You just shelled out $30,000 for rooftop solar panels on your home — what’s the next obvious step?: Let everyone know about it on your Facebook page. Year old company SunReports has launched a Facebook app that shows how much solar power your home solar system is producing.
The idea is to make solar “visual and easy to understand,” explained SunReports CEO Tom Dinkel, a former early employee at solar monitoring company Fat Spaniel, in an interview with me. Better monitoring of solar systems can also overcome a somewhat shocking stat that Dinkel related to me: they’ve found that there’s somewhere between a one out of ten and a four out of ten failure rate for residential solar systems. So for whatever reason — a faulty inverter, a tree branch on the system — a large portion of solar systems “go dark” and don’t have monitoring systems to make sure they stay working.
SunReports uses a $800 monitoring device called the Apollo that a solar installer deploys at the home, and which can track both the temperature and flow from a solar water heater, and the electricity generated by solar panels via an inverter. SunReports launched its business first for solar hot water heaters a year ago, and is just now moving into the solar panel business. The device picks up the data from the solar system and sends it to SunReport’s servers, and then back to the SunReport’s website, where home owners can log in and access that data. That data is also used to populate the SunReports Facebook app.
SunReports is really targeting its business model around selling to solar installers, and the company has already racked up a group of solar hot water heater installer partners, including SunEarth, and UMA Solar. Since the company just moved into the solar panel business, it doesn’t have any official partners to announce yet. The solar panel installation business has been pretty rough in recent years and SunReports is hoping that installers will use its monitoring product and Facebook app as a differentiator for its solar customers, potentially supplying an Apollo to the home owner for free and using the Facebook app to act as a valuable referral.
Solar home owners probably have peers who also want solar, explained Dinkel, and the Facebook app is branded with the installer and panel maker’s logos. “One referral that results in a new solar installation, pays for the monitoring product and then some,” said Dinkel.
Other companies like Geottellar — which sells big data analytics — are also trying to sell into the solar installer market, which is filled with both national brands like SolarCity, but also regional installation shops. A lot of these companies are good at engineering and installing, but not necessarily good at marketing and communication, said Dinkel.
One barrier I see is that inverter companies are also targeting this monitoring market, and large companies like Enphase Energy offer similar products and are already doing business with the installers. Solar installers also might not want to bear the cost of the added monitoring device and could end up only agreeing to offer the product if the customer pays for it, making it a much harder sell.
To date, SunReports has been bootstrapped but Dinkel says the company is in the process of raising its first round now. Next up: the company wants to launch an integrated solar generation and home energy consumption tool, as well as a system that also adds in how an electric vehicle fits in.