Four Solar-Saving Strategies Starting with WWW
After completing the Energy Department's rigorous SunShot Incubator program, four solar start-ups are launching web-based applications that dramatically reduce the cost of installing rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems. These small businesses spent the past year developing innovative approaches to tackle soft costs such as customer acquisition, permitting, system design and maintenance. Having successfully advanced their ideas from prototype to product, the newest Incubator graduates are now poised to take the world (wide web) by storm.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Energy Sage developed an online comparison-shopping platform for solar PV systems. This approach helps potential solar customers compare and evaluate multiple quotes from qualified local providers. For example, the First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington, Mass. was able to negotiate a 35 percent lower power purchase agreement rate by going through the EnergySage platform. A national rollout is planned in July, but preliminary results from the limited release in select northeastern states showed a dramatic decrease in sales cycle times—from a market average of nine months to an average of only six weeks.
Genability built a tool that allows solar providers to calculate the before and after costs of electricity for customers who want to install PV systems. With support from SunShot Incubator, this team of nine working out of San Francisco was able to create a national database of rate plans and develop a complex calculator that simplifies cost savings. Genability's innovation helps installers cut the amount of time needed to prepare a quote for residential installations by 48% from an average of 11.25 hours to 6.25 hours. On top of that, this new capability better informs customers about solar purchasing decisions, leading to higher customer satisfaction, more referrals and higher conversions.
With about 18,000 jurisdictions regulating solar processes nationwide, Parker, Colorado-based Simply Civic proposed just one solution for streamlined permitting. The company's software allows any jurisdiction in the country to accept permitting, inspection and interconnection applications online and seamlessly collaborate with applicants throughout the approval process. Given that the permitting process can take months in some parts of the country, it is all the more impressive that this package can be adopted in a matter of days.
Sun Number, headquartered in Deephaven, Minn., invented a high-tech method for accurately and efficiently calculating the solar potential of rooftops. Lots of rooftops. The company has now applied its GIS-based approach to analyze about 8 million buildings in 11 cities. Sun Number's system can process aerial data for millions of buildings and provide an easy-to-understand score on a scale of 1 to 100 that represents a location's solar potential. This approach can significantly reduce the cost of qualifying properties to, well, free.
These leading-edge companies represent the first group of soft cost Incubator awardees to meet all of their deliverables and successfully complete the sixth round of this program. It's an exciting time for these small businesses to come of age. Because solar panel prices have plummeted in the past few years, soft costs now make up a larger portion of the total cost to go solar—roughly 50 percent. Therefore, great potential exists for these small businesses to have a big impact on the U.S. solar market.
Impact is what Incubator is all about. This program was created to fill the gap in funding that exists between innovative ideas and go-to-market efforts—a gap that often prevents disruptive new technologies from entering the marketplace. The SunShot Incubator program aims to de-risk promising proof-of-concept ideas so they become attractive investments for private funding groups. Since the program was launched in 2007, $92 million in government funds has leveraged more than $1.7 billion in venture capital and private equity investment, demonstrating a ratio of nearly $20 in subsequent private sector support for every $1 of federal support.