When it comes to energy in the home, most people do not want to obsess over their usage. The majority of folks just want to know how they can save some money and where they can gain a bit more control.
And then there are the people who have solar panels on their roof. “People are obsessed with their solar monitoring,” said Jonathan Bass, VP of communications for SolarCity.
To give those customers more options for geeking out on energy use, SolarCity has a new app, MySolarCity, which shows real-time home energy usage and offers basic energy assessments, as well as providing social network via which users can share their solar experiences. This builds on SolarCity’s other efforts around offering energy efficiency to their customers, who seem to be inherently more interested in energy use than the general population.
SolarCity customers have long had real-time monitoring for the solar panels, but now they can also see their energy usage in real time. There is a debate in the utility and energy efficiency community about whether people actually need to see their real-time usage in order to make adjustments. The gee-whiz effect of being able to turn things on and off and seeing how it affects whole-house energy use is usually only of interest to energy geeks -- but SolarCity is betting that is exactly what many of their customers are.
The company's PowerGuide monitoring service does not offer many of the bells and whistles that utility efficiency apps typically have, such as alerts when usage is abnormally high. Bass noted that MySolarCity was not mutually exclusive to other home energy apps a customer might have, such as one that is designed for use with a smart thermostat or an app from the utility.
Another feature of the app is EnergyExplorer, which builds on SolarCity's acquisition of home energy audit firm Building Solutions in 2010. For a while, SolarCity was doing some of the efficiency audits and upgrades, but in 2013 it shifted to making recommendations for the audits but not actually performing the work itself.
The information that SolarCity collects during the panel installation is fed into EnergyExplorer, which offers forecasts on a home’s energy use, although it is not as sophisticated as many other offerings in the energy efficiency space, such as Bidgely or Opower products.
Beyond the energy features, the MySolarCity app also lets customers geek out about owning solar. Users can see other solar installations in their area and can also share their stories and pictures of their installations. This feature, called AmpIt!, has only been live for a handful of days and customers are already uploading pictures, said Bass.
SolarCity will be able to use the social network to inform its future marketing efforts and do some crowdsourcing. Ultimately, it could help reduce the cost of customer acquisition, according to Bass.
SolarCity is hardly alone in bringing energy efficiency into its solar offering or vice versa. Vivint, the second-largest solar installer after SolarCity in recent months, also has a large home security business that offers smart home services, including smart thermostats and appliance control.
On the efficiency side, startups such as Energy Aware and Bidgely are also touting solar support for their home energy platforms. Opower has also hinted it might soon use its behavioral science techniques to target customers and help utilities sell community solar programs.