SolarNexus of Berkeley, California has joined the effort to lower solar's "soft costs."

SunRun reported in a recent white paper for the DOE that $0.50 per watt can be saved in residential solar installations simply by streamlining the permitting process. SolarTech has come up with a number of ways to reduce the soft costs of solar installs -- looking at permitting, financing, paperwork, code, standardized contracts and safety issues. SolarCity and Sungevity have developed tools to streamline bids and installation.

I spoke with Eric Alderman, the CEO of SolarNexus. "We're focused on soft costs and how we're going to reduce those costs," according to the CEO, adding "We're using software to reduce soft costs."

SolarNexus has built a tool for the downstream solar industry -- it's a web-based solar business management platform that seeks to address the entire value chain, from sales to O&M. That focus on the entire flow distinguishes SolarNexus from vendors like Clean Power Finance that are working on narrower slices of that value chain. (This being software, there is a tendency to expand to ultimately deliver complete porfolios on their own or through partners.)

Jigar Shah, an investor in the firm and a board director, claims that SolarNexus is "the first company to provide a product that really helps solar contractors be better businesspeople.”

The firm received a $312,000 grant from the California Solar Initiative and a small seed round. 

The startup focuses on the long tail of solar installers -- the 74 percent of solar systems installed by firms with fewer than 50 employees. "Even though the industry is consolidating, the small guys are growing market share and the big guys, as a group, are losing market share," according to Alderman.

So what does SolarNexus provide?

Their online solar business management tool for residential and light commercial rooftops furnishes a marketplace of products and services for solar contractors. The end-to-end sales operations management software automates the the workflows and intricacies of solar projects. 

The software is provided free-of-charge to small installers, with the firm making money from its portal partners in the form of a percentage of transaction fees. Since 2011, the firm has signed up almost 300 solar contracting companies and formed seven partnership deals.

Some of the features include:

  • A single point of data entry minimizes redundancy and errors
  • Tracking milestones keep all project members informed
  • All project documents, data and diagrams are stored centrally for easy access
  • Rapid generation of multiple, customized proposals and contracts
  • Easy capture and design around site survey details
  • A company catalog that ensures accurate and consistent pricing and parts orders

Alderman claims that the software allows the contractor to go from sales lead to customer-ready proposal in about five minutes.

This is a big step in scrubbing out the inefficiencies and costs in the U.S. residential solar permitting process.

Screen shot from SolarNexus online platform