Lennie Moreno – Solargraf Founder, Enphase Energy
Hello and welcome, everybody to the second edition of The Virtual Solar Summer Jam! The first edition was last year and I’m very excited to have a new version of it and to be here will all of you.
Solargraf is a proposal and design tool that has helped thousands of solar installers be more efficient, be able to sell quickly, grow their business, provide financing options in real-time, quote and it even has permits, stamps, and project management from lead acquisition all the way down to the completion of the project.
I’ll now speak quickly about how Sofdesk was acquired by Enphase in January of this year. We’re very excited to join the Enphase family. As you know, Enphase is a leader in the microinverter space and has a huge footprint in North America and other countries. What we bring to the table is our focus on residential solar.
We had many solar installers that were not only clients of Enphase, but clients of Solargraf. Our goal is to essentially bring this vertical integration experience to all of our installers so that they can go from lead acquisition to the design, proposal, complete the financing, do the permitting and then manage the project all the way down to maintenance, servicing, monitoring the system, etc.
We see the potential not only locally but internationally. The goal is to reduce your soft costs and stay competitive. Once you receive a lead, you can be the first on the ball, wow your clients every time, and have them sign on the spot, whether it’s remotely or face-to-face at the kitchen table.
Without further ado, I will introduce you to our first guest, Raghu Belur, the Co-Founder of Enphase Energy. He is a pioneer in the solar space and has been for over 25 years. He will give you a look behind the curtain of what’s going on with Enphase and how we’re bringing value to the solar market and most importantly, to you, the dealers that are helping to build the solar market from A to Z.
Raghu Belur – Co-Founder and Chief Products Officer, Enphase Energy.
What Lennie and his team have done in building the Solargraf product coupled with what Enphase has been doing in terms of microinverter and energy management in general is going to be phenomenally powerful. We’re going to see more capabilities and more integration from lead to proposal, design, permitting, installation, operating the system, etc. I think this end-to-end solution is going to be transformative for the industry and we’re very excited about Solargraf being a part of the Enphase family.
A quick background about myself: I’ve been in tech my entire career, and my career at Enphase was my fifth start-up. I come from instrumentation, software SSL, VPN, telecommunications, etc. A lot of the best practices that I saw that happening in some of these industries were the impetus for us to start Enphase.
When we first took a look at how solar was being done, we thought that there was a lot we could do to make it better. We founded the company in 2006, and we have probably close to 1700 employees. We’re headquartered in Fremont, California and our customers are folks such as yourselves and homeowners. We have close to 35 million microinverters installed as well as 1.5 million solar systems, and a full Enphase system gets installed about every 45 seconds. 2020 was a record year for us from a profitability point of view for us.
Coming out of all the other technology companies that I was at, the thing that struck me was that distributed architecture always wins in the long run. They win for 3 reasons: cost, performance, and reliability. When I say “distributed architecture” what I mean is technologies where the end-points are extremely intelligent, they make autonomous decisions, and they fail-safe. You do not centralize things and decision-making. When I see things I think about how I can break them apart and make those endpoints extremely powerful. If you look at technology and how it has evolved over time, you can see many instances of this being true.
With that mindset, we can look at solar and say “why can’t this be centralized?”. I thought, “why haven’t people done micros?”, why haven’t they done thor dc to ac conversion on the panel itself? It turned out that people have done microinverters before, but they failed. They failed because, in my view, they took a big inverter, like a 5kW inverter, and shrunk it down to a 100 – 150 kW inverter. We need to invent it from the bottom up, as a digital device that you could integrate a lot of the functions into your own custom AC. This increases performance, reliability and lowers cost.
If you look at the evolution of solar, where it is starting to become integrated into the grid, the fact that you can make your device completely software-defined is an improvement. Finally, we never thought about anything as a single device, we always thought about it as an integral part of a complete system. What that means is a communications infrastructure, a full software stack running in the device itself, meaning that you have a gateway into a large cloud set-up.
