What motivates solar buyers, and why? The team at NREL surveyed 3,600 households made up of the general population, solar considerers, and solar adopters to find out why consumers do (and do not go solar), to determine what a typical solar customer looks like, and to see how this information can help dealers reduce the soft costs of lead generation--a huge goal for most solar dealers. Here's our take on their findings.
Why Do Consumers Go Solar?
The general consensus is that people go solar for three main reasons: for the planet, to save money, and because it's "cool." Clearly there may be other motivations at play, but most individuals will broadly fall into one of these three categories.
For the Planet: Environmental Benefit
Environmentally-motivated people will be interested in going solar if they have strong altruistic values--they see going solar as a moral obligation. These people tend to be more socially curious, and will typically be more interested in speaking to an installer.
To Save Money: Consumer Good
Financially-motivated people will go solar if it benefits them (and their wallets) personally. Once they've decided that it will, they will carefully weigh the pros and cons of the situation, considering cost, normative beliefs (and the opinions of their communities), and the suitability of their home.
Because It's Cool: Innovative Technology
Innovative, novelty-seeking consumers are more likely to adopt solar before anyone else they know. The more favorably people view solar, the more quickly they're likely to adopt. The more beneficial they perceive solar to be to themselves, the more interested they are.
So how does this translated to seeking new leads for your business? Savvy dealers will:
- Target innovative consumers and early adopters of technology, as well as environmentally-conscious consumers, and demonstrate how solar aligns with their values.
- Make the financial and personal benefits of solar clear, and show how going solar will address each consumer's needs and concerns.
- Use your social networks to find new customers, and create well-structured incentive and referral programs to grow your customer networks.
What Prevents Consumers from Going Solar?
For all that the solar industry is booming, solar is still a relatively new concept for most people, with only a tiny percentage of US homeowners having solar installed on their properties--under 1%! Many potential customers are either unaware of solar, or don't know why it would be beneficial to them.
That being said, solar awareness is growing. Of the people who have not gone solar, only 38% had not thought about solar for their homes (with 13% classifying themselves as "not interested" and 25% classifying themselves as "unaware"). The other 68% had thought about solar, with 31% being interested and 11% having already talked to an installer. This means that there are a lot of potential customers who simply need a push to take the final step towards purchasing a system.
For those who were interested in going solar and had spoken to a dealer, the top reasons given for not moving forward with the purchase were that the decision was too complex (that it was confusing or difficult to determine the best route), annoyance with aspects of the process (such as being contacted too frequently by solar companies), and that the finances didn't make sense for them (for example, all offers being more expensive than their current monthly electric bills). In fact, money was the single largest obstacle for over half of those surveyed.
What a Solar Adopter Looks Like
Solar adopters shared a few key characteristics. Their electricity bills were often high, as were their incomes. They were more likely to be male, were often retired, and many of them had pools or air conditioning, which accounted for a high energy usage, especially during summer months.
Their decision pathways were varied, with some being deliberative (learning about solar, considering their options, speaking to friends and neighbors, and finally making a decision) and others being event-based, triggered by things like receiving a few high energy bills in a row. Over half were opportunistic, with a dealer simply approaching the consumer at the right time.
Adopter motivation was broken down as follows:
- Environment primarily (3-5%)
- Environment and money (33%)
- Both, but money over environment (39%)
- Money, not environment (6%)
Their primary goals in going solar were lowering their total electric costs, protecting themselves from rising energy prices, being able to use renewable energy to power their homes, and reducing their environmental impacts.
Implications for Dealers
So how can you take this information and apply it to your own business? The first step is to think about how you source new leads. With so many adopters attributing their decisions to a dealer simply being in the right place at the right time, it's important to be visible, persistent, and get your name out there as much as possible. Similarly, because so many people (both considerers and adopters) were influenced by the opinions of their friends and neighbors, establishing robust referral programs is key. A lot of people have thought about solar or are simply unaware that it's an option--they're prime potential customers for you.
The other important action is to think about how you talk to new leads about solar. The study showed that customers don't trust a lot of the information they come across around solar, so that's a great opportunity for you to present yourself as a trusted resource and a source of objective information, and to use customer testimonials to your advantage. Customers should feel like you're there to help them make the right choice for their households, not just close the sale at any cost. Similarly, it's important to tie the benefits of solar back to the consumer--regardless of their secondary motivations, finances will almost always win out over environmental values or a love of new technology. If you can present a financial model that makes sense to your customers, the rest will fall into place a lot more easily.