Tendril is a Denver-based software company that has created a new program to help utility companies identify customers for community solar projects. The software will also provide critical information to customers about their community solar experience.
According to a study by the US Department of Energy, almost half of all rooftops in America are unsuitable for residential solar systems because they face the wrong way, don’t have the proper pitch, or have too much shade. In addition, there are lots of families that live in apartments or don’t plan to own their home long enough for a home solar system to pay for itself.
For all those reasons, community solar is the ideal answer. But a schism has arisen between utility companies and customers. Utilities look at every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by solar panels as lost profit for themselves. Tendril looks at the situation differently.
Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck says utilities can leverage their access to consumers and their low cost of capital to deliver solar in a way that benefits their bottom line and benefits customers as well. “We believe in the sharing economy, the Uber and Airbnb type of model of people not necessarily wanting to own all of their assets, but rent them and share them,” said Tuck. “This is a growth area, and community-based products and services will be natural places for utilities to go.”
That sort of thinking is very much in line with proposals made recently by the Rocky Mountain Institute, which thinks utilities have a built-in ability to market services other than electricity. It says utilities should be selling home solar systems rather than letting SolarCity and others reap all the rewards.
According to Greentech Media Research, the US community solar market reached a total installed capacity of 63 megawatts at the end of 2014, up from just 2 megawatts in 2010. Forecasts show an additional 400 megawatts coming online in the next two years alone. Tendril believes its technology is key to making that opportunity a reality. How?
“The challenge with community solar is how to identify customers and do outreach to customers in ways that will excite them about the concept and get them to sign up,” said Tuck. “And then, once you’ve got them signed up, [you need to] provide an intimate experience for the customer so they can see their solar production just as if it was on top of their roof.”
Part of the Tendril package identifies existing utility customers who may be good candidates to participate in a community solar program. It also figures out who already has a residential solar system, so the utility can avoid marketing to them. It says its program results in 2 to 3 times more successful converts to community solar than just sticking a flyer in the monthly electric bill or traditional advertising.
Once a household becomes a customer, Tendril’s platform allows residents to monitor their solar energy production and consumption “just as if it was on your own home,” says Tuck. This information allows customers to find out exactly how much of their energy needs are being met by community solar, possibly compelling them to change their behavior to reduce overall energy use.
Perhaps the best news about Tendril’s new approach is it helps utility companies and customers to view each other as partners who are making renewable energy a reality rather than as adversaries. That in and of itself could be a big step forward for sustainable power.