EnergySage

has emerged as the most popular shopping site for solar, and with prominence comes a robust set of data with a window into the preferences of consumers who are considering installing solar.

EnergySage just released its initial Solar Marketplace Intel report, the first in what will be a regular series. It assessed more than 10,000 quotes from the latter half of 2014 through the first half of 2015 in the top 10 states for residential solar.

There are a few caveats. One is that SolarCity, the leading residential solar installer with more than 200,000 customers, is not a participant in the EnergySage platform. Another is that EnergySage’s business mirrors trends in U.S. solar installations, meaning that the data set for California, for instance, is far larger than those for other states.

Even so, the inaugural report is telling. About 90 percent of EnergySage shoppers chose to own their systems, either outright or through loans, rather than lease them. SolarCity said last year that it expected more than half of its systems to be loans rather than leases by the end of 2015.

Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, attributed the high figure in part to the fact that customers of his company were really doing their homework. They often receive multiple quotes through EnerySage, allowing them to better comparison shop and crunch numbers. The result for the majority of those customers is that owning the system is a better choice than leasing. “They’re smart shoppers,” he said, “and they want choices.”

Customers who get at least four quotes have a 40 percent chance of deciding to go solar, compared to just 6 percent for those who only get a quote from a single installer.

As prices drop for solar, some customers are choosing larger systems overall. In New York, the average system size is more than 20 percent larger than just a year ago. Yet in California, quoted systems were slightly smaller than in 2014, mirroring the national average.

There was considerable variability in the amount of household electricity use that a solar system offset. In Washington state, the average was 56 percent for EnergySage shoppers, while Colorado, California and New York all had figures over 90 percent.

Aggarwal noted that as long as the payback period is seven years or less, solar is an attractive option to people. “As more companies can price their systems such that it’s at the seven-year mark, they have the potential to increase the size of their market.” In the Northwest, for instance, EnergySage customers pay off their panel systems 2.4 years faster than the average shopper in the state, which takes 10 years.

He also pointed to the myriad of system and financing choices for people buying solar panels, no matter where they are located. EnergySage sees installer offers that select from more than 40 panel manufacturers and more than 50 finance providers, although 90 percent of financing comes from just 10 installers.

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On the equipment side, installers are pairing a diverse blend of panels and inverters. “The amount of choice that consumers have is increasing,” he said, a trend he expects to continue as more vendors can make the payback attractive in more states.