their panels’ production. Unlike rooftop solar customers, community solar participants can’t look to their meters or rooftops to remind them of their clean energy choices. That tangible connection between community solar customers and their solar energy assets, however, can be provided by customer engagement software.

A more surprising benefit this connection provides is the enhanced customer relationships maintained by utilities and project owners. Customer engagement, one that extends beyond interaction during bill payment, is a way to improve customer relationships and maximize program participation and retention.

New software capabilities now provide a customer-facing online portal, enabling customers to view real-time solar stats and environmental impacts, while tracking savings and charting performance. A robust customer engagement platform includes these features:

  • Mobile/desktop access
  • Production monitoring
  • Environmental footprint
  • Message center
  • Live alerts
  • Current forecasts
  • Production charts

So why is improved customer engagement created by software innovation important? It reduces cost and time needed to roll out a successful program. It allows for better adoption by utilities. It is easier for them to launch a program when they feel customers will be able to participate in the program easily without adding burden to the administration staff. Software innovation also opens the door to scaling, which in turn drives more efficiency. Possibly the most important reason, it gives customers a better connection to their energy production and how switching to solar impacts their lives in a positive way.

A more streamlined sales process and a better-engaged customer will help foster the growth and adoption of community solar programs. Continued software innovation is making it easier for customers to research and participate in a program. Time will tell where lead generation and customer engagement will evolve.  For now, the current technology is driving the market, making renewable energy available to everyone through community solar programs.

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