Top 3 Take-Aways from the 2015 GreenTech Media Solar Summit 2015
Written by Jeff Martin, SunShare Senior Director of Sales
For those who love solar industry research and insight, this year’s GreenTech Media Solar Summit in Phoenix was as valuable as ever. Here are three top takeaways from the conference:
1) Community Solar is Hot
Straight out of the gate and throughout the two-day event, Community Solar was highlighted as a major industry trend and opportunity. Expert panelists and GreenTech Media leaders articulated something that we have known for a long time here at SunShare: shared solar is an important part of the future energy mix. Why? Because Community Solar enables a significant portion of the customer base – who otherwise could not choose solar due to roofing, shading, or other considerations – to easily and meaningfully participate in the solar revolution. This acknowledgement forebodes a significant increase in Community Solar garden initiatives nationwide.
Although shared solar was a recurring theme, the topic surprisingly didn’t appear in the formal conference agenda. The Summit lacked any official representation from community solar companies and no panel was dedicated to this new business model. The mechanics, challenges, risks, partnerships, and opportunities of community solar gardens were discussed at a high-level, not at the granular level characterized by many other sessions. Perhaps community solar is just too new. As this space evolves, who plays a pivotal role and in what capacity remains up for debate. Utilities are obviously an instrumental element of the incipient shared-solar movement, but there is an important – I would say imperative – role for third-party private enterprise. That’s because…
2) Solar-Plus is Coming!
There is a shift on the horizon. Solar companies will no longer focus solely on installing panels and delivering solar kilowatt hours and savings to the customer. The shift is towards delivering VALUE in the form of ancillary services and increased engagement through creative partnerships and dedication to the user experience. Battery storage, smart-thermostats, the connected-home, electric-vehicle (EV) charging integration, augmented insight and mobile engagement will soon become value-added services. Solar companies – specifically those catering to the residential market – are innovating to stay ahead. This is fun stuff! Throughout my eight years in the industry, focus and discussion has been much more about how to create efficiencies and cost-reductions in manufacturing, installation, financing and customer acquisition. While all of that is still important, companies are now forming interesting partnerships with the aim of engaging the customer, offering more things he/she cares about, and differentiating their offering from other solar companies. This – coupled with Community Solar – heralds an important transition from niche to mainstream!
3) The Future of Solar is Bright, But Not Without Challenges.
Community solar and innovation in customer experience brings exciting possibilities, but what’s going to happen when the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) expires at the end of 2016? It is sure to be a mixed bag of incredible opportunity and significant threats. In order to succeed, the solar industry will need to play offense and defense. For example, utilities are fighting net-metering and partly co-opting the sector in many markets. And a reduction of the ITC will challenge the industry’s viability and value proposition to the greater consumer base. That said, the industry will certainly survive without an extension of the ITC. But our industry must – and will – coalesce and innovate across the value chain to effectively adjust for these impending challenges. The solar industry will likely slow down in 2017 post ITC-expiration. Considering the incredible glut of activity and installations happening in anticipation of the ITC reduction, a dip in growth is to be expected. But growth will continue! The expert panelists at the Summit were in unanimous consent about that.
Moreover, my belief is that community solar coupled with industry innovation will help drive enormous customer demand that will trump any significant challenges and legislative hurdles facing solar adoption. When we get to a point where customers in all markets demand a solar-option for their home or business – or more likely a Solar-Plus option – the solar industry will respond by continuously improving costs, innovating, and pressuring utilities and policy-makers to give customers want they want.
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