With great (solar) power comes great responsibility

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The home solar industry experienced explosive growth through 2022, but along with that growth emerged misleading advertising, deceptive sales tactics, subpar outsourced installations, and predatory financing products. With this lack of transparency and accountability in industry practices, the solar industry has created a problem for itself: a crisis of trust.

The path back to growth in residential solar isn’t complicated, nor is it unique to solar. It’s all about building that trust. Here are five things we in the solar industry can do ASAP to reignite industry growth.

  1. Put the consumer first. Respect their time, their needs and concerns, their finances, and the importance they place on their home. Speak truthfully and plainly, knowing that they are relying on us to give them accurate information and tailored recommendations for their home and circumstances. Our aim should be helping the homeowner make a good decision rather than getting them to sign a contract. Sometimes, the right decision for an individual homeowner is not to go solar, and that’s okay.
  2. End the sales shenanigans. “Solar bros” have become the new “used car salesmen,” and the entire industry suffers for it. A great product nearly sells itself without the need for intense (and costly) sales. In our industry, a quality solar system installed at a great price doesn’t require hard selling. What we at EnergySage see is that the strongest and fastest-growing installers don’t sell hard. They design great systems at fair prices. They are respectful and responsive, but not pushy. They build trust, increase their close rates, and reinvest those would-be-huge sales commissions into improving their business.
  3. Provide transparent pricing. Many homeowners assume the price of solar is “whatever the sales rep can get you to say yes to” just like car sales. They enter the conversation already suspicious. What does that do? At best, it increases sales touches, adds uncomfortable negotiations, and slows down the sales cycle. At worst, it causes the homeowner to completely walk away from solar. They lose out on all the benefits of solar. They do not become an evangelist for solar. The industry doesn’t grow. Transparent and fair pricing doesn’t mean the lowest price. In fact, on EnergySage, the majority of shoppers do not choose the installer that quotes the lowest price. They choose their installer based on the overall quality and value of the proposal (of which price is one component) and the installer’s reputation and responsiveness.
  4. Create simpler contracts. We all hate lengthy legal documents. The longer a solar contract is, the more apprehensive a homeowner will be. At EnergySage, shoppers often ask our independent Energy Advisors to help them understand a complicated document from their installer. If your contract and proposal necessitate review from a lawyer or an independent advisor, you are likely losing sales. Simplicity wins.
  5. Better (normal) financing options. Recently the Minnesota Attorney General sued four of the largest solar loan providers for fraud. While the case is yet to play out, it’s obvious to anyone who works in the solar industry that solar financing products are strange. Dealer fees, buying down interest rates, leases, and PPAs are too much to ask the average homeowner to fully understand. What homeowners do understand are mortgages, home equity loans, HELOCs, and personal loans. It’s important for consumers and installers alike to understand that most solar loans are paid off in 5-7 years. That means solar loans with high upfront fees in exchange for lower long-term interest rates typically don’t make sense for homeowners. Kudos to companies like Climate First Bank and Atmos Financial who are innovating to create more straightforward solar loan products.

The land grab in solar is over. Fly-by-night installers have started disappearing. On the other hand, installers that provide a great product and great service at a great price are continuing to grow. But the only way to truly reignite industry growth is for the industry to improve its overall reputation, and that means change. We can change the industry ourselves, or we can wait for increased regulation and more lawsuits to change it for us. The former sounds much better. 

Warren Buffet famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” There are great installers with great reputations out there (we work with hundreds of them), but the residential solar industry as a whole has some reputation repair to do, and the best time to start is now.

Solar should be every homeowner’s cheat code. Solar energy can revolutionize our homes and communities by delivering huge energy and financial savings, reducing our carbon footprint, increasing individual and grid resiliency, and more. But none of that matters if we can’t unlock mass adoption, and that will require prioritizing consumer protection and transparency.

Josh Levine is the vice president of marketing at EnergySage, the leading marketplace for clean home energy solutions. With previous experiences at Google, Procter & Gamble, and as an officer in the U.S. Army, he is responsible for ensuring EnergySage maintains its consumer-first values in everything the company does.

Solar quote for your home

Now is a great time to begin your solar journey. If you want to make sure you’re finding a trusted, reliable solar installer near you that offers competitive pricing, check out EnergySage, a free service that makes it easy for you to go solar. They have hundreds of pre-vetted solar installers competing for your business, ensuring you get high-quality solutions and save 20 to 30% compared to going it alone. Plus, it’s free to use and you won’t get sales calls until you select an installer and you share your phone number with them. Your personalized solar quotes are easy to compare online and you’ll get access to unbiased Energy Advisors to help you every step of the way. Get started here.

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