Widespread adoption of solar is dependent on lowering the cost of installation, which can account for half of the total cost of residential solar. Sungevity, a new startup out of Berkeley, Calif., is using the Internet and satellite imagery to bring down the overall cost of installing the system by at least $1,000, the company says.
Instead of calling to schedule an installer to physically come to your home and climb up on your roof, you can log onto Sungevity’s website, enter your address and monthly electricity usage, and get a rough estimate of how good your rooftop is for solar back in 24 hours. Employing Microsoft’s Virtual Earth platform, Sungevity uses high res oblique satellite imaging to determine not only area, but shading as well.
Sungevity President Danny Kennedy says that the initial online evaluation saves on the cost of labor, and also gives the company a greater reach: “We can sit in our offices in the Bay Area and size systems in Indiana or India,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy estimates that other installers only have a 10 percent conversion rate for in-person on-site consultations, so, he says that nine out of 10 times the company has wasted time and money trying to close a sale. The hope is, Kennedy explained, to do 90 percent of the sale and education on the website and then go that last mile via a phone call and, eventually, a final on-site evaluation.
Installers are struggling to find ways to squeeze out the costs of putting solar on rooftops. Installers like SolarCity and Sun Run are offering innovative financial terms to help spread out the cost of residential solar, and Akeena has partnered with Fat Spaniel to create a web-based solar energy monitoring system to track performance.
Sungevity, which sells its systems for $6,999 to $35,999, is tackling the middle step of assessing a home for installation. “The only limitation here is digital imaging, which has millions of dollars going into it now, and we’re just leveraging that to spread the solar all over the world,” Kennedy explained.
This technology also isn’t limited to residential applications. Kennedy added that Sungevity could go to a city, like Phoenix, which is looking to add new peaker power plants that provide energy only during peak hours, and propose an alternative that could provide peak power from several roofs they had already assessed as viable.
The company currently has 15 employees that includes a full installation crew. Kennedy said the long term plan is to work with other solar installers by using their technology to do an online assessment and sending out on-the-ground reps to seal the deal. Kennedy said the company will likely be looking for funding this year.