The additional cost of battery storage for residential solar systems can be a deterrent for some homeowners. The key is to show them how storage is an investment that can help optimize their utility rates, make their homes more resilient against grid outages — both planned and unplanned — and benefit the environment. It’s up to solar professionals to help their customers see the added value battery storage can bring.
Here are a few tips for selling battery storage in three specific scenarios: 1) as part of a solar system package, 2) to augment an existing system or 3) as a standalone system.
Advantages of battery storage
The key to selling storage in any situation is communicating its value proposition, which is not one-size-fits-all. The first thing you should do as a salesperson is to make sure that your customer will actually benefit from adding storage. That means doing a thorough customer needs discovery.
For example, in utility markets that do not have time-of-use rates and rarely have outages, the benefits of storage probably don’t outweigh the cost. On the other hand, in places with volatile weather, or that have variable rates or planned outages, being able to bank solar or grid power during the day to use during peak hours, after sundown, or as backup during outages can be very attractive.
Selling solar + storage at the outset
Making one bigger sale is always easier than making two separate sales, so getting the customer to commit to both solar and storage upfront is the surer bet. Fortunately for installers, a strong case can be made that efficient and effective deployment of storage is always best done in conjunction with the design of the solar system. That means efficiency for the installer and the customer.
The primary consideration for homeowners investing in a solar system is ROI. In the case of storage, that includes the hard to quantify value of resilience against outages. You can help your case for communicating that value by making installing storage as efficient as possible, which means including it in the initial design. Sizing the storage system based on the production value and remaining demand for consumers is best done when taken as a whole. It will also be more costly to add storage later, as the fixed costs of an install will be passed on to the customer. That is not to mention the extra hassle of shopping for batteries later, pulling additional permits and applying for rebates that may no longer be in effect.
Solar system appearance is also an important consideration for most homeowners, and including storage in the system design from the outset has real long-term value for the customer by delivering more streamlined wiring that is both more functional and pleasing to the eye.
These benefits aside, it’s worth noting that it’s a best practice to be upfront with your customer about the realities of supply and demand for storage. Supply chain disruption continues to be an issue, and designing a system and permitting for storage and not being able to install the batteries can leave the project in limbo, affecting both customer satisfaction and your own labor costs. It’s best to offer storage when you have a direct line of sight to your supplier and clear expectations with your customer.
Following up to add storage
Uncoupled from the customer’s initial enthusiasm for going solar, selling storage at a later time can be more of an uphill battle, but it can be done. Since installing their solar system, the customer may have come to realize — or at least be open to hearing about — the benefits of adding storage. Perhaps storage just wasn’t in their initial budget, but they expressed interest in adding it to their system in the future. In each case, a periodic call every six months is a great way to revisit the topic. Begin by following up on how their solar system is performing and listen to their feedback for opportunities where storage would add value for them.
For instance, recent developments in net energy metering might result in the customer receiving less compensation for contributing to the grid. In these markets, it could make more sense to store excess solar energy for personal use.
While it’s possible to size for storage needs for an existing system, few contractors are positioned to efficiently install storage only. Installers tend to use large fleet vehicles for transportation of panels and carry large crew sizes, neither of which lend themselves to being repurposed. Therefore, it is in your best interest (and the customer’s) to encourage storage to be included with the initial solar installment.
However, if you are in a position to offer later installation, it can provide additional benefits beyond revenue. For instance, it can generate further referral opportunities by keeping your customers talking about their solar system, especially if you’ve helped them maximize its value.
Selling standalone storage
For obvious reasons, battery storage is most often paired with a solar system. If you rely on a standalone battery for backup during an outage, you won’t be able to recharge it until the grid is back online. So, if a customer is looking into standalone storage as a solution to outages of more than several hours, you have an opportunity to steer them toward the benefits of pairing storage with a solar system. Aside from the larger sale you’ll be making, as a contractor, it’s also a more efficient use of your resources.
However, there are situations where standalone storage might be desirable. In cases where shorter outages are common, battery storage can provide a more seamless and safer backup than relying on a generator. For instance, during the hottest months of the year when grid strain can cause an outage, being able to run a home’s HVAC system can greatly improve quality of life.
Standalone storage can also help reduce electric bills. If the customer lives in a time-of-use market, they could charge their batteries during less expensive hours and either contribute back to the grid during peak hours to be compensated, or they could switch their personal use to backup to avoid higher rates. This is especially valuable for electric vehicle owners.
There are also incentives specifically for energy storage. Green Mountain Power in Vermont, for example, issues upfront payments to customers who commit to contributing to the grid. In addition, the Inflation Reduction Act expanded the tax credit for adding storage.
There are environmental benefits to storage, even without adding solar. Standalone storage reduces demand during peak usage times, which helps cut emissions and avoid utilities relying on polluting peaker plants.
Whatever the situation in which a customer might be looking to add battery storage, understanding the value it provides for that particular customer is key to making the sale, earning another satisfied customer and helping to spur the growth of sustainable energy solutions.
John Bumgarner is general manager of solar and storage for Mosaic, a leading financing platform for U.S. residential solar and energy-efficient home improvements. Bumgarner is a longtime solar industry professional with nearly 15 years of experience managing new partner development and training, business intelligence and portfolio management.