Survey solar companies want software to speed growth, manage utility rates solar installation static electricity sound effect

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While managing a wide range of software solutions can add complexity, it’s also an opportunity. "Fragmentation means that a team is working on a narrower problem, and is therefore able to solve it more effectively because they can understand it better, and you get better products," Grana said.

The trend toward diversification aligns with the findings of a forthcoming Folsom Labs and GTM Research survey, in which 600 solar developers, engineers and consultants identify pain points they’re looking for software to solve. Companies aren’t looking for technology solutions to that can do a dozen things at once, according to Grana. Rather, they’re looking for multiple tailored solutions that can solve specific challenges.

Based on the survey, understanding utility rates is a top priority for the solar industry. The majority of respondents (60 percent) said Excel spreadsheets are how they keep track of utility rates. Energy Toolbase was the next most popular software platform among survey takers (18 percent), followed by UtilityAPI (10 percent).

Grana noted that there are other software solutions out there to help solar companies manage utility rates. What’s likely driving the demand for a technology fix in this space is that utility rates are becoming more complicated, particularly for distributed solar.

For instance, California’s Net Metering 2.0 transition has made selling rooftop solar significantly more complex. Telling customers what their rates, and thus their solar savings are, "has gone from something a salesperson can do on a calculator at the kitchen table, to something you need to plug in to a model to figure it out," Grana said.

For larger companies, remote shade analysis, the permitting landscape and incentive databases are unmet needs that respondents want software to fix. For smaller companies, project management tools, remote shade analysis and support for Green Button, a standardized way to access energy usage data, emerged as priorities.

"Certainly, they are related," said Grana. "Price informs the payback period, and the payback period informs the willingness of someone to go solar, particularly for distributed generation. But still, I would say given the survey results, it’s much more about companies finding new customers, serving those customers more effectively, and becoming more efficient in doing it."

To Grana, this makes perfect sense. High-growth companies have already figured out the core of their business; they have a number of happy customers and now they want to find more of them at a faster rate. Or, at least, they don’t want to grow at a slower rate. In general, that’s true of all solar companies, although slower-growth firms are more sensitive to software prices and ease of use.

According to Grana, this ties back to the efficiency and productivity piece. Companies can get most of the data they need to build a solar project from satellite imagery, but once that company reaches a certain level of maturity, it looks for places to invest that will allow the company to move faster. Investing in high-quality drone data is one way to do that.

If all solar companies appear to be offering the same product, then the competition comes down entirely to price. The more differences there are in how a company goes to market, the easier it is to shift the conversation from price to customer needs and value.

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