becks-richeditors-blog-entry3When I created SolarChargedDriving.Com in the summer of 2009, I knew solar companies — at least the smart ones — were going to eventually understand that electric cars represent a potentially huge, possibly even unprecedented, growth opportunity for solar in the U.S.

However, I didn’t see a lot of solar companies who actually grasped the importance of the EV + PV synergy back then.

I still don’t see a ton of solar companies that get just how big solar-charged driving could be for them – but I am definitely seeing awareness grow.

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There are a lot more solar web sites writing a lot more stories about the solar + EV synergy than there were 18 months ago.

And then there’s anecdotal, personal evidence of increasing awareness in the solar industry about the potential of EV + PV.

When a high level representative from the solar company that installed your home PV system comes to you and asks to talk to you about your thoughts on solar-charged driving, it’s a sure sign change is underway.

That’s what happened to me. Cary Hayes, senior regional sales manager at REC Solar, the company that installed our 5.59 kW system last June, sat down with me last week and peppered me with questions about electric vehicles and the solar + EV synergy.

In fact, one of Cary’s primary responsibilities for the next six months is to come up with an electric vehicle strategy for REC Solar.

Here goes, advice from the editor of SolarChargedDriving.Com for today’s solar company as electric vehicles start to ramp up in the good ole US of A — and around the world.

And why not? After all, the average EV is going to add somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 kWh of extra electric draw in electric car households.

How can the solar industry not want a piece of that!?

I don’t work in the solar industry, and I’m not a solar industry consultant. That means some might say I’m not qualified to offer advice to solar companies.

Lucky for you, though :-), I’m not going to let narrow ideas about who’s “properly” qualified to offer advice about solar stop me from offering ideas to solar companies on what I think they should be doing to ensure they successfully tap the coming solar-charged driving revolution.

So, here goes, advice from the editor of SolarChargedDriving.Com for today’s solar company as electric vehicles start to ramp up in the good ole US of A — and around the world.

nyit-solar-carport-bigAdd plug-in cars to your company fleet. Integrate plug-in vehicles into your solar company fleet and ad wrap those cars in a way that not only advertises your solar company but also the fact that the cars run on sun! Start with however many plug-ins you can afford and make sure you put these in the hands of your salespeople who are pressing the flesh with prospective customers. It’s hard to imagine a better sell on the exciting ability of solar to replace gasoline than having your solar consultants arrive at a prospective customer’s home in a car that literally runs on solar electricity!

Power your plug-in fleet with your very own solar-powered EV charging station. Build a solar-powered EV-charging station at company headquarters and fuel your solar company plug-in fleet with it. Make sure lots of people know about the station, see it, and that it gets news coverage. (I guarantee the media will cover your solar-powered EV charging station, if, that is, you’re among the first solar companies in your area to plug your company cars into the sun.)

Get your employees to buy EVs and power them with solar. Employees driving plug-ins as their personal cars and charging them with home solar will help a lot. It’s the whole not just talking the talk but walking the walk thing. It’s also just plain good PR, not to mention that it’s also the right thing to do environmentally.

Partner with local car dealers. Work with car dealerships and EV charging companies to build solar-powered EV charging stations at car dealerships that sell plug-in cars such as the Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, Ford Focus Electric, or Toyota Prius PHEV.

hertz-nissan-leafWork with rental car companies. Hertz is adding solar to 16 of its locations – and it’s either already renting, or will soon be renting, Nissan LEAFs, Chevy Volts, and Coda Automotive electric sedans. Imagine rental car customers unplugging their LEAF from a solar-powered EV-charging unit that has your solar company’s name and logo plastered all over it!

Explore cross-employee discounts with car dealerships. I’m not sure if car dealers would go for this (a progressive one would), but creating partnerships that lead to cross-employee discounts — solar company employees get a break on plug-ins and, in exchange, car dealership employees get a discount on solar systems – seems like an interesting and potentially fruitful approach to me.

Actively market and promote EV + PV. I told Brian Sharpe, the REC Solar consultant who sold us our system in July of 2009, that every solar company in America would have a picture of an EV on its brochures and web site in three to four years. Don’t wait that long: Put pictures of EVs on your solar company brochures now, and create a web page, or multiple web pages, dedicated to educating your potential customers about the EV + PV synergy. Some solar companies – Run On Sun and SolarCity are among these – are already doing this. However, not nearly enough are. Again, we’re talking about 3,000 to 4,000 kWh of electric consumption literally pulling into driveways in your company’s territory as you read this. Seems pretty clear to me that a good number of consumers who’ve just added several thousand kWh to their annual electric bill are going to be very interested in how solar can help them offset their electric draw and help them reduce their fueling costs in the long run.

paul-moore-smallPay attention to current customers. Simple Solar, a Boulder, Colo.-based company we did a feature story on in the fall of 2010, discovered it had several customers with EVs who bought a solar system and then expanded their system to get more juice to power an EV. Survey your current solar customers to see whether they have an EV already or are serious about getting one in the future. Consider running solar specials geared toward these current customers to encourage them to add on to their system when they get their EV.

Use current customers as salespeople. Some current EV + PVers you have as customers might be willing to talk to prospective customers about their solar-charged driving experiences and share their knowledge — with a referral bonus a nice way to reward them if they help you nail down a sale J.

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Use current customers as models. Tap current customers who already have gone EV + PV to help pitch the solar + electric car synergy. Some companies are already doing this, as we discovered when we did a feature on solar-charged driver and DrivingOnSunshine.Com Founder Paul Moore, who’s working with American Solar Electric in Arizona. If these current solar-charged drivers are willing — and many will be — get them out there with their car telling their story and pressing the flesh at public events. Seeing is believing (and wanting!). Prospective customers will definitely be inspired by folks like Moore, who notes that, “It doesn’t take much more than me telling my story, letting them drive my electric truck, and me showing them a picture of a Tesla. It’s pretty much over after that.”

Consider working the EV equation into your solar bid. Solar savings add up a lot quicker and are a lot more sexy when an EV is part of the equation. Believe me, it’s way more exciting to think of solar powering a car than a refrigerator. That’s because PV + EV allows consumers to substantially cut their gasoline costs and potentially even eliminate their gasoline expenses entirely. And gasoline – which is now above $4 a gallon in some places in the U.S. — is a lot more expensive than electricity.

Coming Soon: We’ll track down and spotlight some of the solar companies we think are on the cutting edge of the EV + PV revolution. (Feel free to contact us and nominate your company if you’d like!)

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