We traveled to Phoenix last week for the 2022 NABCEP Continuing Education Conference. As always, the sessions were in-depth and informative, and we’ll be relaying insights from them over the next few months. The exhibit hall was packed with new systems and nifty product updates. Here are 10 that stood out to us.
1. Bodhi’s customer experience engine. Scott Nguyen, CEO of Bodhi, has a Ph.D. in physics from Harvard. With that background and brain, he probably could improve anything related to renewable energy, and after a decade or so bouncing around the industry, working with Shell for a big chunk of time, it was his own experience trying to get solar on his home that set him on a new path: fixing the solar customer experience.
“People do find energy important, but it’s still never anyone’s top priority,” he tells us. “So how do you try to cultivate a relationship and interact in a way that doesn’t just appeal to energy nerds and early adopters but to the masses sooner? That’s what was interesting to me coming from more of a science-y and research-y background, trying to understand consumer behavior.”
Bodhi launched in August 2019, and based its customer engagement concepts on a ton of customer behavior research – including examples of energy industry concepts that mostly didn’t work, like various demand response programs that have come and gone.
“Our take is solar is a gateway into this new energy future. Consumers are going solar and have high expectations. They have been conditioned by Amazon and Uber, and if they make a purchase of solar, of upwards of $30,000, they expect to know what’s going on from point of contact through installation and commissioning.”
This is often where solar installers struggle. Those who do work extra hard at customer service can often lament how much time project managers are devoting to instead of their core jobs. Hiring more customer service-only employees helps, but then we’re tacking on more in the way of soft costs.
Bodhi steps in the mix to automate much of this back and forth, via text messages and emails, so staff can focus much more on design and installations.
“Some people want just a quick message; some dive all the way deep,” Nguyen notes, “so we personalize it in the channel they want. … Installers spend 50 percent of their time talking to customers, but we realized a lot of the info they are asking for is pretty much the same over and over. So automate those answers, so employees can handle more complicated projects and demanding customers.”
Automating much of this process saves operational costs — Nguyen says some customers have reported as much as 25 percent.
In addition, Bodhi integrates with you CRM, field apps and inverter monitoring systems. So, post-installation, it can maintain that customer relationship and manage monthly reporting, alerts, etc. The ability to deliver well produced content directly to the customer is only going to gain in importance as solar and home electrification gains ground.
Stay tuned for more from Bodhi — its fleet monitoring interface for installers is in beta right now and will be released this year.
2. EagleView’s TrueDesign to streamline solar design process. EagleView presented the most exciting new innovation at the show, TrueDesign. The official, installer-facing look and feel wasn’t ready just yet (debuting in April), but the gist is it is solar design tool that will be capable of generating final, 3-D, CAD-drawing ready plans from the initial planning stage. The goal of the company is to eliminate the in-person site visit (whether that’s a drone or hand measurement) that sits between the planning stage design and the final design.By eliminating that step with a highly accurate initial design, they also eliminate the deals that are killed by inaccurate initial estimates.
EagleView itself specializes in high-resolution imagery taken from million-dollar cameras installed in low-flying planes. These images are more accurate than LIDAR or satellite images (one pixel on the ground in these images is the size of a quarter), and its services are used largely by government agencies and the insurance industry. For its expansion into the solar industry, shade analysis was added and has been validated by DNV as being within 0.1 percent of on-site SunEye device measurement.
Definitely keep an eagle eye out for this.
3. The in-band management of Outback Power’s Mojave. Industry mainstay Outback Power, an EnerSys company, has its solution for the modern residential solar + storage system in Mojave, consisting of both an inverter and a specially built EnerSys battery (14.8 kWh capacity, 12 kWh recommended usable capacity). The inverter, of course, can be used with any batteries of your choosing, and Outback has many available to choose from, to ease the setup process.
But nothing will compare to the ease of setting up the Mojave inverter with a Mojave battery system. The in-band management of the full system requires, essentially, no installer inputs, and is then fully in sync when monitoring / adjusting to any cell-level conditions or broader homeowner needs. Its protection of the system in low-temperatures and safety mechanisms in case the insulator fails are also well conceived. The system is grid interactive, has islanding protection and can incorporate a generator.
4. Rolls Battery’s drop-in LFP replacement. If you didn’t know, Rolls Battery now has an LFP (LiFePO4) battery available, which is notable for two reasons: 1) this chemistry is growing in demand, and 2) it is easily dropped into existing systems based on Rolls’ AGM batteries to improve cycle life. It comes in the same case sizes (lightweight 12V and 24V versions) and only requires small tweaks to charge settings, as long as voltage is the same. These are now available via three U.S. distributors.
The company has rolled these new LFP batteries out in some awesome village electrification projects in Tecoh, a small city south of Merida in Yucatán, Mexico. The off-grid systems include a 330 W PV array, inverter/charger and Rolls 24-volt S24-50 LFP lithium batteries with 50 Amp-Hour nominal storage capacity, generating 1.5 kWh of usable power each day. Eleven of these systems have been installed to-date, providing access to reliable energy for 44 people. A total of 150 systems will be installed by the end of the year.
5. CAB Solar’s specialty hangers. The CAB Solar product portfolio is massive at this point as the company has honed in on solutions that best fit specific racking and tracker brands. Above are the new hangers for ATI’s torque tubes and a custom-fit clamp for NEXTracker.
6. K2’s tile racking system. K2 Systems continues to leverage its partnership with Roof Tech to deploy its butyl rubber-based AlphaSeal attachment method to a variety of rooftop systems. One of its newest examples is this tile replacement that is easily adjustable to conform and fit in place of the removed tile.
7. WESCO is now huge. Amid our current supply chain issues, installation companies need all of the powerful logistics allies they can get. Over a year ago now, Wesco WESCO International, acquired Anixter International Inc., to create the largest electrical distributor in North America (a $17 billion operation). The combined company has a comprehensive portfolio including WESCO’s industrial, construction, and utility segments with Anixter’s expertise in data communications, security, and wire and cable. In solar specifically, WESCO can provide PV modules, inverters, racking, balance of systems (BOS) and energy storage.
8. Solar Foundations is focused on residential ground mounts. Solar Foundations has built its own niche in the residential solar space, focusing on the full-service installation of ground-mounts and carports. Basically, if you have a customer where the roof isn’t an option for whatever reason, and you do not want to mess with ground-mounts yourself, contract it out with Solar Foundations and they will handle the whole thing. The company got its start in the Northeast, using its ground screws to adhere in rocky soils, but is steadily expanding West, most recently finding success in Illinois and Texas.
9. EcoFasten sees the rise of rail-less. EcoFasten says its rail-free mount continues to see a lot of interest as rail-less systems gain acceptability in the industry, especially in the current environment where aluminum prices and gas prices are going up and affecting rail logistics and purchasing. Highlights of the Rock-It system in particular is the one-tool installation and post-install leveling capability.
10. Large junction box for much less via EZ Solar. EZ Solar launched to offer an alternative junction box, based on polycarbonate plastic instead of metal. The polycarbonate can withstand UV and high temps (rated for 25+ years) but at a lower price point than metal. The newest option on display at NABCEP is bigger, to allow more room for installers to work while accommodating six strings instead of four.