Henry David Thoreau once exclaimed, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” Today, Thoreau’s pronouncement seems dead on—he was just a couple of centuries early. People have now become tools of their web and mobile applications. Recognizing a business opportunity, the solar industry has jumped right in with an influx of innovative new online technologies, digital apps, and customer engagement strategies.
Until now, most of the solar industry was heavily reliant on paper communication. However, with the boom over the past few years in smart phones and tablets, many companies have shifted their businesses accordingly, and become more reliant on applications and online technologies that can speed up the process as well as reduce the costs. Mobile and online technologies are changing the game. Companies in the solar industry are beginning to think about how to leverage these channels to enhance their products and services.
There are many mobile technologies designed for both installers and consumers that are just hitting the market and are already transforming solar processes. Two such companies are Geostellar and Solar Site Design.
In December 2012, Geostellar initially launched their Geostellar Sustainable Energy Network. However, the new and improved technology was launched just last month, on March 9th, at the SXSW Eco Conference in Austin, Texas – the very place where twitter exploded just a few years ago. Geostellar Sustainable Energy Network combines advanced solar modeling platforms, which use 3D mapping to calculate solar system value, with social networking in order to assist consumers considering going solar, which in turn benefits installers by providing a lucrative referral source.
According to Dean Kuipers, Director of Communications at Geostellar, what separates Geostellar from other web applications on the market, such as One Block Off the Grid, is that they are the only mobile technology that deploys LIDaR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, an optimal light based radar system pre-mapped from airplanes for measuring targets by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscattered light. Using LIDaR technology has allowed Geostellar to optimize solar PV systems at the city level by determining appropriate rooftops and shading losses. With LIDaR technology, Geostellar’s tool can provide an accurate measure of laying out a solar system on one’s roof in a matter of seconds. All that’s required is for consumers to type in their home address, and Geostellar will deliver a report informing the consumer of how much energy the roof would put out, how much money would be saved and how much carbon emissions would be prevented.
Geostellar then takes the position of broker by collecting bids from various local installers in order to get consumers the best deal possible for clean energy. As a result of Geostellar’s technology, installers benefit by gaining clients without putting in the marketing bucks. More importantly however, rather than spending man-hours going to the location and drawing up plans, courtesy of Geostellar, installers receive a report on the location with all the facts including local incentives and rates as well as potential system blueprints.
Geostellar currently has legal agreements with thousands of installers across the U.S. One of the many Geostellar installers is Maryland-based Kenergy Solar. According to Kenergy’s Director of Marketing and Inside Sales, Henry Scholl, before they began using Geostellar, they would create their drawings using Google earth satellite view and by physically measuring the dimensions of the roof, which can take a few hours. Using Geostellar technology, Kenergy is now able to get preliminary data in a matter of minutes. This has allowed Kenergy to fortify its position as one of the top-tier solar installation groups in the D.C. area.
Unlike Geostellar, Solar Site Design is a new mobile application out of Nashville, Tennessee, that focuses on assisting solar installation groups on site visits. Fresh on the market after a release just this month, Solar Site Design is a collaborative, cloud-based, content management platform that offers a complete project development solution for solar professionals. Using the tool, installers plug details about the project into the app and receive a complete project design proposal.
Jason Loyet, Managing Director of Solar Site Design has a software background and has been in the solar industry for 8 years. “This application couldn’t have been created even two years ago, but in today’s market, phones have become so powerful with high definition video, that installers can work with the top infrastructure possible to support the technology,” he said.
Loyet recognized that SSD technology shares many similarities with the System Advisor Model software, the U.S Department of Energy’s free downloadable software to measure system performance and financial models. However, unlike SAM, which requires months of training to learn the complex system, SSD is quick and easy and requires virtually no training. Typically, installers will visit each site multiple times, and file permitting and municipality regulations in order to get all the requisite information for feasibility drawings. However, with SSD’s free application, installers are guided through a data collection process at their initial sales visit with home or business owners. Once all the data is synced to the Solar Site Design interface, SSD’s team of solar engineers look over the data and prepare a feasibility report for the installers. Depending on the scale of the project, the report can take between 2 and 5 business days. This technology reduces costs for contractors and makes it easier to acquire more customers.
Geostellar and Solar Site Design are just two of the many companies in the solar industry that are releasing technology that raises efficiency while reducing costs for contractors. These applications are helping the solar industry make the sun business sexy. They simplify the sales process, engage end-users, educate and save you time. As solar companies begin to adapt to the latest technologies, look for web and mobile apps to play a larger role with other clean technologies, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency, storage and supply. Opportunities await the first movers!