Software solutions

Software solutions help installers sell more solar+storage

Solar installers looking to add storage to their business face a number of challenges, but software solutions can help them overcome the first hurdle: analyzing and demonstrating the value of storage to potential customers.

Utility rates and storage credits vary widely across the country, so the software can do the groundwork for installers and help them pass solar + storage cost savings to customers. Navigating different policies, like Hawaii’s self-consumption rules and California’s time-of-use rate programs, can be difficult for installers and homeowners. Platforms like Energy Tool Base work to display the value proposition of adding storage for residential and commercial customers behind the meter. Energy Toolbase’s software aggregates approximately 37,000 unique utility rates across the country into its database.

“A lot of what we do is provide better tools to explain the value proposition more clearly and simply. [of storage] depending on the value chain they are selling,” said Adam Gerza, COO of Energy Toolbase.

Energy Toolbase analyzes demand profile and cost data for a selected date range.

Energy Toolbase’s software estimates the tariff schedule and the value of exported energy, then runs an energy storage simulation against those figures to help determine the value of the storage to customers. While this level of detail can be overwhelming, Energy Toolbase strives to present the information in a way that is understandable to the everyday solar contractor and potential customer. Installers can choose from a drop-down list of popular battery brands to see each model’s cost savings over time.

“If you can’t really concisely explain both the cost savings and all the other storage value propositions, it’s going to be an uphill battle and you’re just not going to deploy a lot of storage projects,” Gerza said.

Likewise, HOMER Energy’s Microgrid Software can help C&I and large-scale solar developers simulate a storage facility to find the product mix that makes the most economic sense. HOMER simulates a viable microgrid system that a developer might consider over an entire year to help identify the lowest cost option, using all possible combinations of equipment.

“We’re really trying to work with battery manufacturers or storage manufacturers to understand, ‘How is this equipment really going to work?'” said Marilyn Walker, COO of HOMER Energy.

HOMER’s new microgrid product was deployed in early 2018 and can be used to simulate scenarios such as island utilities, grid-connected campuses, and military bases.

The HOMER grid startup window.

Walker said she believes HOMER stands out for its ability to accurately model storage by incorporating all battery specifications that matter to installers. She said it was crucial to take the step to simulate a project in a solar + storage installation, where there are so many variables interacting with each other in real time. She thinks simulation should be a regular part of the solar+storage sales process.

” I hope that [contractors] would use it to go beyond the hype,” Walker said. Ideally, installers would use HOMER to give customers confidence that their solar + storage systems will perform as promised by contractors.

Helping homeowners understand how solar + storage systems really work is often a challenge for Arizona-based solar + storage contractor Sun Valley Solar Solutions. CEO Russ Patzer said many customers mistakenly believe that installing a battery will make them completely off the grid.

“So the first hurdle was overcoming or resetting customer expectations,” Patzer said. “They thought they’d buy a battery for $3,500 and they could get off the grid and never have a power bill again, thanks to Tesla’s early marketing.”

After this high-level conversation, Sun Valley salespeople are using software to tell the real story of how energy storage can help them.

“Once we changed that mindset with the client, that’s when we were able to really show them our model, what the demand will be like in their home, what savings they’ll have, and then the features and benefits of having a critical load panel and being able to run their refrigerator and some house lights,” Patzer said.

Photo: Energy Tool Base

The company uses Energy Toolbase and Geli for background research, but not for full customer proposals, because those programs don’t accurately calculate rates taking into account Arizona’s application fees, Patzer said. Sun Valley uses a custom Excel proposal tool equipped with all of the Arizona specifics to create proposals.

While the in-house solution works well for Sun Valley, it requires the company to employ an in-house programmer to ensure all the latest pricing and information is up to date.

“The sales team just uses drop-down menus to design the system, and then any cost savings or features and benefits are modeled naturally for them,” Patzer said. “They don’t have to manually go in and adjust client by client. He does it for them.

Domestically, Sunrun also uses an in-house solution for all aspects of solar + storage deployment, including design and proposal, called BrightPath.

“BrightPath was the industry’s first end-to-end platform integrating a cloud-based design system that automatically generates optimized designs, and it’s one of the few tools capable of designing for batteries” , said Shane Levy, head of media for Sunrun. .

Large-scale, commercial solar installer ForeFront Power often uses software bundled with batteries and inverters to sell solar + storage systems to large customers like school districts and universities. These customers are primarily focused on the value proposition of energy storage cost savings, so the company begins with a careful assessment of a building’s load profile as well as any existing or proposed solar generation, a said Kateryna Krasynska, business development manager for energy storage at ForeFront. Power.

“Our engineering team will typically develop the sizes and costs of solar and storage equipment that a specific site can accommodate, and we will then use software solutions provided by the vendor or Energy Toolbase to assess what these systems might entail for customers in terms of savings,” said Krasynska. “By combining these inputs, we can then assess the overall economics of the project and develop a system sizing proposal.”

Krasynska said designing storage systems can be challenging due to significant differences in state-level energy storage policies and goals across the country.

“It can sometimes be difficult to monitor and influence these policies over time in order to provide the best value for our clients,” she said.

Still, she believes customer adoption of energy storage will continue to get easier as system developers and manufacturers gain more experience in this innovative new market.

Solar+ storage systems are still a bit of a hard sell for entrepreneurs new to the business, but adopting a smart software strategy to help with proposals can make things a little easier.