Looking to add solar to your home but don’t know where to start? A new company, SolarStory, is looking to take the guesswork out of who can give you the best bang for your buck.
When SolarStory’s founder, Amro Naddy, discovered Tracking the Sun, a report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory offering statistics galore on solar PV pricing trends, he knew he wanted to take publicly available solar data a step further.
“Holy cow – this is an incredible database,” he tells Solar Industry, recalling his experience with Tracking the Sun. “The only problem is it’s updated annually; it’s out of date. Imagine how much more useful it is in real time?”
What SolarStory does is collect data from “various utilities and feeds,” says Naddy, including Berkeley Lab itself and the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, either monthly or “as relevant as the utility can provide,” he explains.
The result is an up-to-date, city-by-city database chock-full of information ranging from best and worst prices of installers, annual savings, average prices to install, payoff times, and available incentives. Notably, the tool could be especially useful for homeowners in California, having just enacted a 100% clean energy law and solar mandate for most homes in 2020.
For example, if you’re a Long Beach resident looking to go solar, you can find out – with one click – that residents typically save $1,219 annually, your system will be paid off in eight years, residents are paying an estimated $20,324 for a system, and a tax credit could save you 30% before 2020. Furthermore, SolarStory reviewed nearly 5,000 solar installations and analyzed nearly 100 installers to find the top companies in the area: According to the data, Tesla – having completed 1,099 installations in Long Beach – currently has the best deal, offering a 4.7 kW, $2.34/W system for $11,000.
From there, consumers can connect directly with a company to get started on a potential solar installation.
Naddy – whose background is in real estate technology start-ups – makes note that the service is not “pay to play.” With a focus on being a neutral “Switzerland,” he says SolarStory only makes a commission from a company after “connecting consumers to the installation partner of their choice” if they do decide to install the system.
The free-to-use service has a clean, user-friendly layout, but there’s a whole lot that goes into getting the statistics in the hands of consumers.
When it comes to a “robust, true, good data science pipeline,” explains Naddy, there are three important components: data acquisition, preparation and analysis.
The acquisition is grabbing the data from the utilities: e.g., where the installations are, what the prices are, what materials are being used or who’s installing what – “all sorts of rich stuff,” he says.
Then, the team’s data scientist must perform “deep data standardization” across the board, he explains. For instance, the data scientist must account for records of companies that no longer exist or must attribute projects to new owners: e.g., SolarCity installations that are now attributed to Tesla, thanks to the battery maker’s acquisition of SolarCity. Or, if the size of a system is not clearly identified, the team must calculate it themselves.
The result, according to Naddy, is “nice and uniform” data that was once “dirty,” compiled into analyses for the consumer.
The goal? Be an unbiased advocate for solar, nail down the best options for consumers and continue to grow the industry – which Naddy believes is about to “enter the mainstream in a way that has not been forecast.”