Why is it so hard to compare rooftop solar quotes?

Yesterday was a big day. I got my new rooftop solar panel array turned on. I don’t have my dashboard access yet, so I don’t know what I’m producing, but it’s still exciting to know that my roof is generating electricity.

But as I stop and think about how I got here, I am realizing that it was a slog.

Why was it so hard?

I obviously wanted to get a system that met our family’s needs around reliability, economics, efficiency, and carbon-reduction. But I realized quickly that I was missing most of the information that would be required to make those tradeoffs.

It’s one thing to say: “hey, I want to reduce my electric bills and my carbon footprint. Solar seems like a good idea.”

It’s a very different thing to say: “I’ve selected supplier A, offering a system with features X, Y, and Z because it’s the right mix of reliable, affordable, and efficient.”

On top of that, you have companies posing as installers when they are really just salespeople. You have contractors vs employees. I was told that it was a good thing I didn’t request a quote through a review site because that would have increased my cost by thousands of dollars.

If you don’t have a real burning desire to install solar, I can easily see how someone would give up. Whether you are leasing or purchasing, it’s a large investment and a serious commitment. There is a lot of inertia involved here; no one needs solar panels on their roof. And the cognitive effort involved in comparing suppliers is a high hurdle.

How many rooftop solar projects end up being dropped before a customer even gets to the point where they are getting quotes from installers? Or worse, how many people are installing systems that don’t match their needs because they were unduly swayed by marketing flash and promotional smoke and mirrors.

Less friction, more action

I am sure that many of my neighbors would benefit from installing rooftop solar. And obviously, the neighborhood, the planet, and the industry would benefit as well.

But I can’t fault any of them for not wanting to undertake the effort that I had to go through to design a system and select a supplier. I think I did a reasonable amount of research, but I had probably 10 hours of phone calls and another 10 hours of on-my-own research.

I think there would be a lot more uptake if it didn’t take so much effort to get to an apples-to-apples comparison. If we want to get more solar installations done, we need to reduce the friction in the process. We need to make the process more like buying a car and less like earning dual degrees in construction management, economics, and electrical engineering all at once.

So let’s standardize the process

Imagine this.

A solar-curious homeowner comes to a website, answers a few questions about what their goals are, and submits their request-for-quote. This process shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes and should be guided by educational materials right on the site. A well designed flow should make this a fairly intuitive process.

Next, solar suppliers in the area are notified that there is a local request. They then have the option to bid on the project, maybe over the course of 3 days. But here’s the catch, instead of submitting their own quotes and setting up phone calls to sell their products, they use a standard set of inputs to produce an easily comparable set of options for the homeowner.

Now, the homeowner has the option to either select a supplier and move to contracting OR go back and ask for clarifications. In a perfect world, maybe this site allows other homeowners who are in their community to weigh in and help them decide.

Instead of a laborious process with a lot of wasted time and effort, the process is boiled down to the essentials. And best of all, the output is a standard set of easily comparable quotes.

Tell me why I’m wrong

Admittedly, I am not an expert on all this. I’m just a customer envisioning what I wish had existed before I went through this process.

Does something like this already exist and I just missed it? Has this been tried unsuccessfully? Is there something I’m not thinking about that would render this idea ridiculous?

All I know is that the current process is sub-optimal and there is a win-win-win buried underneath of all the parts we don’t need.