The Next Distributed Generation: Where solar market leaders are going, and how local installers can join them

The Next Distributed Generation: Where solar market leaders are going, and how local installers can join them

Distributed solar set up numbers stay regular throughout the nation, however the solar set up enterprise mannequin itself is in flux. Net power metering coverage and payback charges are dwindling. Battery attachments are going up, however costs nonetheless aren’t coming down a lot. Heck, solar PV system prices truly rose this yr in accordance with the Q2 Solar Market Insights Report. There’s additionally the nonetheless looming operations and upkeep (O&M) query. What is the very best mannequin for monitoring and servicing a rustic filled with PV + storage methods within the long-term?

Yes, the strategic design of the U.S. solar firm remains to be taking part in out as evolving know-how pushes the $2.5 billion per yr residential solar market ahead — particularly for those who widen your view and embody solar as only one a part of the cumulative $80 billion sensible house market.

In this year-end version of the Buzz, we’ll take that wider view of the distributed solar market. How are the market-leading, vertically built-in gamers evolving? And what newer, nimble enterprise fashions and platforms are rising for local gamers to leverage?

This function initially appeared within the Fall 2021 situation of Solar Builder journal. Get your free subscription, print, digital or both, right here.

Power gamers

While horizontal scope of territory is essential, the flexibility to supply stacked sensible house items and providers has additionally change into a prerequisite for the residential solar firm of the longer term. Stacked income streams from these choices additionally present a vertically built-in firm the flexibility to shave revenue from a loss-leader product but get well revenue by means of add-ons. Enter power storage, which SEIA reckons will develop to accompany almost 25 % of all behind-the-meter solar methods by 2025, from underneath 6 % in 2020.

For market leaders, deploying storage methods far and vast permits them to leverage their footprint and scale on the utility-level. Tesla has begun to leverage its main house battery place with forays into power arbitrage and wholesale power markets, due to its new Autobidder platform. Now energetic in Australia, Autobidder is a part of Autonomous Control, Tesla’s suite of optimization software program options that would place the corporate as a full-blown power dealer and grid providers supplier.

Similarly, Sunrun is organizing its power arbitrage functionality into group solar by means of residential microgrids fortified with its Brightbox battery methods. The firm already has signed contracts with several community choice aggregators (CCAs) within the San Francisco area to assist these new-age utilities meet state-mandated useful resource adequacy necessities. While the Sunrun microgrids present electrical energy to properties throughout utility energy shutoffs resulting from wildfires, hurricanes or different calamities, extra energy can be bought into the grid, and Sunrun encourages house owner microgrid participation with a $1,250 incentive.

Further upstream within the utility market, Sunrun has virtual power plant (VPP) deals in place with Southern California Edison (SCE) to extend grid reliability and decrease energy prices for customers. VPPs ultimately will mixture microgrid solar + storage communities into formal power use/buying and selling entities. The world VPP market dimension was valued at $1.3 billion in 2019 and is projected to achieve $5.9 billion by 2027, in accordance with Allied Market Research. These VPP/grid providers funds to householders might be the online metering incentives of the longer term.

Another quickly increasing sensible house service being focused is EV charging. Ford has partnered with Sunrun because the default installer of house charging methods for the much-awaited F-150 Lightning truck. The Ford system can embody the 80-amp Ford Charge Station Pro for quick charging.


SunPower Corp. is now working with EV charging options supplier Wallbox so its customers can opt to install a Wallbox home EV charger similtaneously their solar and/or storage system. Meanwhile, SolarPower and Wallbox are presently exploring choices for growing merchandise and experiences to additional combine solar energy with EV. Current discussions embody backup energy options and incorporating Wallbox’s bi-directional charging know-how into SolarPower methods. At presstime, SunPower also acquired Blue Raven Solar to broaden its set up ranks throughout the nation. Speaking of which …


Building out a nationwide community of solar installers remains to be very a lot a problem, due to the patchwork nature of jurisdictional allowing variations. Those massive nationwide manufacturers lead in market share however not in profitability. That’s why regional installers, unified underneath a nationwide model may maintain extra promise long term.

Suntuity Solar, a part of the Suntuity Group, recently expanded its geographic footprint, which now encompasses 10 states (and eight international locations), and is searching for regional contractors to join its community. Being know-how agnostic is vital right here. Suntuity has no exclusivity when it comes to solar module, inverter or storage manufacturers, nor do installers should be unique with Suntuity.

“Our sellers can have a number of financing companions [instead of just one],” says Talia Stinson, communications supervisor with Suntuity Group. “Our seller staff is constructed from solar veterans who’ve been doing this from the sphere and have seen issues from the recruiter perspective. We know what’s happening from the seller aspect, with an skilled down-to-earth perspective.”

While the regional contractors proceed to run their local companies, the Suntuity model forges new paths, like with Suntuity Home. Its Net Zero Home is an architectural design for the sensible house market that features hybrid DualSun PV and solar thermal panels, batteries, LED lighting, water conservation and different superior options.


Another newer nationwide participant, Lumio, demonstrates the need of a broad nationwide footprint plus a sturdy portfolio of power options for householders. Lumio, launched in December 2020, unites a set of five regional players — Atlantic Key Energy, DECA, LIFT Energy, Our World Energy and Smart Energy Today — to serve 37 states with 3,500 staff members, acquainted with local and regional allowing necessities. Lumio rapidly attained a primary full-year run price to over $1 billion in gross sales.

