More than half of small residential solar installers surveyed said that they do not offer any leases or power-purchase agreements, according to a new survey from EnergySage.
EnergySage works with nearly 300 installers. The online solar marketplace polled more than 100 small- and mid-sized installers and found that the majority offer only cash purchases or unsecured loans.
Earlier this year, EnergySage polled its shoppers and found that 90 percent of those customers reported choosing solar loans.
Although customer-owned systems are increasing in prevalence, GTM Research doesn’t project that customer-owned systems will overtake third-party-owned systems until 2020. “Leases and PPAs still account for the majority of systems installed by the top five installers, which make up more than half the residential market,” explains Nicole Litvak, senior solar markets analyst with GTM Research.
Smaller installers certainly feel the squeeze of larger competitors. The top-ranked competitive need cited in the survey results was access to more financing options, which was followed by access to better quality leads. Most of the installers said they faced an average of 15 competitors in their markets, and lower prices from those competitors remain a major barrier to closing deals.
To close sales in the competitive landscape, installers were nearly evenly split as to whether it makes more sense to gain market share even if it meant cutting margins, or increasing margins at smaller volumes.
Most installers said they were investing more heavily in reaching customers, whether through online channels like EnergySage or more traditional marketing. That will only become more important as more and more residential solar markets pick up steam. In 2015, one-fifth of respondents said they compete with more than 80 installers across the territories they serve.
GTM Research has found it costs 49 cents per watt to acquire a solar customer in the U.S., or nearly 10 percent of the cost of an average residential solar system. For the little guys, that means competing with names that are increasingly household brands, such as SolarCity, which spend tens of millions per quarter on sales and marketing.
EnergySage says it will repeat the survey annually and all solar installers that are interested can participate.