Friday, September 21, 2012

Improving Solar Installation Lifecycle Efficiency

As the solar industry continues to fluctuate, companies will only realize sustained growth by increasing efficiency at every point of the solar system installation process, rather than focusing on single factors such as specific product costs. Adopting this holistic perspective will drive out unnecessary expenses from the total cost of ownership. Some suggest that dropping solar panel costs and finding ways to create better photovoltaic solar cells in the panels will reduce installation prices. Others say that improved manufacturing and technology are the answers. But these factors are part of a bigger equation for reducing costs.

For example, Kellogg’s doesn’t try to reduce corn prices to make more money on a box of cornflakes. That would only have a marginal effect on lowering the overall cost. If Kellogg’s improved technology, streamlined the shipping process, and reduced the point of sale costs, they could realise a significant impact on lowering cost.

Rather than focusing solely on driving down panel costs, we must understand that the entire process needs to improve in order to make the industry margins. Only by increasing the efficiency of the end-to-end process will we make any real dent in the cost to install solar power systems and, ultimately, drive consumer value.

Permitting reform

One of the best ways that solar companies can accomplish this is to advocate for permitting reform. Compared to countries like Germany, where solar permits can be secured with minimal paperwork, the US permitting process for rooftop solar systems is unnecessarily complicated.

Every city has a different set of regulations and requirements for solar installations. Installers lose time and efficiency trying to navigate each system. Projects can be held up for weeks, if not months, ultimately driving up costs for everyone involved. Also, many of these processes could be completed online instead of manually. Encouraging municipalities to adopt formalized, across-the-board requirements would allow companies to more easily document their permitting submissions.

At OneRoof Energy, our software is designed to help our dealers manage everything from the permitting process and dialogue with utility companies to scheduling inspections and securing electronic signatures on financial documents. Cost-cutting opportunities are inherent to automating these steps, but the technology also allows us to give homeowners a sense of predictability. By closely tracking the installation cycle, homeowners know the status of permitting conversations with the city and when inspectors will arrive. Contractor crews also save money through electronic inventory tracking and permitting process tools. These steps help improve cash flow and create stability for small businesses. And, ensuring the right lease financing is available gives customers the best deal.

We’re in this business because we’re passionate about clean energy and sustainable methods for growth. If going solar is too expensive for the consumer, we must help develop new ways to drive efficiency and value through improved infrastructure and processes. We must help the industry evolve and adapt for the consumer if we are to build the clean tech economy.

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