Monday, August 17, 2015

Google Sunroof wants to make solar easier and empower the consumer

In solar news, Google today announced Project Sunroof, aimed at making the process of going solar easier through use of already existing data on rooftop layouts and solar resource.  While some may look at this and say, "Sounds good, but meh..", I think there are several hidden reasons why this could be a very big deal for mass solar energy adoption and the solar energy business.

Lets discuss:

Right now, the novice solar energy candidate consumer is not empowered: 

What I mean by this is that there is no Amazon reviews system for the long term performance of rooftop installed solar projects for residential / non-commercial customers.  If you are interested in going solar, you can go out and get a handful of bids, but other than competition on price and Yelp reviews of the installation company you choose, there is no great way to determine the "value of your roof".  If you work in the solar industry, than you know you can use tools such as SAM, or PVSYST, or the TMY3 databases, but these are not tools generally used by the public.  The customer is not in the driver seat here at a time when the customer is used to being in control.

But, if a company as well known as Google had an easy to use, data-driven tool available to the public for free, then the customer is empowered to know as much as Google does about their roof.  This is a very powerful bit of leverage, if it is done correctly.  Leverage means more competition, lower prices, deeper solar adoption.

Some companies are already trying to use Google data to make money here, so why not just make it free (and make solar cheaper):  

There are a host of new startups that are basically taking Google maps data and building applications on top of them to give the appearance of "automated" or "semi-automated" customer solar system designs.  Firms such as Aurora, HelioScope, EasySolar are attempting to "automate" the design process to save big bucks and make the installer more competitive.  While this is interesting, it seems much more logical that the process just be fully automated by a company with the resources to tackle such a problem, like GOOGLE, and then be done with it.  If the first step in anyone looking to go solar was to type their address into Google and let the app do the work, then lets just jump to that solution today.

Google is Google, and they currently make their money doing other things:  

In my dream scenario, I type my address into Google, type in my power usage, click "Go" and then print off my step by step instructions on going solar.  It tells me where to buy my panels, where to buy my racking, the names of 5 electricians in my area that will connect it for me, and the names of 5x roofing companies willing to do the install.  It helps me to understand my potential, give me the confidence I am not getting bamboozeld!  Oh and it fills out my permit paperwork so I can take it right to city hall for signature.  Please Google... make my dreams come true!  Since Google currently makes money doing other things, I also hope that this process will be free, or close to free, since keeping down costs and widening accessibility is critical to deeper solar adoption.

Solar should be as simple as buying a washing machine:

You can buy a 500W washing machine and plug it in at home without a signature from the government or your power company.  But once the electricity goes the other direction, everyone wants to get involved.  What is this silly-ness?  The world needs to get comfortable with bi-directional electricity, and a company like Google helping to change the status quo can only help speed the process of making the installation of generation as simple as the installation of load.

Here is a YouTube video for Sunroof.  I look forward to keeping tabs on this project and using it for my own house once it comes to Orange County / Los Angeles!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ASES Talk: Why Now is the Best Time Ever to be a Solar Entreprenuer

At the Penn State Conference Center last week, a large contingent of passionate solar folk and American Solar Energy Society leaders gathered to visit the annual ASES Solar Conference.  I (Adam) stopped by for a day to talk about ASES, meet the people who make up such a great organization and give a talk titled "Why now is the best time ever to be a solar entrepreneur".  My goal was simply to point out the things I've seen happening in the industry lately that could be helpful to the budding entrepreneur.

The basic crux of the presentation is that now IS the best time for the budding solar entrepreneur, because solar is just recently gaining acceptance as a "real business".  ITC uncertainty aside (for the US market at least), solar is positioned these days for the long haul, to be a major contender in the mix for global growth in demand for electricity.  However at the same time, there are no shortage of problems (hidden opportunities really!) in solar that I feel entrepreneurs are distinctly positioned to capture.

I've posted my presentation in PDF format at the link below.  I'd love for anyone who is interested to review it, leave your own thoughts or give feedback to me on the topic.

Download Why Now is the Best Time Ever to be a Solar Entrepreneur (PDF)