News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Smartphone App + Door-to-Door Sales = New Rooftop Solar Biz Model

Going door to door for clean energy | Photo: CERTs/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Putting rooftop solar contractors in touch with potentially interested homeowners isn't always easy. Developing those leads takes time and money. But a new startup has big plans to connect companies with rooftop owners using a resource that's almost as inexhaustible as the sun: cheap student labor.

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The Brooklyn-based solar startup SolarList intends to put legions of young renewable energy mavens out in neighborhoods across the country to knock on doors and talk about rooftop solar. Armed with mobile phone apps and a bit of training, these students will offer homeowners free solar consulting sessions that include an intro to rooftop solar procedures, the ins and outs of working with contractors, and an estimate of how much the households might save on their electric bill post-installation.

SolarList will then sort the leads its field crews generate and offer them for sale to installers, sharing the proceeds with the canvassers.

The firm field-tested its canvassing strategy in the hills of Berkeley in April, and the results were encouraging. Canvassers eyeballed properties to make quick assessments of each home's solar potential, eliminating homes with shady or north-facing roofs, and giving the company's smartphone consulting app a real-world workout. From the company's blog:

We all found ourselves trying to survey rooftops for solar potential before even bothering with knocking on a door. "Would this even be a good lead? No, there's a tall tree on the south side of the house. But that one across the street is perfect!" Ultimately, this experience spawned the idea to develop some software to help a canvasser plan his / her day in advance so that he / she could follow a scheduled route and hit houses that have what appear to be good rooftops. In one experience, a canvasser went to a door and found out they already had solar on the south facing roof which could not be seen from the street. Pre-existing installations are another data point canvassers may need.

SolarList is accepting applications on its website for potential canvassers. The company doesn't specify pay rates, though as anyone with experience in canvassing for non-profits will tell you, your return likely depends on your sales skills -- even if you're not asking for money or selling anything but an idea.

In essence, SolarList is attempting to "outsource" existing solar installers' sales teams, and to be successful, they're going to have to be able to sell those leads cheaper than the installers could make them themselves. Given additional company overhead, that pretty much means canvassers can't expect to make as much as they would working on an installer's sales team. It will be interesting to see if the company's strategy of hiring devoted solar advocates before they really enter the job market pays off.

But if you're a young, underemployed person somewhere in the high school to graduate school range with an abiding interest in promoting solar power to total strangers, SolarList would seem to offer an opportunity and an excuse to do so, and if you get your transportation and coffee paid for in the meantime, so much the better.


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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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