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Solar Storage and Home Batteries: What’s Driving People to Buy?

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One of the major trends in solar is the increase in storage adoption. As storage becomes more mainstream, organizations in the solar industry have had to update their business models to account for the demand. 

Why is the demand for storage rising? The answer is complex and involves many different factors.

First, let’s take a step back and think about why people go solar in the first place. The reasons include everything from saving money, to resiliency and energy independence. Adding storage further helps with self reliance and energy independence.

Then there are natural events — like February’s storm in Texas, California wildfires, and others — that highlight our heavy dependence on the grid. Even COVID highlighted household energy use as more people spent time at home. At the same time, battery technology continues to improve and battery prices continue to fall, and there are even incentives that can help offset the cost.

With these factors, and others, it makes even more sense why people want solar + storage. All together, the result has been consumers pushing solar installers to offer storage options.

It’s no surprise, then, that storage has been a common point of discussion during the 2020 and 2021 Empower virtual summits. This year, a couple Empower sessions looked at storage trends in detail and provided perspective on major questions facing the solar industry. In this blog, we’ll highlight how panelists answered two of the most pressing storage questions. 

The first is a little more theoretical: How does crisis play a role in storage purchases?

The second, a bit more practical: What has been your experience adding storage to your solar business?

To hear everything the experts had to say, listen to the full session replays:

Now let’s get to the questions. (Some responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

How does crisis play a role in storage purchases?

With the tragic situation in Texas this past February serving as a recent example, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of crisis in driving storage purchases has taken center stage. Scott Nguyen and Varun Rai both provide insight into how crises affect consumers.

Scott Nguyen, Co-founder & CEO, Bodhi

We went through what we now call the “Texas Blackout”. I had no power and no heat for over 40-something hours, same with many of the folks in our area, and it got cold. What that translated to is a lot of interest here in Texas in energy storage, for batteries.

A lot of the storage being sold previously was on-demand response, load shedding, and things like that. But when you talk about consumers right now, the interest they have is more for security, for independence, appealing to that innate desire for independence. So, I think that has changed quite a bit here in Texas.

Varun Rai, Director, The Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin

Crises raise the salience of issues because otherwise, these issues that are very important don’t get the attention they necessarily deserve. 

So, in raising the salience of these crises, beliefs can change. This gives us a reason to go back and re-evaluate, which can bring about behavior change. It depends on the intensity of the crises — it’s easier to change behavior when it requires less capital and effort. 

What has been your experience adding storage to your solar business?

Now let’s see how installers view the storage market. What’s on the minds of their customers, what storage needs do they have, and why are they adding battery storage? At Empower we had installers from many different regions of the US, here are their observations.

Rebecca Carpenter, Founder, Fingerlakes Renewables Solar Energy

Talking to people here in upstate New York, where I live, most of the storage systems I put in have been about security: heat security, meat storage, and things like that. Hunting for food is big up here, and people actually have thousands of dollars of food in their freezers. They also have very small blower fans on their wood or propane stoves. 

And, on top of that, we have very expensive electricity. I get very fascinated watching some of the changes in Texas, and what people are looking for, not having any real sense of the security issue because there hadn’t been a major event here. Up here, we’re pretty accustomed to major winter events and weather through them fairly well. 

Fortunat Mueller, President & Co-founder, Revision Energy 

We serve the Northeast: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, and the customer motivation for storage differs in different markets. For example, in Massachusetts and Vermont, there are some utility programs which make storage cost-effective for customers on the grid. In Maine and New Hampshire, primarily the motivation for storage is resiliency: We’re in a rural area, heavily wooded, with severe winter weather, and some long-term power outages.

So we’ve seen over the last couple years, as storage has become cheaper, an increasing faction of our solar customers are choosing to add storage — even in the absence of utility programs that make it cost-effective — really strictly for the resiliency benefit. And if there is an on-grid peak shaving benefit or other program, that’s sort-of gravy. The majority of our customers outside of Massachusetts are doing it essentially as a generator replacement. 

And it’s now close to a quarter of all our solar customers doing that.

Clayton Anderson, President, Elevation Solutions

We operate in eight different states [Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Utah, North Carolina, and South Carolina]. We see that the appetite for batteries is very much geographic — it’s unique to each geography, each market. A lot of our business is done in markets where there are time-of-use rate plans, but also demand-based rate plans, where rates are based on demand. So, batteries historically in those markets have been somewhat cost prohibitive, but the costs are coming down.

So, batteries, or demand managers, are something that our customers are really trying to ask a lot of questions about because they’re faced with these new rate plans that they frankly don’t understand, they just know that they’re going to be charged a lot more at certain times and a lot more if they do things that they don’t really know that they’re doing. So, batteries are becoming a very relevant part of the conversation every time we talk to customers.

So, we can see, the reasons consumers are choosing solar storage are truly varied, from wanting independence from high energy costs and demand shifting, to generator replacement and energy independence. Whatever the reasons, wherever you’re located, one thing is clear: storage is quickly becoming a “must have” for installers across the country

Cole Norton, Solar Sales Director, Rexel USA

As a distributor, we’re one step removed from the homeowner … [But,] certainly as part of the supply chain, we’re seeing astronomical growth within energy storage. We …  got serious about it last year, and it’s not just something that’s a nice to have, it’s quickly becoming a must have. 

If you’re servicing solar installers and you do not have this — specifically in California where our market is — the attachment rate is on the rise so quickly that if you’re not able to provide these solutions, you’re not going to be able to give even a very basic install. [We’re not talking about] even necessarily a super forward looking installer … pretty much everybody is going to be incorporating this into their business in some form.  

There’s no denying it: Storage is going to be an important aspect of solar sales in the future. And those installers that understand it will have a leg up on the competition. For a more in-depth look at strategies you can employ today to help level up your storage sales, check out The Pocket Guide to Selling Solar Storage, and stay tuned for more updates and information in the future. Until then, happy selling! 

Featured image by Dorin Vancea