Picking the best solar asset management software for residential

With residential solar’s recent growth, solar asset management software is no longer just for commercial and industrial
Author : 
February 15, 2024

We knew an installer based out of Virginia who had been in business for over 15 years before they decided to finally take the plunge and add service as a true pillar of their business.  Their mantra was that even if they didn’t install a solar system, that didn’t mean they couldn’t help a homeowner service it.  Their thinking was something along the lines of, “Hey, what a great way to not only improve the industry’s reputation but also discover new customers for follow-on sales and referrals.”  A real win-win.

But once they put this mantra into practice, it was a rockier start than they anticipated.  They were taking on service for any and every solar project homeowner, which meant they were dealing with countless monitoring platforms — all with their own logins, alert systems, and headaches. 

After months of wrangling these disparate systems, their service team had had enough, called Uncle, and started looking for a solar asset management platform that could actually scale with the growing department.

At the end of 2022 there were 3.9 million residential PV systems in the United States, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).  Solar asset management software has typically been associated with commercial installs — but as residential solar grows, so does the need for consolidated asset management, fleet tracking, and monitoring solutions.

Whether you’re: 

  • Adopting orphaned systems
  • Building out your service department
  • Wanting to provide better post-install communications for follow-on sales

All are strategies for earning your solar business more money, and finally putting an end to the headaches that stem from wrangling disparate systems.  If you’re trying to turn your service center from a cost center to a profit center, below are the 7 steps to work through as you search for the best solar management software for your team. 

Step 1: Set clear objectives for your service department

Obviously, the end goal is to find the right solar asset management software to support your specific business goals.  But let’s not put the cart before the horse.  In order to accomplish that, you first have to clearly define those goals. Take some time to set clear objectives for your service department.  Clearly defined goals serve as a compass to steer your team's priorities, and likewise, the direction of your department.

Consider questions like:

  • What key purposes will the service department serve?
    (Generating leads?  Retrofit sales?  Managing lifetime customer care?)
  • What metrics align with success?
    (Response time?  Repair completion rate?  Customer satisfaction scores?)
  • What processes need optimization first?
    (Work order management?  Inventory?  Fleet oversight?)

With clear goals and KPIs established upfront, you can then evaluate solar project management software platforms on how well they will facilitate your service department vision.  Features like customized reporting dashboards, alerts, and permissions are a few to keep in mind.

Step 2: Match the core functionality of the software with the objectives of your service department

Software vendors tend to tout long lists of features and functionality. But it's important to cut through those exhaustive checklists to identify if the core capabilities actually map to your service department's established objectives and pain points.  Is there a match, or is it a lengthy list of nice-to-haves? 

Assess must-have aspects like:

  • Consolidated system monitoring and alerts
  • Customizable reports and oversight of KPIs
  • Mobility for field techs to access/update work orders
  • Integration with existing tools like accounting or CRM software

While bells and whistles like automated equipment monitoring or predictive issue diagnosis are attractive, resist the temptation to over-invest there initially.  Nail down the essential functions to reach your service goals first.

The key is adhering to the "crawl, walk, run" methodology by aligning software scope to current needs, while keeping an eye on future objectives.  Don’t forgo your current objectives for shiny bells and whistles.  Nail down the essential functions to reach your service goals first.  This prevents overspending and positions you for scale.

Step 3: Evaluate if your inverter and monitoring platforms are supported by the software

Keep in mind that not every software integrates with every inverter or monitoring platform.  Any solar asset tracker must integrate seamlessly across the equipment stacks you already have.  If managing a multitude of manufacturers and monitoring platforms is already causing headaches, the last thing you want is software that adds yet another disparate system.

Before getting too deep into conversations with any vendor, assess integration capabilities like:

  • Inverter manufacturers supported
  • Native connections to existing monitoring platforms
  • API availability to build future integrations

The goal here is to consolidate, so the platform you choose should integrate with every inverter that your business installs — this way you avoid rip-and-replace tools that add cost and complexity.

Step 4: Understand if the alerts and alert settings can be configured to match your operational needs

Most every inverter has its own monitoring platform that your reps can log into and track performance.  Most of these solar equipment vendors provide default alerts when issues arise.  

Unfortunately, often these warnings are not tailored effectively to your technicians' workflows and procedures.  That’s why alerts can quickly become overwhelming.  If an alert doesn’t match your team’s definitions of “down” or “urgent,” the best case scenario is that your team is annoyed every day.  The worst case is that they begin actively ignoring these alerts and start missing real customer issues.

That’s why before investing in solar management software, it's important to assess how much control you have to define alerts that reflect your true operational cadence.

Key aspects to evaluate might include:

  • Granularity for configuring what constitutes warnings vs critical alerts
  • Ability to route alerts to assign responsibility
  • Notification flexibility (email, text, in-platform)
  • Customizable rules on hours of operation before escalation

You'll want smart redirection and filtering to surface only meaningful alerts to the right technicians.  False positive fatigue is real!

Step 5: Have your service team try it out for user friendliness

Even the most robust solution with all the right features won't provide value if the software isn’t usable for your team.  In that case, you’re just looking at wasted money.  When assessing solar panel management solutions, be sure to put them directly into the hands of service teams to gauge real-world usability.

For example, the software you choose should go a step further than just consolidating a bunch of nuisance alerts — instead, it should help your service staff focus in on what actually needs to get done.  Have your team sit in on a demo of the software you’re considering and ask them:

  • Did you think the platform interface was as clean and intuitive as their phone or their inbox?
  • Could you actually imagine using this software every day?
  • What did you dislike about the flow of the software?

Some software vendors may allow your team to test the software before purchasing as well, giving your service department a true chance to poke under the hood.  It never hurts to ask for a test drive!

Step 6: Consider how scalable the software is — does it support integrations?

If a solar panel management software doesn’t work with the inverters and batteries in your stack, it’s already a non-starter.  Once you tick that box, ask yourself:  Will this software work well not just now, but 1, 2, or 5 years from now?  Is there capacity to absorb exponentially more assets and work orders as installed panels multiply over time?

It's critical to gauge both current functionality and future extensibility.

Step 7: Ask for their product roadmap

The ideal solar asset management software meets your requirements today and also has a product vision that aligns with your service department's future objectives and maturation.  It's critically important to understand what direction the parent company is going.  Do they have new features planned that align with your plans?

You may consider asking:

  • Are there plans to expand equipment integrations to brands you may adopt later?
  • Is predictive maintenance on the roadmap to diagnose issues preemptively via AI or machine learning?
  • Will future capabilities like automated inventory ordering save technicians time?
  • Are mobile and technician user experience enhancements forthcoming?

To the point of step 6, you want confidence that the software — and the company behind it — will be a long-term partner.  While current features may check all the boxes, it's invaluable context to understand where things are headed in the short- and long-term future.  Getting clarity into product vision alignment upfront is a key step in informing your choice.

Residential solar customer expectations are shifting

We like to think that someday there will be solar on every home.  And when that’s true, it’ll be important for the residential solar industry to adapt to O&M.  The right solar asset management software can help you prepare for this reality.

Streamlining the historically fragmented array of equipment monitoring and service workflows is essential to delivering a superior customer experience across a solar asset fleet.  Bodhi Fleet helps installers position themselves to embrace this emerging residential solar market opportunity.  Consolidated system oversight, optimized service dispatch and maintenance, reduced overhead — all of these are achievable results that impact the bottom line.

To learn more about how Bodhi Fleet can help you streamline your service department, schedule a demo. We’d love to talk.

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