The value of energy has changed: An opportunity for the solar industry

Author : 
April 16, 2021

60+ hours left in the cold and dark and a barrage of burst pipes have also left Texans with a new relationship with energy.  It is no longer abstract.  It is no longer an afterthought.  Texans intimately understand that energy equals the warmth to fall asleep, equals clean drinking water, equals life-saving medical devices.  

After years of us touting the common slogans “Never pay a utility bill again” or “Clean energy for all,” the Texas Winter Storm and Blackout opens for us a new opportunity.  With a death toll at 75 and counting, safety, well-being, and resilience are now at the forefront of people’s attention.  EnergySage reports a 200% increase in interest in solar and storage in Texas since late February. Solar installers in Texas have told us they’ve seen a 1000% increase in leads compared to the same time last year, and the percentage of solar inquiries that now include storage is up 80% from inquiries that were for solar only.

As customers’ frame of mind shift and their value for energy increases, how will this impact their journey in embracing solar?

The Pre-Blackout Landscape

Let’s start with the conditions of the landscape before the storm.

Lack of Attention to Energy:

Though not as extreme, a similar winter storm in 2011 resulted in rolling blackouts.  However the general public doesn’t remember.  For the most part, consumers take energy as a given.  On average, the American consumer thinks about energy for only 8 minutes a year.  That’s the equivalent to the time it takes to drink a small cup of coffee. We cannot fault ourselves, however, as energy infrastructure and delivery has been intertwined within our makeup, our economy, and paradigm of thought. When we ask the fish: “How’s the water?” ...The fish replies, “What’s water?”

Solar has been Supplier Driven:

Solar companies have been largely responsible for framing the value proposition of solar to the customer, namely “Save money” or “Save the environment.”  Many companies have structured themselves around these value propositions and steered the customer through their sales pitches and presentations to fit within that framework rather than listen for the inherent concerns or motivation of the customer.  As we’re seeing, this leaves a lot on the table for what going solar can achieve or catalyze.  

Lack of Knowledge:

Electricity itself is hard to relate to.  To many, it’s mysterious.  To others, it’s scary.  There’s a reason we tell our kids not to touch the electrical outlet.  As a result, many customers do not draw on much experience when presented with the possible solutions that solar can offer. We understand it, but they have a hard time discerning the choices of one version or another.  

The New Landscape

And this is how the landscape has recently changed

Driven by Emotion

Even though customers do not have a relationship with energy, they have a relationship with what energy makes possible.  And now it’s a relationship driven by emotion.  They now know what they cannot have when the power goes out.  They know and can remember the emotion, the feeling of being without.  

Rapid Technological Evolution

Energy technology and services are rapidly evolving - from solar+storage to EVs to grid management through VPPs. The options for impacting the many modes of our customers’ lives are exploding, but the customers’ understanding of these options has not.  Precision is required.  We need to be precise in identifying their specific needs.  We then need to be precise in configuring a solution of these advanced technologies (like battery management settings) that takes into account the unique functional requirements of the customer’s regional environment.

National Discussion

For the first time in many years, there is a promise of a coherent national discussion and action on climate change on the horizon. We are not as alone as we once were, and the customers are not as alone as they once were.

What We Can Do

Reality is now crashing down on us.  People want our industry (the energy industry) to now deliver in a different way and at a different level than that to which we have been accustomed. Perhaps we thought we had several years for grid modernization, or the broader introduction of EVs, or advanced home energy automation. We have to do it now.

Given that people’s trust in their utilities and regulators have been shaken (with negative net promoter scores, it was never that great anyways), we in the solar industry can triage the situation and set a course for a stronger future outcome.  

If we can listen to customers’ fears and hopes, they will trust our assurances, our guidance, and our expertise.  And they will embrace a way to take control of their energy generation that only we can offer, ensuring them the safety, well-being, and resilience that they’re entitled to when the next storm hits.  

If you'd like to talk more about this changing customer mindset, contact us.

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