There is no question that a solar monitoring system is a critical piece in managing solar assets deployed across a large region. Many solar asset managers spend the majority of their time ensuring solar systems are reporting production and homeowners have the correct insight into their systems. In the last few years, there has been a significant shift to cellular metering which has helped reduce nuisance-trip system disconnects and homeowner dissatisfaction.
While cellular monitoring has been a welcome gift to solar asset managers, it is not enough to simply monitor kWh production. Another golden opportunity exists to reduce operational headaches for solar asset managers and increase homeowner satisfaction with their energy savings. This secret is consumption monitoring: the ability to track patterns and changes to a homeowner’s energy usage.
To get a sense of the opportunities and advantages that consumption monitoring offers, let’s visit two asset managers, one with consumption monitoring and another without to see how this valuable tool increases the value of solar.
The Cost of Energy Monitoring Without Consumption
Sarah, our first asset manager, has a fleet of solar systems throughout California consisting of systems of various sizes on homes with very different consumption profiles. Her fleet has a solar monitoring system and very few issues with non-reporting systems. However, her cellular meter has the ability to solely monitor solar production but not track consumption patterns.
One day, Sarah receives a call from one of her customers who claims he is not saving money since his solar system began operating. The homeowner called the customer support line multiple times because he received a true-up bill from his local utility that was significantly higher than he was expecting. The homeowner states that since he is not saving money, he wants to remove the system from his home.
The customer support team decides to send the case to the engineering team for further review and investigation. They review the solar monitoring system and determine that the system is meeting production estimates and operating normally. Customer support reaches out to the homeowner and reports back that the system appears to be operating normally, much to the homeowner’s dissatisfaction. The homeowner escalates further and insists that a technician come to the house and check the system.
The asset manager dispatches a technician to conduct a system performance evaluation, which confirms that the system is in fact operating normally. The customer support team reaches back out to the homeowner and informs him of the findings, suggesting that there is a possibility that the lack of savings is due to an unexpected increase in energy usage. The homeowner asks if he can review his utility bill to determine if he is using more energy, but the customer service agent struggles to explain to him that it is difficult to get this information from his bill as his property is net metered.
The homeowner remains extremely irritated with the findings and the effort he underwent to understand the source of the problem. The homeowner continues to complain about his savings and finally decides to stop paying the solar bill, at which point the case moves to the legal department. The asset manager and her team have spent tens of hours on this case and have neglected other critical issues as a result.
The Power of Energy Insights
The second asset manager, Mark, has a similar fleet of solar systems throughout California, but has a critical advantage: his solar fleet is monitored with a cellular meter with consumption monitoring.
His customer support center also receives a call from a homeowner who is confused by a very high utility true-up bill and the lack of expected savings. The customer support agent reviews the energy monitoring system production and consumption graphs and determines that the system is operating normally but notices a significant spike in energy usage in the past few months of the summer.
The customer support agent shows the homeowner his consumption graph which shows a spike of usage seven days a week at 10 a.m. The customer support agent instructs the homeowner to check his AC unit, pool pump, or any other high-usage appliances to detect the source of the increased energy use.
The homeowner calls back a few days later to thank the customer support agent for helping him identify a bad pool pump timer which caused his pump to run twice as long as before. The customer service agent notes that he will keep an eye on this system over the coming weeks to make sure the energy usage has indeed dropped. The homeowner proceeds to leave a glowing review about the solar company on social media and even refers his neighbor who is interested in solar to the company.
The Solar Monitoring System of the Future
While both solar fleets have energy monitoring with cellular meters, only one monitored homeowner energy usage. Clearly, consumption monitoring helped resolve a customer interaction in minutes rather than several hours, saving the company valuable resources. Additionally, it allowed the company to increase customer satisfaction, potential business referrals, and the ability to upsell this homeowner to a larger solar system or possibly energy storage in the future.
This brings about some other very intriguing questions for a solar asset manager:
- What if the homeowner had an app or personal dashboard where he could have easily come to this conclusion without ever having to call customer support?
- What if—on a bi-monthly basis—the customer was able to receive helpful hints from the asset manager with advice on how to save more money by controlling his consumption with Smart Plugs and custom energy budget alerts?
- What if the asset manager had leveraged the energy data to recognize the homeowner would benefit from a battery to further control his energy consumption and offset the impact of TOU rates?
Consumption monitoring and energy management systems not only provide an added benefit to the homeowner but significant long-term cost savings to asset managers. Homeowner consumption monitoring should be an absolute requirement when choosing a cellular monitoring solution for solar assets, or managers run the risk of spending hours on the phone with dissatisfied homeowners, not to mention missing out on customer engagement that supports brand satisfaction and upsell opportunities.
In this day and age of rapid innovation, customers not only enjoy but
demand technological solutions to give them the power to monitor and control their own energy production and consumption. And it is clear:
intelligent customers are happy customers; and happy customers make happy asset managers.
Simply tracking the production of a solar system is not enough. It leaves customer service staff unable to address or anticipate some of the important issues that can crop up around customer usage and ROI.
Energy monitoring that includes data showing homeowner energy patterns and usage changes allows for ongoing customer engagement, reduced cost of acquisition and strengthened Customer Lifetime Value.
And finally, consumption monitoring provides an asset manager’s customers, support teams and ultimately the entire company with access to the tools that keep them ahead of the technological and policy curve, not scrambling to keep up.
naak, a leader in intelligent energy management, and Indaspec Energy Services, a best in class Solar O&M service provider, are partners. Their alliance expands naak’s ability to support solar asset managers who become Channel Partners by maintaining efficient operations during the initial training phase and over the long term, ensuring safe and timely system installations.