Community solar is on the rise, and it’s an inherently complicated product. To shelter customers from these complexities, some companies oversimplify the explanation of the product. This oversimplification often removes an important layer of transparency resulting in misrepresentation of what customers are actually buying. Beyond offering community solar, providers have an opportunity to educate customers about what they are signing up for and need to be honest about the solar options they might be considering. As community solar providers, we want customers who decide to join a solar project to be excited about and understand what they will be receiving.
It’s easy for marketing and sales tactics to result in unintentional distortion of a product or service. This challenge exists across many consumer industries, especially where the product is complex. In many cases, community solar providers are simply trying to make a complex product more understandable and thus more accessible. There is an inherent struggle between marketing and consumer protection: how do we simplify and communicate a complex product to customers without leading them astray?
Accuracy, transparency, and education
Early on in BlueWave’s history, we made a commitment to consumer protection by instituting messaging and transparency standards across the company. Accuracy, transparency, and education are the name of the game at BlueWave, and our certification as a B Corp is testament to the important role consumer protection plays here.
As a company, we want to share the following tips to keep in mind when marketing community solar. Getting these messages right will help to avoid confusion with customers and contribute to a healthy long-term customer relationship.
1. Accurately State Environmental Benefits
With community solar projects, the environmental benefits generated can be owned by different parties. If the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are sold to a third party, then the project developer cannot claim that the customer is purchasing renewable energy from the project. It’s important to avoid phrases like “Go Solar!” or “Buy solar energy from a local farm” if the end-customer is not receiving solar energy. Customers can still feel good that signing up for community solar is a strong show of support for solar development. After all, with no community solar subscribers, developers would not be able to create new community solar farms.
2. Keep Economic Benefits Honest
Depending on the provider, community solar subscriptions may cost less OR MORE than standard utility bills. When customers sign up through BlueWave, community solar credits are applied to their utility bill and we charge them for those credits at a discounted rate. In contrast, other providers may actually charge a premium as part of their subscriptions. Contracts that offer long-term savings are a win-win for customers and project developers alike and expand access to more households and businesses perhaps otherwise unable to participate in the clean energy revolution. When talking about the economic benefits of community solar, it’s important to be able to substantiate representations of benefits, including savings, that are made.
3. Avoid Misrepresenting a Government Agency
When trying to sell a product, some community solar providers may suggest or imply that they are affiliated with or working on behalf of a government agency. Statements or graphics associated with government agencies may create a false sense of trust with customers. It’s critical that the industry and individual companies avoid vague associations and make clear who is selling the community solar product or service.
The Bottom Line
Community solar offers a path for more households and businesses to save on utility bills while supporting the development of solar farms. The value proposition exists, and subscribers across several parts of the U.S. have already signed on to community solar projects. Transparency and educating consumers is a priority for BlueWave, and needs to be a focus for the industry as a whole.
At BlueWave, we’re pleased to have Lynda Freshman as our Lead Legal Counsel & Compliance Officer to assist with these important initiatives. We recently sat down with Lynda to discuss her role and the value of transparent messaging. Lynda emphasized how supporting BlueWave in its efforts to expand community solar with integrity is a pleasure, saying “by being transparent, customers will better understand the product they are buying and have a better overall experience. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s good for business and helps to accelerate growth in the industry."
View Lynda’s full interview below, and for more information about consumer protection in the solar industry, see the CleanEnergy States Alliance’s (CESA) Consumer Protection for Community Solar: A Guide for States, and Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Business Code.
BlueWave Blueprints is a video series exploring the ever-expanding world of community solar. In each episode we sit down with different BlueWave experts to discuss various aspects of community solar, from customer engagement and billing to utility coordination and credit management. Each episode offers unique insights, building towards a better understanding of the important role of community solar service providers.