Hot Showers and Cold Beer: Results of a Consumer Marketing Study by SolarTech

study feature

According to a recent study cosponsored by SolarTech and San Jose State University, to move solar PV to consumer mass market adoption, solar companies need to simplify their proposals, provide more information about actual system performance and reliability (case studies), and focus more on marketing a unified system offering as opposed to a confusingly piecemeal set of products. San Jose State University conducted the study and surveyed consumer attitudes among residents in Santa Clara County, California (Silicon Valley), considered a bell-weather county in a bell-weather state for consumer solar adoption.

A panel of industry experts ranging from program administrators in utility and government to representatives of solar installers discussed the top-level findings in a webinar on March 18th. Over 90 attendees listened in on the discussion.

First, the demographics. Survey respondents consisted of 163 single family households, were overwhelmingly reflective of the traditional demographics of early adopting solar consumers: between 45 to 64 years in age, with an income above $100,000, overwhelmingly Caucasian, and having an education of a bachelor's degree or higher.

Before delving in, let's look at some of the most notable findings:

  • 83% of respondents to the question of intent to purchase indicated looking out 24 months or more on a decision.
  • 63% of the respondents could not accurately recall the name of any solar company that provides residential solar.
  • 39% perceived solar as reliable and 11% perceived solar as affordable.

Clearly, the overall perception of the solar brand, aside from the issue of any individual provider, is poor. Being good for the environment is no longer enough to motivate a purchase. Installing companies must address actual or perceived issues of affordability and system (and company) reliability to help motivate consumers to consider buying solar now as opposed to waiting.

The findings of the study give us insight into major areas of improvement needed. Doug Payne, Executive Director of SolarTech, divided the findings into three major tiers based on importance to the consumer. See figure below.

three levels importance SolarTech study
three levels importance SolarTech study

While the results of this study show great disparity between the importance of price and financing options, as solar enters into mass market adoption, researchers expected the importance of financing will rise considerably. Research amongst different demographic groups is necessary to confirm, though the success of solar leasing and similar programs so far gives us indication that those options are already becoming more important.

Jeanine Cotter, CEO of Bay Area residential solar installer Luminalt, suggested that we all need more follow-up from consumers who do not go ahead with proposals to better understand the barriers that are keeping them from engaging.

Jesse Denver, Energy Officer with the City of San Jose, suggested that government and other non-profit educational outlets should take a greater role providing technology and brand neutral information about the viability and reliability of solar energy as a trusted and non-partisan third-party.

Andrew Yip, Solar and Customer Generation at PG&E, pushed back on the suggestion that utilities or incentive programs should do more to market solar energy. He pointed out that the utilities and incentive programs have made resources and education available and it is up to the solar industry to market their brands to consumers to drive adoption. He did concede that there was still a lot of question about how to best make the educational resources known to relevant consumers and stakeholders.

Here's the take away for residential solar companies:

  1. Installing companies need to make proposals simpler to understand.
  2. Installing companies need to simplify their solar energy system offerings into comprehensive products that resonate with general consumer understanding.
  3. Marketing of solar energy needs to respond to, as Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute put it, mainstream America's concerns of "hot showers, cold beer, and lit rooms."
  4. Consumers need access to unbiased information: real performance data from installations and technology-neutral explanations of what the system can do and how they work.