That link between the cloud and the specific device is fully bi-directional. Not only do you get a full understanding of how that device is running, but you can also push software updates and change the behavior of the system depending on the environment to adapt. When you think about the future, we’re thinking beyond energy storage and what else can be done in terms of energy management in the home.
Now, I’ll talk about this technology called Ensemble that is an energy management technology that aims to manage all the energy systems in our home. If you think back 15 – 20 years ago, pre-solar, people had the grid and their load and they were doing their energy management just by turning lights on and off at certain times. Then, came solar which was a third resource that got added in.
There really wasn’t much energy management to be done, you generated power and any excess was sent back to the grid. Now, you’re starting to add newer resources. Storage is the next stop. Now those loads can be controlled automatically. We have added generators and fuel cells to residential systems. All this means that energy management becomes much more sophisticated and your home has many more resources. We still want to maintain the simplicity in this which means that the complexity must be abstracted away from the homeowner, in an energy management system which we call Ensemble.
Our strategy is to build differentiated home energy management systems and deliver them to homeowners through a comprehensive digital platform and an Enphase Installer Network (EIN). It’s not just when the system is installed, it starts at the beginning with lead management, design, proposals, permitting, etc., which is where Sofdesk really shines at the front end of the entire process.
A part of thinking about the home energy management system is thinking about all elements of generation which can be your grid, storage, fuel cells, generators, whatever it may be. Consumption is very interesting, we monitor people’s consumption which is very powerful data that explains to people what their consumption pattern looks like. Much more than that is that you can now control your consumption by controlling your loads. From a services point of view, this is all the information that we can offer our partners. We want to be an end-to-end solution for them from the front-end of the services to the hardware, operations, and maintenance.
When you think about all the elements of the home energy management system, the IQ 8 is the next generation of our system and the first grid-forming microinverter system. When the hurricane happened in Puerto Rico, there were 30 000 – 40 000 systems there at the time but the solar systems went down when the grid went down because almost all the systems in the world today are grid-tied. That was a big shock to people and hit home that we missed the promise in a sense of what solar is capable of doing.
Here it is, the sun is shining, energy is being produced by the panels yet we are not able to convert that into power because they are all grid-tied. I started thinking about it a lot, we needed to break this pattern of grid-tied solar and make it disappear. What we had to do was build a microinverter system that could synthesize a grid in the absence of one without any energy storage. Of course, it has limitations, such as working during nighttime and low light, but whatever available energy there is, you should be able to convert it and deliver it to the homeowner.
I also wanted to maintain the sanctity of the distributed architecture which means that I wasn’t going to allow our engineers to develop any centralized control. They all seamlessly had to coordinate amongst themselves and synthesize the grid instantly. That’s what IQ 8 does, it’s a grid-agnostic system. It’s coming, we’re in testing and it’s been running on my house.
For small commercial, we doubled the power density so we could connect two panels to a single microinverter which will get you half the inverters and double the power. We are really targeting small commercial now as a part of our small commercial solution which is integrating design, proposal, permitting capabilities, along with delivering a hardware product.
In terms of energy storage, we released our first product in 2016. We wanted to build a distributed architecture for storage as well, so our product isn’t just a battery. It’s a lithium-ion battery but it also has an inverter, charge controller, communications, software all in one package. It’s a 3.4kWh building block so you can add as many as you want. Everything can also be done with software but it goes a step further, not only does it do DC to AC conversion, but in milliseconds, we can flip it around and go from AC to DC, all with software.
With the whole solution, you now get a one-stop shop. It’s reliable, scalable, simple, and safe, all tied to one solution.
For people who cannot necessarily afford an entire system, we’re looking at a portable power station that looks stunning and is 1.3kWh of energy with batteries all built-in. You can charge it with solar or through the wall. It has power sockets and USB ports, and beautiful aesthetics for the homeowner. It will come out close to the end of the year.
