Historically, utilities have been hesitant to provide solar options and information to customers because of load- and revenue-loss concerns.
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December 13, 2017

Move Away from the Anti-solar Moniker, Be a DER Educator

Historically, utilities have been hesitant to provide solar options and information to customers because of load- and revenue-loss concerns. Unfortunately, this has led to many utilities being branded as anti-solar. In fact, the top communication challenge from the 2017 E Source Utility DER Strategy Benchmark was trying to “communicate the utility’s position on solar without sounding anti-solar.”

Customers’ perceptions matter and can influence internal metrics, regulatory outcomes, and the bottom line. Of the utilities included in our DER Strategy Benchmark, 57% believe that their customers see them as supportive of solar; in reality, only about one in five do. Customers who see their utility as supportive of solar are twice as likely to give their utility a rating of excellent as opposed to those who don’t believe their utility supports solar. That’s a big deal!

E Source set out to help members of the Solar Strategy Service tackle this challenge by focusing research efforts around the question: How might utilities flip this negative perception on its head and become a trusted educator, advisor, and enabler of customers interested in solar and other distributed energy resources (DERs)?

But why do things that encourage greater customer adoption of rooftop solar and other DER technologies? Utilities that shift to become proactive solar advisors and embrace a changing market will position themselves for a successful, customer-centric future. Here are some insights from our recent research that will help you on your journey.

Provide the Information Customers Want

Our Residential Solar Education and Communications Study surveyed over 7,000 customers for their opinions on what types of information, tools, and resources are most important to them to make an informed decision about their solar options. Less than one-third of utilities included in our 2017 Utility Solar Website Benchmark provides the top-ranked resources and information that customers want.

Graphic: What's the most useful when deciding to purchase rooftop solar? solar calculator (68%), list of approved solar installation companies (66%), information on steps to take with your utility tog et solar panels up and running as quickly as possible (66%), easy assessment tool to figure out if your roof is suitable for solar (65%), recommended steps for making a decision about purchasing solar (62%).

In the Ways They Want It

And the utilities that do provide these types of information and resources do so in ways that are hard for customers to understand. Customers want:

  • To know about the personal impact—“What’s in it for me [the customer]?”
  • A combination of information and guidance—“What’s the best option for my specific situation?”
  • Easy-to-understand language and simple videos and imagery, not utility jargon.
  • A way to contact someone at their utility for advice.
  • Tips and guidance in selecting a solar installer.

Customer Review of a Highly Rated Utility Solar Website

“The company seems to be very enthusiastic about increasing the use of solar power by their customers. For my project, the steps were clear, simply because they were offered repeatedly as I moved around in the links. There were some introductory educational resources, including a video, and then I could use an online tool to get a result about whether or not solar would be right for me. The tool only required a few questions about my house and gave me my estimated payback period and estimated annual savings. After using the interactive tool, I could call and speak with an expert.”

Learn More

Check out our latest e-book, Do This, Not That to Create a Positive Experience for Customers on Your Utility Solar Website for advice on how to improve the information and resources you provide to customers.

Email Alanya Schofield or call 303-345-9156 for more information about E Source solar research.

About the Author

Alanya Schofield


Senior Director

Alanya Schofield manages the E Source Solar Strategy Service and is responsible for corporate strategy initiatives and new product development. She has expertise in strategy, policy, program design, and communications, with a focus on DERs and other emerging technologies. Before joining E Source, Alanya was the Strategy, Communications & Continuous Improvement director for Duke Energy’s Emerging Technology Office. Prior to that role, she worked in Duke Energy’s Office of the Chairman & CEO, Regulated Utility Renewable Strategy, Integrated Resource Planning, and Corporate Communications groups. She has also worked for GE Wind, Southern Company, and UNI-SOLAR. Alanya has an MBA/MS from the University of Michigan and a BA in architecture from Yale University.

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