“Lumio is actually constructed from the city up,” says Greg Butterfield, cofounder and CEO. “Unlike different firms that depend on outdoors installers, our regional presence is in-house. We mixed firms with the quickest, most dependable installs to realize velocity two to a few instances quicker than different suppliers.”

Lumio’s common set up time with excessive buyer satisfaction scores is lower than 30 days, and Butterfield attributes this to Lumio’s regional roots. This method they are acquainted with local codes, allowing and approval processes — intricacies that nationwide firms may miss.

That final half, in fact, might be true of any local installer. But combining sufficient top-notch firms to realize a nationwide presence is transformational for sourcing panels and provides. As smaller firms battle to supply supplies because of the pandemic, Lumio has been in a position to procure elements at quantity and at a decrease value.

For prospects, Lumio’s actual innovation goes past solar. Lumio acquired Unyte Home Service’s A.I.-driven know-how concierge and its Internet of Things (IoT)-linked choices. Lumio prospects can now management and handle all their disparate sensible house methods, together with solar, batteries, safety, leisure, property administration, flood sensors, sensible sprinklers and HVAC by means of a standard buyer interface. The centralized controls provide an opportunity to promote ancillary items and providers into a brand new or present house from a single platform. Unyte has partnerships with builders, actual property businesses and service suppliers nationwide, together with HomeSphere, a rebate administration platform connecting over 2,600 U.S. homebuilders that assemble 270,000 properties per yr.

New and nimble


Is the vertical/nationwide solar firm only a relic of an trade nonetheless in startup mode? Tough to say. On into the longer term, extra local and regional solar retailers might be wanted to serve demand, however there are critical monetary hurdles and enterprise burdens that make local solar companies unstable and end in stranded methods and a foul search for the trade total.

One new, nimble participant in house power, Palmetto, needs to disrupt the established order solar enterprise mannequin by not being a solar firm in any respect.

“Home solar makes electrical energy a hyper local product, which implies there are totally different instruments to use for every house owner to save lots of extra money and handle that domestically generated product,” says founder Chris Kemper, who has a Silicon-Valley-style standpoint on residential clear power.

Instead of promoting solar PV methods, he and a staff of software program builders are constructing a market of house power providers. The company acquired Mapdwell to deal with the front-end solar buyer estimation. The market will ultimately embody geothermal, storage, IoT gadgets and so on.

And as a substitute of constructing these solar initiatives and putting in these sensible house gadgets, they constructed a software program platform to divvy out these initiatives to solar professionals whereas they deal with every thing else.

“The purpose of a platform mannequin is to allow folks to do what they are good at,” Kemper says. “We’ll offer you back-end enterprise instruments, and you do the set up. You don’t have to construct a advertising division or rent a gross sales staff or pay for a CRM and ppc. We share provide chain, financing, high quality management capabilities and buyer expertise, with the purpose of serving to them discover extra alternatives to generate revenue.”

Kemper likens the imaginative and prescient extra to an Amazon or Uber as a result of the platform is geared to pricing transparency, gross sales effectivity and worth discount. That may sound much like an EnergySage by which prospects enter their tackle and get an inventory of quotes from local installers, however one essential distinction is Palmetto maintains the client relationship. The Palmetto market then isn’t centered as a lot on low up-front prices as a result of Palmetto is finally standing behind the set up and efficiency of the asset. Installers don’t need to cope with O&M, and prospects aren’t left within the lurch if there’s a difficulty and the installer is now not in enterprise.

As proof of idea, Kemper factors to their excessive Net Promoter Score — the “probability to suggest a services or products to a good friend or member of the family” — which ranks Palmetto on the ranges of robust client manufacturers like Netflix and Apple.

In August, Palmetto launched Build+, a 12-month incubator-style program to assist aspiring clear power entrepreneurs get their very own solar set up companies off the bottom. This Build+ Program is open to solar and electrical professionals with a minimal of 5 years of solar set up expertise in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Texas, to check out the idea.

Build+ addresses the main challenges for solar entrepreneurship, which embody: capital funding necessities, managing distinctive money move points, reaching licensing, securing insurance coverage, forming an entity/enterprise, overseeing payroll and accounting, recruiting, advertising, adhering to compliance/authorized issues and procuring instruments and tools. Program graduates might be eligible for associate financing, money move incentives, set up prepared jobs and buyer referrals to assist guarantee enterprise success.

By eradicating these hurdles, and aggregating its shopping for energy throughout its community, the economics of each shopping for solar and working a solar enterprise might enhance tremendously. That’s the purpose, anyway. Time will inform concerning its personal stability, however the firm operates debt free and is funded by quite a few personal fairness and company buyers.

“Our mannequin is builders join and then it’s turnkey on their finish. They make more cash right here versus working for a vertical firm, and there are different advantages like setting their very own schedules and constructing their very own enterprise,”

Kemper says. “In solar particularly, there isn’t any aggressive mode. Anyone can break up off and do their very own factor tomorrow — so, how can you allow that? Instead of stopping that, let’s help it. That’s the general perception construction we have now.”

Chris Crowell is the editor of Solar Builder, Charles W. Thurston is a contributor to Solar Builder.

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Tags: EVs, Lumio, Palmetto, sales and marketing, SunPower, Sunrun, VPPs

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