What are some of the biggest challenges/success to getting into the solar leasing industry?
The biggest challenge is that we are a consumer business that has been servicing customers for more than 20 years. Few companies in our space have serviced homeowners for that amount of time because it requires you to effectively manage contract, home improvement and consumer businesses simultaneously. And there are few businesses that both install the home technology and then service the contract as well.
Through our model, Vivint has successfully built one of the largest customer bases in the nation and has maintained off-the-chart customer satisfaction. We’re good at cultivating customer relationship over a long period of time and we are extremely proud of this. It also happens to be the hardest part of our job.
Why are some states more efficiently launching solar?
When homeowners see tangible savings, it creates a strong incentive to adopt something new. Most customers won’t adopt a new technology if they don’t see a need for it. What creates demand is how some states have more expensive power than others. As energy costs rise, states become more willing to try something new. Solar just makes such perfect sense for these high-cost areas.
Which are the best and worst states for solar leasing opportunities?
The states with the greatest potential for energy savings include Hawaii, California, and the Northeastern United States. Louisiana, Oregon and Arizona also have specific incentives, which provide attractive solar leasing opportunities.
Is it difficult or time consuming to get a permit for a solar installation?
The solar permit process depends entirely on the municipality. Overall, the ones we have worked with have all massively impressed us as we’ve worked with them to tailor our services to satisfy their individual needs. We think it’s completely appropriate for municipalities to require some form of permit or license for homeowners to put solar on their roofs. After all, the process involves drilling holes in their roof, so it’s fair to require people to be careful.
Why is there such a lag time between solar panel installation and interconnectivity through utility companies?
The time to interconnect varies greatly among different utilities, and I believe this is one process we could improve the most in the industry. If you view the process through the eyes of the consumer, they have spent money for their solar panels. We’re in an uncomfortable position if they can’t use them to create savings for several weeks or months while they wait for the utility to connect them to the grid. We would like to see an acceleration of this timeline. Overall, I have been impressed with the efficiency of the utilities we deal with, specifically Enstar, PSE&G and JCP&L. Their example, if followed broadly, would save millions of dollars for homeowners and would greatly accelerate solar adoption rates nationwide. To that end, we will continue to work with the utilities to make connectivity a seamless and quick process.
What kind of cooperation will be necessary from utilities and municipalities to encourage wider-spread adoption of solar technology?
There needs to be a standardization of the permit packages and licenses required to install solar, as well as a standardization of the timeline to bring these packages to market.
We are actually very supportive of municipalities and utilities playing a role in ensuring quality and a good customer experience. But the rules need to be explicit and clearly show that, if we play by those rules, we can win.
How much are typical customers saving?
Depending on the state, a solar system saves the homeowner anywhere from $20 to $200 a month, which equates to several thousands of dollars over a 20 year period. Vivint Solar actually locks in the customer’s rate for power over this entire period of time.
Homeowners are no longer susceptible to the rises in power costs that traditionally occur each year. This is one of the most attractive aspects of solar.
How long is a typical lease and what happens at the end of the lease?
Our typical lease is for 20 years. Panels have a useful lifetime of 25 years. At the end of the lease, homeowners have several options, much like what happens at the end of a car lease. They can return or buy the panels, or sign up for a new lease.
What are the best and worst moments for a solar lease customer?
The best moment is when you turn on the customer’s solar panels for first time and they watch the meter slow and eventually start to move backward. The worst moment is when the sun sets and they are no longer producing power.
President, Vivint Solar
Tanguy Serra is the president of Vivint Solar. Before joining Vivint Solar, Tanguy worked with TPG in a variety of positions. In 2007, Tanguy moved to Hong Kong to support the China sourcing and execution for TPG and took responsibility for the renewable energy and health care sectors in China. As part of that effort, Tanguy led the investments into HKE (600MW of wind capacity) and Comtec (solar wafers). He then moved to San Francisco to lead TPG’s efforts in the renewable space. He is a graduate of ESCP in Paris.