State of the Solar Industry 2012

Panelists working for the Rocky Mountain Institute were joined by two guest panelists recently to discuss the state of the solar industry. Guest panelists included Dr. Beau Peelle, founder of Clean Energy Experts and Tyler Tringas, creator of SolarList.

Summary of State of the Solar Industry

The fist item discussed was what is making the emerging solar industry challenging. Panelists identified four items that were holding the solar industry back.

  • Fragmented markets – With 50 states and about 3,000 individual utilities creating their own energy regulations, making a standardized product that works across the continental United States is particularly challenging.
  • Cheap traditional sources of electricity – Electricity derived from fossil fuels is still rather inexpensive compared to solar electricity. Until the price point on legacy fuels rises as it has with gas prices consumers see less incentive to switch to clean sources.
  • More red tape in the United States – In comparison to Germany, where a national embrace of solar has lead to an environment where a photovoltaic (PV) system can be installed in four days, New York takes a month to secure necessary permitting and complete the purchase and installation of a system.
  • Lack of education about solar – Customer’s may be interested in solar, but they rarely are an expert on the products. One of the panelists estimated that for every PV purchase $3,000 to $5,000 is spent to educate them and get their business.

How Solar Industry is Improving

The panelists also discussed ways the solar industry can improve. The  industry is forecast to grow by 30 percent a year in the residential and commercial sectors for the rest of the decade. Growth increases as companies mature and standardize their business models. One of the drivers of this growth has been the introduction of leasing and financing options instead of full system purchases.

Another innovation the company SolarList has introduced to educate customers at lower cost is an interactive widget that lets solar providers map roofs for efficient installations.

In Orlando many solar providers are now using call centers to find and screen customers’ credit. Salespeople are then sent to appointments where they identify opportunities for improved energy efficiency and sell customers on solar related products.

The panelists stress that increased government incentives and public awareness campaigns are the best ways to advance the solar industry.

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