In February, EnergySage, which has adopted the title of “the Expedia of solar power,” publicly launched its online comparison solar shopping site. I wrote a quick rundown of the website at the time. Luckily, not long after that, I got the chance to walk through the site and how it works with a member of EnergySage’s Corporate Development team. I got to see how the customers (residential, commercial, or nonprofit) navigate through the site, as well as how the installers do so. For various reasons (it’s a long story… or 5), I’m just now getting to writing about all of that and sharing it with you. Read on for the details….
First of all, some general points that I think are worth highlighting are as follows:
- The EnergySage system offers something for all different customer styles and preferences. For customers who really want to dig in, EnergySage offers a wealth of information and comparison shopping support. However, if a customer wants to go through the process without much effort or thought, she or he also has that option available.
- EnergySage, unlike I think all of its “competitors,” actually gets installers involved in the customer acquisition process by facilitating installer bids and potentially even dialogue. In other words, EnergySage doesn’t simply feed a customer to a single installer, but it facilitates local competition and personalized feedback from installers (prior to any purchase being made). As EnergySage’s John Gingrich wrote to me, “This provides consumers with multiple perspectives on the system design, technology, financing options, pricing, installer quality, install date, etc. We include local, regional, and national installers in the mix.”
The process of installer competition is good for getting a better price, but it is also important to point out that EnergySage helps consumers evaluate installer and technology quality as well as some of the qualitative aspects of installer proposals — such as workmanship warranties, unique installation techniques, installer reputation and experience, and more.
“Competition also gives the consumer multiple perspectives on system size, design, and available technologies in order to bring real choice into the equation. Three installers will give you three totally different system sizes, designs, and financing options. It’s an art to some extent and consumers should have several options to consider or they might miss out! As an example, we have helped several consumers who were rejected by larger providers for solar. The local installers were more than happy to customize a solution for them!”
Very important benefits, in my opinion. Now, let’s “navigate through the system.”
First, as with any site offering to get you solar quotes, you have to input a few details — basics like your address, details regarding your electric bill, how EnergySage can contact you, etc. This is normal and of course required if you are going to get any useful information about your unique solar possibilities.
Once you’ve input your data, the other side of the merry-go-round gets to work. Installers in your area (who are hooked into the EnergySage system) see your information and come up with offers for you. At this stage, you simply sit back for a short time and wait to see what quotes you receive. if you happen to be an installer who is curious about EnergySage (or just an extra-curious consumer), here’s a sample screenshot from the installer side of the system:
Once you (the consumer) receive some offers, you’ll have a dashboard something like this one below, from which you can compare quotes and communicate with installers.
At this stage, and even more so as more quotes come in, you can learn much more about different solar power technologies, different financing options (e.g. purchasing the whole system yourself or leasing a system), different solar companies, and solar policies in your area. Again, this is where you have the option to learn as much or as little as you like (… I recommend learning as much as possible).
It’s worth noting that EnergySage includes all existing financing options and pulls together all of these options in one place to give the consumer the full range of choices to select from. These options include cash purchases, leases, PPAs, solar loans, and all sorts of customized versions of these options. Below are two examples of the comparison screens for different types of quotes you might receive. The first screenshot includes solar power system purchasing options, while the second includes solar power system leasing options. Also, note that, “behind the scenes, EnergySage performs a number of calculations that equalize the quotes (e.g. adjusting for differences in system size or the underlying assumptions used by the installers to determine financial benefits over the life of the system)” and that it also “calculates key decision metrics such as cent/kWh and gross cost per watt.” As John pointed out, such calculations “make it easy for customers to compare and evaluate the options presented.” Have a look below for the end result.
At this point, your task is pretty clear — find the offer that will give you the biggest financial savings! And, if that’s still pretty hard, you can also review case studies of similar installations, view installer profiles, check out ratings/reviews, further research the technologies offered, and visit EnergySage’s Q&A forum — the EnergySage community may be able to answer your final, lingering questions. Here’s an example of a case study entered into the EnergySage system:
The tricky part is probably going to be deciding between purchasing a system or leasing one. I believe the EnergySage people can help you in evaluating the pros and cons of each, and there is much written online about that. Personally, I’d say that purchasing a system is better in the majority of cases if you are looking to maximize your total financial benefit from going solar. However, where leasing is available, that is chosen in the majority of cases, and it does allow consumers to reduce their energy costs from Day 1 without significant upfront costs — and sometimes no upfront cost. Something about that $0 down seems to attract people….
Overall, I love the EnergySage system, and I wish I owned a home in the US where I could use it to go solar!
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
*Note: just to be clear, this article was not sponsored in any way.