Though solar systems can be cheaper than cars, they’re not always an easy sell. But what if skeptics could test drive solar panels in the same way they’d take a car out for a spin?
Go ahead and fire up those virtual PV panels, as that moment has arrived.
In June, Sunmetrix — a startup based in Southern California and Montreal, Quebec — plans to officially launch a new tool enabling any homeowner to try out a system online for free.
“[We] give users a chance to try solar power before they buy,” said Ozgur Gurtuna, Sunmetrix founder. “By comparing their actual electricity consumption with the expected output of solar panels, our users can see for themselves how much money they can save by switching to solar.”
By providing basic information about their home — such as their address, roof slope and level of shade — users who live in the contiguous U.S., southern Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean can use the Sunmetrix GO tool to find out how much energy a solar system (from a single panel up to a 10-kilowatt system) can produce per year. They can get a tally of how much money they’d save over the course of any given month, along with a projection for the entire year.
Gurtuna said that they made a breakthrough once they were able to get access to utilities’ hourly energy consumption data.
“Especially with time-of-use pricing, things can get complicated very quickly when it comes to assessing the utility savings homeowners can expect by going solar,” he said. “If we only use monthly averages, solar savings would be vastly underestimated.”
But when Sunmetrix won a $25,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst program earlier this year, it jumpstarted its next phase of development. Sunmetrix used the money to pay developers and designers around the world (provided by Appirio’s TopCoder network) to help construct Sunmetrix GO’s user interface — a job that was completed in less than four months.
And with the average customer acquisition cost reaching a few thousand dollars each, Gurtuna believes that the tool will help solar installers just as much as potential buyers. He claims that 70 percent of the Sunmetrix GO users surveyed in initial beta-testing of the tool said they were more interested in installing a solar system after completing the test drive.
How will Sunmetrix make money? It plans to get a share of cash-back rebates from a network of solar installers (that users can select from within the tool itself) once the solar installations for Sunmetrix GO users are complete. The company also wants to bring in revenue via rebate and sponsorship packages with solar manufacturers.
While in beta-testing mode, the startup is working on the ability for the tool to track when Sunmetrix GO users purchase a solar system, as well as the system that enables Sunmetrix’s network of solar installers to bid on projects.
“We would like them to be able to customize their cash-back rebate offerings based on the level of competition in their regions,” Gurtuna said.
And the site might end up being handy for homeowners who use their results to rule out solar completely.
“We let the numbers speak for themselves,” Gurtuna said. “If solar doesn’t yet make financial sense for a user [for example, compared to their utility rates, or their consumption profile], we tell them to wait.”