Once they’ve made the big decision to invest in renewable energy, the consumer will be looking for the right installer. But with the continuing twists and turns of the economic downturn, and the government’s spending cap on feed-in-tariffs, is the future still looking bright for renewable energy installers?
Earlier this year, the government estimated nearly four million homes across the UK will be powered by the sun within eight years. But the debacle over the policy on feed-in-tariffs has caused challenges across the UK energy market. For the consumer, it’s brought into question the affordability of renewable energy and the value of their investment. For the renewable energy installer, of which there are around 5,500 registered in the UK, it should have brought into sharper focus the real need to enhance their offering and apply the tools necessary to raise consumer confidence.
Giving customers confidence they can achieve a reasonable pay-back period is critical to the installers’ armoury.
Mark Elliott director of operations at Energeno explains: “Yes there is still uncertainty surrounding FITs which has put mounting pressures on contractors. This means offering added value may be now more critical than ever, providing a real opportunity for installers to reposition themselves as home energy advisors and differentiate their offering to the market.”
“By utilising innovative technology that already exists to assess the viability of a project and then accurately measure its performance, installers can give confidence back to consumers and show them that by taking certain steps, they can achieve a reasonable payback period on their investment.”
Energeno is home to the Wattson range of energy monitors which have been helping home and business owners worldwide understand in detail their energy consumption, cut their electricity bills and monitor their electrical carbon footprint by producing accurate date readings of energy consumption. Its advanced models include the Wattson Solar Plus which, at a glance, tells Solar PV users how much power is being generated from their installation, what is being saved on bills and more importantly, when excess energy is being produced so it can be sold to the Grid.
“I believe the launch of the Solar Plus last year gave a ray of hope to installers amid the eruption of FIT controversy. It provided an added justification for Solar PV investment without the need for over-generous FIT payments. Those who have used Solar Plus have seen energy savings averaging 20%.” Elliott commented.
Essex-based RGI Solar is one contractor already embracing such technology. Managing director Richard Smith explained. “Buying a PV system, or any other renewable installation, is like buying a house. It costs a lot and you expect it to last a long time. But what some installers don’t tell you is that, like a house, if you want it to work optimally you can’t forget about it. It will need attention; otherwise you won’t make the money you are expecting. For example, the inverter is likely to need replacing at least once.”
“With the reduced FIT, we expect our new customers to be much more concerned about the actual performance they get from their system, and we are convinced that utilising the right technology will underpin the long term relationships we need to build to guarantee this."
With its Solar Plus operation running smoothly - around 30,000 units have been sold since its launch, Energeno’s focus for 2012 is taking remote performance monitoring systems to the next level.
“Adding absolute value pre and post installation is the key to increasing consumers’ confidence to invest in renewable energy,” says Elliott. And one of the steps Energeno is taking to achieve this lies in its new partnership with energy specialist Better Generation – whose Power Predictor technology allows people considering a renewable energy installation to accurately predict costs and benefits.
The partners are working to make their technologies inter-operable to provide a complete service package. The proposed integrated web-based application will help installers and end-users source the energy generation and consumption solution that is right for them.
“The driving force behind this project is the same for all of our work – increasing buyers’ confidence to invest in renewable energy. This is about putting customers in the driving seat and giving them the accurate information to make strategic decisions, with guidance from an installer, on renewable energy. Whether that’s the viability of an installation or ensuring they obtain the best payback from their investment.” Elliott said.
Building customer confidence and satisfaction may seem like a simple way to guarantee repeat business, but can this be the case with renewable energy installations? For most customers they’re a once in a lifetime purchase.
Richard Smith at RGI Solar said: “In the past, many systems have been sold on a ‘fit and forget’ basis. But with lower FITs and more competition, installers will need to build long-term revenue streams by offering high quality maintenance packages.”
It would seem the development of installer commissioned systems could be key in moving the installer/consumer relationship from a one-system transaction to a long term collaboration. The Wattson Professional has been conceived as the communication channel which links together the parties’ common interests.
It uses sensors to monitor installations and sends text or email alerts to installers if there are any problems with an installation. It operates through ‘cloud computing’ and provides an online workspace for installers through which they can access details and efficiency readings across all of their installations.
“This technology secures the long term revenue streams installers need to guarantee future profitability. It’s about providing a support package which will give end-users real peace of mind.” adds Elliott.
In adopting such technology, it can be said the installer will be able to build valuable performance data and endorsements to help win new business down the line.
So with the continual development of innovative energy monitoring technology, it would appear that the sun is far from going down on the renewable energy installer.