Lennie Moreno believes customer empowerment is key to unlocking the next phase of growth in residential solar, which is why he created Draw My Roof. 

“I strongly believe the companies...that will win over the market in the long term will succeed because customers have full transparency,” said Moreno, CEO of the emerging solar software company Sofdesk and a former solar installer. “Once you provide full transparency and give tools to the end user, that’s when you’re building a long-term business model.”

Draw My Roof is a new online platform that allows potential solar customers to design their own home solar installation, based on their own roof, and get an accurate sense of system size, cost and projected savings. With that information in hand, the customer can decide whether or not they want to take the next step and speak to a set of approved solar installers. Professionals will conduct their own site review with an enhanced set of tools -- the kind Sofdesk built its core business on -- knowing they’re already working with an engaged customer.

There are other free tools available to homeowners interested in going solar, like Google’s Project Sunroof, but oftentimes these services are not accurate, according to Moreno. These tools don’t take into consideration things like trees, vents, pipes and other obstacles that can significantly impact a solar project. A homeowner, however, will have a better sense of what their roof is like and where they might want to install solar panels. 

The Draw My Roof tool allows customers to map out where they want to install an array and delete or move panels where there are obstructions -- like an overgrown tree or newly added skylight. Sofdesk offers video tutorials to help customers go through this process. The program also automatically recognizes roof slope to determine the optimal panel layout.

While Draw My Roof leverages Google Maps, Moreno estimates that Sofdesk's technology coupled with additional customer input makes Draw My Roof 30 to 40 times more accurate than Google Sunroof, which bases its results on the rough square footage of the entire roof. Comparisons between Draw My Roof results and existing solar installations show that the designs are accurate. 

The tool officially launched last week and is now functional in all 50 U.S. states. To offer quote estimates, the system uses an aggregated pricing average based on thousands of local quotes being created for turnkey solutions. Calculations include the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit.

For Moreno, the aim of Draw My Roof is to simplify and accelerate the process of going solar. To do that, he firmly believes customers need to feel like they’re in the driver’s seat.

“The big picture is to have solar become fully democratized, where you design your system, get verified by a professional, pick your local installer and get financed all in one place,” he said. “It’s the Amazon of solar, if you want. Or it’s like Tesla, where you build your own car online before purchasing -- it’s essentially the same process.”

Getting the software into customers' hands

For the financing element of Draw My Roof, Sofdesk has integrated its platform with SunTrust Bank and is looking to partner with other financial institutions. Working with banks allows potential customers to get prequalified for a solar loan online, within minutes. The prequalification process leads to a link via which customers can fill out a full loan application. Once an installer reviews the designs, the original application is tweaked and the loan can be processed.

Partnering with financial institutions like SunTrust not only streamlines the purchasing experience for customers; it also serves as a way to get banking customers interested in going solar.

Utilities represent another avenue Sofdesk plans to use to roll out Draw My Roof. In this case, customers could access Draw My Roof through their utility’s online portal, and calculate their savings based on their historical energy consumption and their exact tariff structure via their existing electricity account.

“If we have access to the actual information of that client, then we then simply link with the fields in Draw My Roof to make the proposal accurate,” said Moreno. Sofdesk has yet to announce utility partners, but the company is currently in talks with a couple of smaller California utilities, he added.

A third avenue is to roll out Draw My Roof on solar installer and home improvement websites either as a widget or the full tool. Moreno said he strongly believes that solar installers will want to have Draw My Roof integrated on their site to generate more high-quality leads and to give homeowners more transparency.

“I’ve been in leads for years. The percentage of leads that don’t pass the first stage is humongous,” he said. Draw My Roof “eliminates a huge number of leads that don’t qualify.”

Customers are also incentivized to refer their friends and neighbors to use Draw My Roof. For every homeowner who designs a system and requests legitimate quote, the referrer receives a finder’s fee. Referrals account for a significant percentage of the residential solar systems being installed in the United States, and Draw My Roof is betting that these inquiries are more likely to convert into system sales for Sofdesk’s clients, compared to a generic SEO lead.

More power to the end user

The cost of acquiring residential solar customers is high, and is actually expected to increase in the near term, according to GTM Research. Draw My Roof seeks to streamline the acquisition process -- but it’s hardly the only platform making that attempt.

Companies like EnergySage, PowerScout and Pick My Solar are also generating price quotes and quality leads, albeit with different twists on the business model. In the case of Pick My Solar, Moreno said Draw My Roof is intended to be much more do-it-yourself for the customer. In contrast, Pick My Solar generates premium leads and builds a relationship with homeowners from first contact through interconnection and beyond, Draw My Roof allows the customer to steer the process on their own.

“Our general plan is not to become client care or salespeople,” said Moreno. Instead, he sees Draw My Roof playing largely an educational role.

Some installers like to speak almost a different language in order to sell a more expensive home solar solution, or one that makes the most margin, he said. Enabling customers to learn that same language will give them confidence in their purchasing decision.

“The more power we give to the end user, the faster we can apply their feedback to allow the industry to keep getting better,” Moreno said. “There is no question that offering a tool like this one to homeowners to easily design their own solar system is a leap in the right direction for the solar industry. We have to do what’s right, and what’s right is not always what makes more profit.”

Moreno may have a point -- given the heightened scrutiny residential solar installers are facing for their allegedly aggressive sales tactics, greater customer engagement and transparency can't hurt. Also, as more and more solar companies follow in Tesla/SolarCity's footsteps and give up door-to-door sales, they'll be looking for better ways to connect with customers online. 

Draw My Roof is Sofdesk’s first consumer-facing product, building on the company’s success with Solargraf, a software platform for solar contractors to create quotes, design systems and manage projects. Thousands of contractors use Solargraf each day to for in-depth project analysis, said Moreno. Draw My Roof is intended to be an educational and lead generation service that complements the professional platform.

In March of this year, Sofdesk raised a $3 million Series A financing round lead by Enertech Capital and supported by BDC Capital.