Robert and Carol Beckett were sitting with their two young children in the dark. Through the living-room window drapes, they could see the culprit of their power outage—the faint orange glow of a wildfire only 20 miles away. The winds were in their favor for the time being, and they were safe. It had been another 100-degree day in the Sacramento Valley, and without air conditioning, the house had reached an uncomfortable 90 degrees. But they dared not open the windows since the soot and smell of the wildfire would quickly enter the house.
Robert used his cell phone sparingly, turning it off when not in use, but Carol kept hers on for fire alerts.
The faucets still worked for now. Carol quickly opened the refrigerator only when necessary. She finally found the old handheld can opener since the electric one was useless. Robert lit candles and used his old camping lantern when walking around the house. There were a thousand different ways the Becketts would have liked to have begun their weekend, and this was not one of them. Then, an alert came through on Carol’s phone.
The power outage was estimated to last another four days.
“How can this be?” Robert lamented, “We spent over $20,000 on these batteries, and here we are in the dark. I just don’t get it. That salesperson said we would be able to make it through a power outage, but we didn’t even make it a day.” Robert had a severe case of buyer’s remorse. He would call the installer first thing Monday morning since he couldn’t get anyone on the phone over the weekend.
“Pack it up. Grab all the food you can. We’ll find a motel.”
As the Becketts drove off, Robert looked at his house with resentment. He saw the night sky’s orange reflect off their rooftop solar array. “Piece of shit.”
Although the utility power had been out for about 24 hours, the Becketts had had power in their home until eight hours ago. Someone sold them a battery system that was supposed to provide power during an outage so their lives could go on with minimal impact. Which they did until the Becketts prematurely emptied their battery. It wasn’t the battery’s fault. It wasn’t the solar array’s fault. In the end, it was the Becketts’ fault. But the solar company that sold the Becketts on disaster resiliency had some responsibility to bear as well.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-familiar story to me. If I had a beer for every email, phone call, or text I received from someone with this story, I would be a drunkard. In my 12-plus years of training solar-and-storage professionals, the dangers of lousy customer-expectation management have always been a priority. Although a technical trainer by job title, I frequently take service calls from frustrated installers because I am usually the first technical person they meet. Occasionally, I am put on speakerphone so the homeowners can also voice their frustrations.
I have been a trainer for most of my adult life, beginning with my first naval shore-duty assignment as a submarine sonar instructor. In fact, I spent every shore duty I could as an instructor since I had so much fun with my first assignment. I had to learn how to train and speak using language baby sonarmen, senior enlisted, and officers could understand since they would usually all be in the same room together. I have always maintained that anyone could learn the material if I could make my training sailor proof. If you can get a sailor to understand and safely execute a new skill without hurting himself or the equipment, the curriculum is solid. That is how I wrote this book.
This book started as a LinkedIn blog post, but I realized it could be much more than that. I want to help you be a better solar-and-storage professional. I want to emphasize the word “professional.” This book is NOT for do-it-yourselfers who want to punch holes in their roofs for cheap, Chinese solar modules to charge golf-cart batteries with a $30 charge controller to power their off-grid shanties. I’ve seen too many of those dumpster fires to know better and will leave that part of the industry to someone with more guts.
This book is NOT for solar-and-storage system installers—the people on the roof that fasten solar modules, bend conduits, turn wrenches, and run wire. Those skills require hands-on on-the-job training (OJT) and are beyond the scope of this book. If you want that type of training, I highly recommend attending a Solar Energy International workshop.
This book is for the professional who has been cautious about adding storage to their current solar portfolio. It is also for the professional who had a bad experience installing storage, like unhappy customers, poor product operation, etc. It is for the person who is having difficulty navigating the swift currents of storage in general.
Prepare to be schooled beyond the spec sheets, beyond the sales and marketing hype. Prepare to talk to your customers in an intelligent and informed way that establishes and maintains your status as a subject-matter expert. If you find yourself saying, “That’s a great question. Let me get back to you on that,” more often than you are comfortable with, keep reading. I get weekly calls, emails, and texts from installers about their unhappy customers. Poor customer-expectation management is usually the culprit. Bad system design is another offender. I will cover these pitfalls in great detail in this book.
If you size and design solar-and-storage systems, I have devoted an entire chapter to your craft. Mainly because this is where many negative customer-experience issues can be avoided, particularly with battery systems. I will show you how to size these systems to keep you, the customer, and the product manufacturer’s service line happy.
I will also put my sales cap on as I explore the following presale questions homeowners ask most often:
How much does it cost?
How long will it last?
How long can I power my house?
How does it work?
Solar is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, and storage is not far behind. There are many places in the United States (Hawaii, for example) where installing solar without batteries doesn’t make sense. In 2019, only 5% of installed solar systems were paired with storage. By 2025, that number will grow to 25% (according to Woods McKenzie).
The reasons to dive into this industry are as numerous as the products and jobs it creates (250,000 American jobs at the time of publishing). As climate awareness grows, so does the desire to reduce our carbon footprint. Solar and storage offer a clean and reliable energy source that appeals to the climate sensitive and environmentally responsible—and having a miniature power-production plant in one’s home appeals to the techno-geek in all of us. Combining solar and storage offers true grid resilience, peace of mind, zombie-apocalypse sustainability, and energy security. Among all these legitimate reasons is the real opportunity to make a good living in this billion-dollar industry.
The internet has closed the gap between novice and expert; however, beneficial information is intertwined and buried within the sales and marketing fog or the court of public opinion. Navigating these waters can be a daunting task, and this book is the nautical chart to keep you from running aground.
Even in the renewables industry, storage is still relatively new to many people and downright scary to some. This apprehension seems counterintuitive since solar and storage started together decades ago in the quest to save the world from fossil fuels. Or maybe it was to hide grow lights? Regardless, some solar companies deliberately shy away from storage (offering, promoting, or even talking about it) until they get a pesky customer who wants it. Why would someone intentionally turn away business? For them, storage is too much of a hassle, there isn’t enough margin, or they lack the skill set to size, design, and install the system. It becomes a scramble to learn storage “real quick” when they do get a serious customer.
Newsflash: those customers are becoming more frequent!
You must educate yourself and your team on storage—there will be a time when installing solar without storage in your area won’t make sense. You should be prepared for this inevitability even if you do not think it is imminent. You do not want an angry Robert Beckett chewing you out.
“Cripes, man, just get to it already!”
Yeah, that’s him. Choose your own actor, TV personality, or animated show character for his voice. I have mine, but my lawyer advised against mentioning it. Let’s dip our toes into the murky waters of storage and start making sense of it all.
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