In combination with the Solargraf/Roofgraf team, permits with DIN, and Enphase, we will provide so much value to our partners starting with managing your leads all the way through to operations. Bringing it all together, this is all about delivering an incredible energy management system to the home where you can manage multiple systems all done in the AC domain, from solar, storage, generation, EV, etc. all done as a plug and play system managed in real-time.
Now, homeowners have a microgrid connected to their neighbors who also have their own, so they can transact energy across microgrids and create an incredible amount of resiliency and self-sufficiency which is a very powerful thing. Thank you.
John Grady – Head of Sales, Mosaic
To view John’s presentation, head to 36:40 in the recording.
Landon Liles – Vice President of Operations, West Texas Solar
Lennie: Now we’re going to have a small Q&A with one of our clients, Landon Liles. He’s a successful dealer just like most of you on this call. As many of you know, I used to be a solar installer as well, so I always like to bring on a client who’s on the road and the field, and that likes to give a real field perspective. Landon, I would like you to give us a bit of background about your company.
Landon: We started 6 and a half years ago. I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in biomedical science. I had very minimal electrical background and even less business background. I was working a job I didn’t like and I’m a son of an electrical engineer who was interested in solar and realized that the utility companies over here were giving incentives up to $1.10/watt so we just started doing solar and realized there was no one else around here doing it. We just grew organically over the past 6 years, doubling what we do each year which has been very exciting for us. We have a small full EPC with about 10 full-time employees, not including subcontractors.
We’re the only full EPC doing solar from contact, to sale, to design, to install, and follow-up in-house. Shout out to Solargraf for helping us get there. Spending several hours per proposal was a lot of time spent on that aspect of it and I saw your presentation at NABCEP and pulled the trigger on Solargraf and haven’t looked back since. As we’ve continued to grow, it’s been easy to onboard people and teach them how to use it. You guys keep coming out with new features that make sense and you wouldn’t even think about. It makes a beautiful proposal and is surprisingly easy to work with.
Lennie: I think we do a pretty good job at keeping our ears to the ground so we always ask our dealers, “what’s new, what’s going on, are there any new incentives, etc.”. In your opinion, how much has software helped you to double your business?
Landon: It definitely plays a specific role in the growth we’ve had to just be able to create a proposal within 10 minutes, even for someone new to doing it. Typically, all the products are already in there so you don’t have to input that, and you have battery options as well as presets for your pricing. We also like that we can fly a drone over the house and upload our own images as well as the side-by-side comparison options with a few different prices, materials, and adders.
Lennie: In closing, I heard as well that you’re also installing Enphase products so could you tell me if you see any advantages in installing Enphase products versus others?
Landon: Absolutely! From an installer point of view, Enphase has a product for whatever you need and it’s very easy to scale. You can fit as many panels up there as the customer needs and the system will work efficiently with minimal wiring. It’s plug-and-play so your installation crews can get the job done well as long as it’s mapped out correctly. I really liked what Raghu was talking about when he mentioned that they wanted to make the grid obsolete.
They also have a 25-year warranty which is unheard of for inverters. If you don’t sell Enphase, and are trying to sell against someone who does, it’s going to be an immediate roadblock for you. As Raghu said, I also believe the IQ 8 will be a gamechanger for everyone.
Lennie: I will confess that last week I was on a round-table feedback call with Enphase customers and the c-suite and I think that them taking this time to sit and listen to clients really shows the dedication that they want to keep their ears to the ground and get feedback about the reality in the industry. I’m glad to hear that you’ve had a great experience overall! Thank you so much for taking this time to share your story and experience with us.
Landon: Thanks for having me!
Nardine Hanna – Solargraf Team, Enphase Energy
I’m going to talk about our new shade report feature, which is a part of our vertical integration to help you have all of your services in one place. To give you some background about me: I’m the CX specialist here at Solargraf; I’ll be introducing the new service, telling you a bit about how much it costs, how long it takes as well as the workflow, and how to order a shade report through your Solagraf account.
