/Blackouts and superstorms are new fuel for rooftop solar companies – Business Insider

Blackouts and superstorms are new fuel for rooftop solar companies – Business Insider

  • The selling point for rooftop solar panels was once just about sourcing clean energy or saving money. Now it’s also about resiliency. 
  • Rooftop solar companies like Sunrun have seen boosts in battery sales in response to blackouts, and more customers are opting for solar-plus-storage in states that are prone to frequent hurricanes.
  • The rooftop solar industry is wising up to this trend. On their websites, they market their products as a solution to an unreliable power grid. 
  • The residential battery market is growing at a rate of 76% per year and is projected to break $50 billion in revenue by 2035, according to the research firm Lux Research.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

Last October, the rooftop solar and energy storage company Sunrun noticed a huge shift in its California sales. 

The number of new customers in the Bay Area who bought the firm’s battery offering, Brightbox, as an add-on to their solar system, doubled — from 30% to 60%.

It wasn’t caused by a change in sales strategy, or by chance. It was caused by California’s widespread power shut-offs, which affected more than a million customers

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The utility’s move sought to prevent wildfires, but it also sent Sunrun’s battery sales soaring.

It’s just one example of shifting consumer behavior in a new era of what you could call survivalism — when wildfires are becoming larger, more storms seem to be turning super, and novel viruses are inciting fear of a global pandemic. 

It represents a major shift in the appeal of rooftop solar systems that increasingly include battery add-ons. The batteries can range anywhere from about $8,000 to more than $14,000, according to the solar marketplace EnergySage.

When you put solar panels on your roof, they can’t power your home day and night during a blackout. But when you add a giant battery pack, the system can keep important appliances — say a TV and some lights — running for as long as several days. 

Read more: Sunrun crushed Tesla in solar installations last year. A top executive reveals a key piece of the $2.2 billion company’s strategy to widen its lead.

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2019, file photo, Pacific Gas & Electric employees work in the PG&E Emergency Operations Center in San Francisco. Authorities say power outages have started Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, in Northern California after the state's largest utility said it was planning a widespread blackout citing wildfire danger. The Santa Rosa Fire Department tweeted Wednesday that shutoffs had started in the city and it was getting multiple reports of outages. Pacific Gas & Electric said earlier Wednesday it was going forward with blackouts later in the day that could affect 450,000 people in 17 counties of Northern California. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

PG&E’s emergency operations center in San Francisco last October, after the power outages began

Associated Press

Solar energy is more resilient than grid-scale services

Going solar was once about sourcing clean energy. Then it was about saving money on your power bill. And now it’s about resilience — especially when paired with storage. 

It makes sense: You can use solar panels to charge up a battery when the sun is shining, and then use the battery to power your home if the grid goes down. Whether or not it comes back online, you’ll still have power from the panels. 

In fact, the top reason why customers add a battery to their home solar array is to have backup power during a power outage, according to a report released on Tuesday by EnergySage. 

“In state markets, the two primary drivers of storage adoption appear to be resilience in the face of storms or power outages,” the report said. 

That’s why batteries are more popular in regions prone to natural disasters. In Florida, for example, more than 20% of solar installations included batteries last year, compared to the national average of 15%, according to the report. 

Sunnova screenshot

A pop-up that appears on the website for Sunnova, a leading rooftop solar company

Business Insider

A new sales pitch for solar 

Rooftop solar companies are tuning into this prepare-for-the-worst market. On the websites of the top five largest companies, for example, there’s marketing language that mentions blackouts or outages. 

“With Brightbox, I don’t have to worry if a disaster like Superstorm Sandy ever strikes again,” one customer testimony on Sunrun’s homepage said. 

On the website of Sunnova, a leading residential solar provider based in Houston, a pop up appears that says “protect your family from power outages.” 

The websites of Tesla and Vivint Solar, the two other top companies, also include some mention of blackouts.

“Customers want resiliency,” Audrey Lee, the VP of energy services at Sunrun, told Business Insider earlier this year. “Especially given Public Safety Power Shutoffs in California.” 

Following California’s PG&E shutoffs last fall, Sunrun even published a report that showed how its customers who lost grid power were able to keep the lights on for up to five or six days straight.


Tesla’s Powerwall home battery


‘The year of the battery’

Blackouts are good for solar-plus-storage sales — and you’ll learn as much by listening in to recent calls among top solar companies and investors. 

“We expect Brightbox deployments to nearly double in 2020, compared to last year,” Lynn Jurich, Sunrun’s CEO, said. “We do believe that California will be a big driver, particularly the areas that have people who have lived through the power being shut off.” 

On Sunnova’s latest earnings call, its CEO John Berger said that the firm experienced “a surge of storage” last year, and 2020 will be “the year of the battery.” 

Read more: The battery market is set to break half a trillion dollars by 2035. These are the top 6 industries that will fuel that eye-popping growth.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with storms and [they are] increasing [in] frequency and intensity,” he said. “Anywhere you see that you’re going to see some storage pick up.”

“Storage is helping fuel our growth,” he said. 

And the home battery market doesn’t show signs of slowing anytime soon.

Solar installations that included batteries doubled between 2017 and 2019, according to the EnergySage report, and the market for residential batteries is set to break $50 billion by 2035, according to the research firm Lux Research. 

Berger says that as new battery products flood the market, the costs will fall, making battery add-ons an even more desirable upsell for residential solar companies. 

“What that means is we get to sell more energy service per customer, and that means more revenue per customer,” he said in an interview with Business Insider. “That’s all good for us if we do it the right way.” 

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