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Outsmart Your Competitors

Introduction

Understanding the solar industry and your competitors goes hand in hand. Knowing the industry doesn’t simply mean complying with the rules and regulations. It is important to keep an eye out for changing trends within the solar and related industries, and to stay relevant by being able to pitch your company’s strengths against those of your competitors. Making knowledge driven decisions allows you to stay ahead of the curve.

Stay ahead of the curve

Understanding the trends within the solar industry allows you to target the right segment. It also lets you understand whether your company’s performance is a result of internal company factors, or factors outside your control.

The solar industry, like any other industry, has key driving factors that influence its performance. IBIS World has identified four prominent driving factors for the current market in Australia (IBISWorld Industry Report, Solar Panel Installation in Australia, 2017). These include (see right):

Electricity price

“When retail electricity prices increase significantly, households may opt to install solar panels to reduce their energy costs.”

Household discretionary income

“Discretionary income is the amount of income available for consumers to spend after accounting for all essential expenses. Given that solar panels are a non-essential purchase, households may opt to install solar panels only when discretionary income increases.”

Environmental concerns of the public

“Rising public concerns over environmental issues, particularly regarding the environmental effects of electricity that is generated using fossil fuels, typically drive the household adoption of solar panels.”

Number of households and new houses

“Industry players install household solar panels on behalf of electricity retailing companies and other solar panel retailers. A rise in the number of households tends to increase the number of potential solar panel installations that can be contracted to industry firms.”

Looking at trends and market indicators in the solar industry like these can help your business. The market analysis data of smallscale PV installations from the Australian PV Institute is a great resource. Their research indicates that people are opting for larger installations sizes than previous years. This knowledge could help you tailor the right sized system for the current market.

Here are some other useful resources to refer to when you’re researching. They include energy reports and indexed PV system prices:

Though less common now, solar industry subsidies become available from time to time. For this reason, it is worthwhile for your business to understand current and any new subsidies or incentives provided by the local/state/federal governments. New governmental regulations can have great implications on your business and the whole industry, so try to stay in the loop by reading the news and industry reports.

Here are some good websites to refer to for keeping up to date with the latest energy news:

Current news can also be very useful to create targeted marketing. If you understand, for instance, how a new energy regulation or policy can directly affect one of your segments, you can bring it to their attention and demonstrate how your products or services are a solution to address potential pain points or provide additional value to them.

It is also a good idea to keep an eye on economic trends. For example, knowing that China is devaluing their currency essentially makes Australia’s purchasing power stronger, which is an advantage to solar retailers that import PV units from China.


Beware of your competitors

The solar industry in Australia comprises many small players and a few national and international players. Industry reports show that competition in the solar space is high and will continue to increase as solar uptake increases, causing newer sellers to enter the solar market. In addition, you face external competition from other energy players (like gas), especially in the space and water heating market.

With these challenges in mind, it is crucial to be aware of other solar providers, what they’re doing, and the advances in technology they are making. This is especially important if they are targeting the same or similar segments of the market as you, which they likely are.

Here are some good websites to see the other solar companies operating in the industry:

A good place to start with assessing yourself against your competitors is to perform a SWOT analysis for your business. You can then do the same analysis (although with less internal insights) of your biggest competitor and compare how you measure up from the perspective of the customer.

Here’s what a SWOT analysis looks like with some example questions that you should consider when filling it out (we’ve included a blank SWOT analysis template in the appendix for you to print out). We’ve also added in some examples of what your business without a carbonTRACK offering looks like, compared to a competitor who has carbonTRACK.

  Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats
Your Solar Business

What would a customer perceive to be the best part about your business?

Low prices and/or premium performing solar panels.

What factor is holding back your business?

The ability to assure ROI to customers.

What market trends or segments can you tap into?The energy management and home automation market.

What market trends can hurt your business?

Entry of companies who offer solar and batteries, or other points of difference and the inability to differentiate as quickly.
Your Biggest Competitors

What can your competitor do better than you?

Offer their customers insights and control into how their solar is performing.

What factor is holding your competitor back?

Brand awareness – they are new to the market.

Are your competitor more equipped to exploit this opportunity than you?

Yes

What opportunities of your competitor could you also seize?

You could bring a new product offering into the market – smart solar.

Who are your competitors’ competing with?

Other solar companies.

What trends are hurting their business?

The low price drive.

If you can maximise your strengths and address the weaknesses of your businesses, you can better flesh out your proposition and stand out. Your proposition may focus on strengths such as your industry reputation and your warranty on panels, which could address the cost difference between you and another provider in the same market.

Keep up with the newest technology

“Access to the latest available and most efficient technology and technique” has been identified as a key success factor for the solar industry (IBISworld)."

