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How to educate your Berkeley neighbors about going solar

2013 May 8

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The DOE Sunshot Initiative aims to get solar PV costs down to $1 per watt by 2020. Module prices have already fallen precipitously and continue to fall. However, an increasing number of companies are focusing on how to bring down the marketing, finance, and installation costs of solar PV systems, which remain stubbornly high. LBNL research has shown that customer acquisition is 10 times more costly in the U.S. than in Germany (see slide 29 in the linked presentation).

Two friends, my former colleagues at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, are pursuing an idea called SolarList, which aims to reduce those customer acquisition costs here in the U.S. One problem is that solar installation companies burn through a lot of sales time educating potential customers about how to go solar, but only a few of those leads end up working out. SolarList is building mobile software that allows students to offer free, third-party home solar assessments through targeted canvassing and their personal networks. For homeowners that are still interested once they have had some education and a free assessment, SolarList can connect them to installers.

A couple weekends ago, some friends and I decided to do some beta testing for SolarList’s mobile solar assessment software in the hills of Berkeley. We wanted to see just how homeowners would respond to some Berkeley students knocking on their doors offering free education on going solar. I was joined by Michael Conti (SolarList), Tim Cronin (BERC’s VP of Law), and Jenny Tang (editor of BERC’s China Focus).

Together, we knocked on a couple hundred doors that weekend and talked to dozens of homeowners. We found that if someone answered the door and had a few minutes to talk, the conversation went well at least 50% of the time. In general, people enjoyed receiving a free solar assessment, seeing how much they could save on their utility bill, and learning more about the different financing and installation options available. Some folks even offered to sit us down at the dining room table and have a longer chat.

At the end of the day, we had actionable leads that we could sell to solar installers. The homeowner receives free education and assessments, solar companies get qualified leads, and we get paid for pounding the pavement and preaching the solar gospel. (One homeowner remarked that she was only willing to talk to us because we didn’t look religious. She gets a lot of evangelists at her door, but I was apparently the first solar evangelist.)

So that’s how you can sell solar to your neighbors in Berkeley (or wherever you live). If you want to try it out, SolarList’s Ground Forces team is ramping up with summer jobs.

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