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Maximize Your Returns (As originally published in The Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today Newspaper, June 2013)

Read Original Newspaper Article PDF here

In a recent article in Solar Today, the CEO of a large box solar installation company provided advice to solar installers on how to “move into the mainstream.” However, the assumption that all installers want to be in the mainstream is a false premise on which to base advice. In my opinion, an entirely different business model should be pursued to achieve the highest customer satisfaction and greatest long-term financial return from solar energy system.

That being said, this following bit of advice was excellent: installers should “emphasize the economic advantages of solar electric installations.” “Quality of life improvements” can also be achieved by the installation of solar photovoltaic systems.

From personal experience, both talking points ring true and essentially work in unison. I’ve had solar panels installed on my home for some years now and recently added more panels as the result of purchasing an electric car. I’m now able to even better leverage the excellent credits available to me because of the PGE Electric Car Charge Utility Rate. I’m being credited upwards of $.55 per kilowatt-hour in the summer afternoons for my excess solar production, and recharging my car in the evenings starts at less than $.04 per kilowatt-hour. With solar photovoltaic, one can live in increased comfort while saving money. This is because in PGE territory all kilowatts are not charged or credited at equal value.

Customer service: The CEO made a case for how a larger company’s call centers can “better connect” with customers. From my experience, a client would prefer to speak to a business owner, followed by a salesperson, and lastly, a call center. By their nature, I don’t believe adequate customer service can be provided by call centers.

Concerning products: The big box advice is to “put the product components and specificationson back of the brochure” because consumers have “shown little preference” towards brands. Conversely, my belief is that when it comes to a 25+ year investment and warranty, consumers need to be educated about brands! Final product choice has an effect on long term financial return.

Warranties are only as good as the paper they are printed on. The world’s former largest manufacturer of solar panels, China’s Suntech, is in bankruptcy and on the verge of liquidation. Choosing a product from a manufacturer that has a long performance history and no product recalls is the best warranty one can buy.

“Quite simply, it’s not about the panels anymore.” From a consumer’s standpoint, it’s all about the panels and the individuals installing them. Finding excellent and reliable products takes research and effort. Downplaying product and technical details is doing the consumer a disservice. It allows for the least expensive installation, but at what long-term cost?

Achieving lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is the goal. Lowest TCO is achieved by choosing quality proven products and qualified installation teams. This combination will generate the maximum financial return over 25+year life of the system. Products and People do matter.

Customer experience: “The drive for a better customer experience will be aided by ongoing consolidation among installation providers.” I highly doubt that “bigger is better” when it comes to individual customer experience. Consolidation typically means less competition, less creativity amongst the remaining players, and fewer choices of product, installer, or service.

Innovation: It is indeed critical to focus on innovation, manufacturing efficiences, and installation cost reductions. There are many new and innovative products becoming available. However, for individual customers, innovative products don’t necessarily translate into best value products. What is most important for a customer is selection of compatible and reliable products; innovation comes second to reliability in the field. Wide option of new technology products should only occur after proven reliability is achieved.

Differing business models exist because differing customer bases exist. As for any construction project, do your research to find the best fit for you.

By Mark Becker, GoSimple Solar

Mark Becker is the President of GoSimpleSolar,by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, a Danville based Solar Installation Firm (License 948715). Mark can be reached at 925.915.9252. Visit GoSimpleSolar’s showroom at 114West Prospect Avenue in Danville or www.GoSimpleSolar.com, or email Mark@GoSimpleSolar.com.