A big reason for this is that having access to better, cutting-edge technology enables you to stand out from competitors and attract more customers. This highlights the importance in differentiating your offering, as you can provide options with newer and better technology such as:

  • Energy management systems
  • Newer PV technology
  • Home batteries
  • More efficient inverters

Let’s consider new, energy management technologies as the key example to explore further.

carbonTRACK’s energy management technology gives your business a competitive advantage. It helps you differentiate your solar business from other businesses because it allows you to offer more than just solar to your customers.

‘Smart solar systems’ are becoming more and more common, with different energy management and monitoring companies offering different features that turn your solar into a modern, visible and interactive product.

The carbonTRACK system offers many advantages to your customers. At its most basic, it gives your customers visibility over how their solar is performing. The carbonTRACK Dashboard and App shows users how much solar is generated, consumed and exported over the course of the day, and in daily, weekly, and monthly blocks.

Without carbonTRACK, solar investments are comparable to a car without a dashboard. There is no way of knowing whether it is performing up to standard. With carbonTRACK, users are able to see their energy use patterns throughout the day, and shift the time that appliances run to make better use of their solar investment.

Moreover, carbonTRACK facilitates heavy electricity load shifting with our circuit-level control. Using circuit switching via the carbonTRACK app is as simple as flicking on a light switch – but it can be done from a phone, anywhere in the world with a Wi-Fi connection!

This means that your customer, at any time, can check in on how their solar is performing and, if they are producing plenty of solar that they are not using, turn on the pool pump or the heating/ cooling to make the most of it. Alternatively, on cloudy days where they’re generating less solar than they normally would, switch off heavy loads that would otherwise use electricity from the grid.

A darkly lit room with a window shutter opening inwards.

It is through these simple changes of electricity use patterns that carbonTRACK can help reduce your customer’s electricity bills by up to 30%. And an increased bill reduction directly translates into a faster return on their solar investment.


What’s more, once your customers get a feel for their energy use patterns, they can set their circuits to run on automatic schedules to optimise their solar energy use on a daily basis. Now that’s the beauty of Set and Forget!

We’ve even gone one step further with optimisation of circuitlevel electricity use – by developing a feature that no other energy management company has. It’s called Green Circuit. Here’s how it works:

Green Circuit is a circuit-level scheduling option. When your customer uses Green Circuit, they can run a circuit on a flexible schedule whereby they utilise a time window instead of a set start and finish time. This lets carbonTRACK use advanced machinelearning algorithms to do the thinking for them, and run their circuit on solar alone whenever possible. Visit the carbonTRACK website to find out more about Green Circuits.

And that’s just the basics! The ability to Set and Forget, and reap the benefits, goes beyond analysing patterns and controlling circuits. carbonTRACK works with smart plugs and heating and cooling systems too.

Imagine explaining to your solar customer that with their solar investment they won’t just receive a reduction in their electricity bill, they will enjoy a lifestyle enhanced by advanced home automation technology.

Gone will be the days of returning home to a sauna house in the summer after a hard day at work, or an ice-box in the depths of winter. They will be able to set the perfect temperature from their phone. And what about when they run out the front door and jump in the car, only to remember two blocks down the road that they’ve left the iron on.

By offering your customers Smart Solar with carbonTRACK, your sales conversation will be entirely different. The dominating questions about expected kWh per dollar spent will be dwarfed by the potential for a smart home, energy efficient lifestyle.

Our automation technology can help businesses too. Most enterprises would be open to listening to how you can reduce their electricity bills by 10% by cutting out standby power with automated smart plugs. Or how they can monitor the performance of their solar investments across multiple sites on a single dashboard.

Once you’ve finished talking about all the cool things they can do with automation, it’s time to discuss peace of mind. Referring back to our car dashboard analogy, solar doesn’t come with any warning lights that something’s not working correctly. Most people discover that there is an issue with their solar when they receive their electricity bill and see for the first time that their generation is far below what they expect.

With carbonTRACK, your customers will have the ability to set alerts on their system’s performance so that they will know immediately if there is ever an issue. This could save them thousands of dollars of the lifetime of their investment.

carbonTRACK also gives you the capability to keep an eye on the solar fleet you have installed. This relates to building and maintaining a positive reputation as an installer – more on this in part 3. Transparency in solar performance improves confidence in the overall quality of the system and your solar business.

Our alerts functionality creates a win-win scenario. The customer is preventing solar energy from being wasted, and you, as the installer, receive return business and revenue from that customer when you attend the site and fix the fault.In this way, carbonTRACK’s technology has the potential to increase your customer lifetime value, as new opportunities between your business and your customers are generated.

Keep in mind that carbonTRACK can even be retrofitted for existing customers. It also intregrates with batteries and an increasing range of home automation products. This provides upsell prospects, enhancing your solar business’ revenue generation not only from the initial sale but from an ongoing connection with your customers.

In summary

By offering Smart Solar you will be ready to take on the market, become a fierce competitor and respond to industry opportunities and threats. You should always be aware of what your competitors are offering, and promote how your business is different and better. Next, we look at your reputation and how this will affect your ability to maintain sustainable business growth.

In the next chapter, we’ll run through building your solar brand.

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