To introduce this service, shade reports are available for any project on Solargraf with Nearmap imagery. The turnaround time for an order is one business day and the cost is $30/report. To order a shade report through your Solargraf account, you will want to create a new project, type in the address, and pin the correct roof with Nearmap selected as your imagery source. From the design page, you can then go ahead and click the “order a shade report” button which will push your order to our team.
On our end, our team will create a 3D design of the roof and include different roof obstructions like chimneys and skylights. We will also include trees and any other object that may create shade on the roof. Solargraf will use irradiance data from NREL and LIDAR data to pick up the elevation (every point on the roof), and then the system will compute the solar access values, the tilt, and orientation factors, as well as the total solar resource fraction. All of these values are computed for every point on the roof and put together in a table and presented on the shade report.
Once your report is done, you’ll get a notification that says “shade report received” and you’ll be able to access it under your project files! Included in the shade report are your company and project information, an image of the roof with a heatmap showing the roof facets that are better suited for solar, and a summary of the measurements of the roof. The report includes the metrics I mentioned before, the SAV, TSRF and TOF values.
This report will save you the time and money it costs to go out and get the data yourself, and it also provides you with some pretty handy measurements of the roof itself, as well as information on the azimuth and roof pitch so that you don’t need to conduct a site visit yourself.
We will also have some new additions the shade report coming soon including a heatmap/color-coded irradiance map overlay to the drawing tool itself for a visual aid to help you design your system. We’re also going to be auto-populating the shading values for each array that you’ll be adding to your design to speed up the process of putting an accurate design together. Finally, we’re going to have a system design shade report that will involve some enhancements towards the algorithm to refine the information that we’re presenting depending on the exact placement of the panels that you add to the roof.
Hesham Habib – Solargraf Team Lead, Enphase Energy
To view Hesham’s full demo of Solargraf, jump to 1:14:20
Q&A with Lennie Moreno
Q: Can we put multiple batteries on a project?
A: Yes! It will reflect directly in the hourly energy analysis.
Q: Is Canada included for shade reports?
A: If Nearmap is available and we have LIDAR coverage, yes. We keep updating our coverage on a regular basis, so many places in Canada are available but we can’t guarantee it since we depend on the coverage from Nearmap.
Q: What is the lowest FICO score accepted by Mosaic?
A: It depends on the partner. Today, we’ve actively promoted our Mosaic score which takes down the FICO envelope to 640 but for select partners, we have reduced that floor to something much lower. Please reach out to [email protected] for more details.
Q: Can Solargraf be used from an iPad?
A: Yes, you can even use it on your phone! This is one of the reasons that made us successful. We understand the reality of dealers who are often on the road or at the kitchen table, who need to change and update things in real-time in front of the customer.
Q: What can we expect from Solargraf now that it’s been acquired by Enphase?
A: Like Raghu said, and I mentioned in the beginning, the goal is to provide dealers with a full end-to-end experience. Knowing that Enphase is the leader in microinverters and home management for renewables, our goal is to come in and help as a part of understanding the reality of being on the road and roof as a dealer.
Leads translate to a design, to a proposal, to a contract, to financing and permits etc. We want to make sure that the integration is smooth so that everything is within Solagraf and can be done in one tool. We also want to create a bond between the dealer and homeowner to help create referrals and new deals for your company, as well as help with the after-sale process. We’re also very excited about where this acquisition is going in terms of our international expansion plans as well since Enphase operates in multiple countries. Our goal is not to just say that Solargraf can only be used with Enphase products. Solargraf is agnostic, you can use any material you would like.
Lennie: We’re super excited about this big move that we made to combine forces with Enphase at the end of January. You don’t have to use 12 products to make your business happy. Solar power and tech just work so well together!
Thank you very much, everyone, for your time and commitment to solar. Please reach out to us if you have any questions. I miss you all and I hope I get the chance to see you at some conventions very soon!