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Taking the Guesswork Out of Residential Solar and Storage

In February 2020, Southern California Edison (SCE) launched a rooftop solar and home battery marketplace offering a $500 rebate to help customers explore options for their homes.

Customers who install rooftop solar and home batteries help bring California one step closer to meeting its ambitious carbon-neutral goals for 2045. By then, SCE expects that up to half of all single-family homes will feature distributed solar. Providing customers with a seamless experience for pursuing options helps showcase how customer, utility, and state interests can align to help meet the Golden State’s carbon-neutral future.

Screenshot from the SCE Marketplace

Kyle Cherrick, who leads Electrum’s partnership efforts with utilities, spoke with Anuj Desai, a member of SCE’s Advanced Energy Solutions team, to discuss the utility’s interest in building a solar and storage marketplace.

Electrum: Can you share a bit about SCE’s goals for this program going into the launch?

SCE: Our primary goal centered around “walking the talk” of our Pathway 2045 vision, which acknowledges the role that residential rooftop solar and home batteries are expected to play in California’s carbon-neutral energy future. We anticipate some 30 gigawatts of generation and 10 gigawatts of energy storage coming online from distributed energy resources statewide. We wanted to make sure that SCE customers had a simple option with no upfront costs for exploring multiple solar and home battery systems tailored to their needs.

Electrum: What lessons or opportunities did SCE learn along the way as the program rolled out in the spring and summer of 2020?

SCE: Well, we quickly learned that this marketplace, which we launched just weeks before our customers began living through extended stay-at-home orders, offered an end-to-end “contactless” solar and battery shopping experience. Historically, the sales experience has relied on face-to-face discussions, an approach that was compromised practically overnight due to the pandemic. With marketplace, SCE recognized an opportunity to connect the solar and home battery industry with a new customer sales channel. We reached out to the installer community across our service area to let them know how they could qualify to participate in the SCE marketplace contractor network managed by Electrum. Through those efforts, we grew the participating installer network that submits bids for jobs by 110% in 10 months. We believe this installer network growth also benefits our customers, as the more robust the installer network, the greater the chance for a healthy number of competitive bids for a project.

Electrum: To what extent did COVID-19’s emergence impact the marketing of the online marketplace and homeowners’ interest in adding rooftop solar and batteries?

SCE: Initially, the impact was to bring things to a halt. About a month after marketplace launched, SCE made the decision to heavily prioritize communications related to COVID-19 support services available to our customers. This meant postponing our launch promotion by about three months. Once we were able to inform customers about this marketplace, we discovered that they were interested in, and comfortable with, utilizing the platform to explore their options. Over 26,000 customers visited the marketplace and reviewed estimates over the course of 2020 despite the delayed promotion of the service. I can’t prove this, of course, but if “Quarantine DIY” is a thing then “Stay-at-Home Solar” might be a related mini-phenomenon!

Electrum: What role does this marketplace play for customers who may be impacted by grid reliability events, such as California’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS)?

SCE: This marketplace helps round out the option set for customers who are exploring how to make their homes more resilient during an outage. While rooftop solar alone won’t keep the lights on during an outage, SCE is now able to offer a whole resiliency shopping category to customers that features clean backup power products ranging from portable to whole-home stationary, all while integrating relevant rebates into the shopping experience.

Electrum: Now that you are a year into the experience, how would you characterize the customer response to this service? And how do you think customers feel about shopping for solar and home energy storage through a utility-sponsored product?

SCE: My sense is that the 26,000 visitors I mentioned earlier are generally responding positively to this new service. Anecdotally, positives that I have heard from customers include the overall ease of the shopping experience, the integration of relevant incentives, and the expertise provided by Electrum when guiding customers through the sales and bid selection process. Later this summer, SCE will review customer satisfaction scores to understand how and if these instances are backed by broader feedback.

Electrum: What types of considerations would you encourage other utilities who may be exploring a rooftop solar and storage marketplace program to include in their evaluation and program goals?

SCE: Any utility considering such a marketplace should start by thinking through whether solar or storage marketplaces can help enhance consumer protection benefits and help meet customer satisfaction objectives. For SCE, the launch of the marketplace allows us to better understand why customers acquire solar or storage. By helping customers during the acquisition stage, we believe we have an opportunity to gain customer insights on how to re-engage these customers more effectively during subsequent steps of their clean energy journey.

How it works

A 2018 National Renewable Energy Lab study showed that online quote platforms such as the Marketplace option save customers $1,000 – $2,000 on a typical 5-kW solar project, mostly due to competition between installers. Here’s how the platform guides a customer through the shopping experience.

Initial Assessment: The marketplace provides a dedicated energy advisor from Electrum to act as an unbiased guide for consumers exploring their options. Customers begin their journey by inputting their address to receive instant estimates of the economics and environmental benefits of adding a rooftop solar and/or battery system to their home.

Refining a Project: Customers can register to provide additional energy usage information, upload pictures of their electrical panel box, and schedule an introductory call with their energy advisor. Electrum then designs a custom solar and/or home battery system optimized for individual home design and usage requirements.

Bid Collection and Review: The marketplace platform automates the collection of installers’ bids on the project, all while keeping customer contact information confidential. The customer then reviews the top bids on their project with their energy advisor, who helps the customer select the right bid for their situation based on factors such as equipment, financing, and contractor warranties.

Sealing the Deal: Once the customer selects a winning bid, they sign a contract with their installer and are introduced to their installer’s project manager.

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