For consumers gearing up for a major purchase, visiting an online marketplace to do research is a typical first step. Marketplaces like Expedia and Amazon make it easy for buyers to see a list of choices in one place to compare prices and reviews.
Ten years ago, the solar industry lacked a convenient marketplace of its own. Solar hopefuls looked for and contacted individual installers for quotes, often not knowing how to interpret the estimates they received. At the same time, installers spent limited human resources trying to acquire and educate customers with little return.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded start-up company EnergySage $500,000 in 2012 to fill that void and make the process of solar adoption more consumer-centric. Vikram Aggarwal, the founder and CEO of EnergySage envisioned a website that would tell consumers the right questions to ask about solar energy and make it easy for them to understand the answers.
Through the Solar Energy Technologies Office’s (SETO’s) Incubator program, which provides early-stage assistance to help startup companies cross technological barriers to commercialization while encouraging private sector investment, Aggarwal's online price comparison website was funded with the hope that it could lower the soft costs of solar.
“We really could not have done this without DOE. Investors were looking for that outside validation.”
After building and launching its rooftop solar marketplace in the first year of funding, DOE awarded EnergySage $1.2 million in 2013 to go national with a marketplace that makes it easier and cheaper for consumers to go solar, and $1.6 million in 2017 to continue its scalable growth.
In a nutshell, EnergySage.com breaks down the process of shopping for photovoltaic (PV) systems into three categories: what quality of equipment to buy, how to finance the PV system, and what contractor to use to install it. With available guidance from dedicated “Energy Advisors” via phone, chat, text, or video, EnergySage also helps educate customers about their options and makes recommendations as a unbiased third-party.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, through the DOE funding, helped EnergySage develop a comprehensive equipment rating system, which led to a Consumer Reports-like Buyers’ Guide where consumers can search for and compare solar panels, batteries, and inverters at the model level.
Access to transparent information and trusted guidance make EnergySage a frequent first stop for U.S. consumers going solar. The company states that at least one in five solar buyers visits EnergySage.com to research their options.
The marketplace model benefits the industry, too. For a fee, participating solar installers can leverage EnergySage to easily find and quote highly-motivated potential buyers, saving them 50% or more on customer acquisition costs, according to EnergySage. Today, EnergySage is working with more than 500 vetted solar installers nationwide.
From 2012 to today, EnergySage has grown from a handful of employees to nearly 100, and enabled over 10 million users per year to find information about solar, get a custom quote, and secure an installer for their project. The company estimates that the average costs of solar for these customers have been reduced by 20% thanks to its comparison-shopping technology.
The early DOE support not only helped EnergySage finetune its product, it unlocked enormous fundraising potential that is still paying off today. After DOE’s first investment, the company has raised more than $8 million in private capital.
“We really could not have done this without DOE,” said Aggarwal. “Investors were looking for that outside validation.”
Schneider Electric acquired EnergySage in 2022, giving the company another influx of capital to keep pursuing its goal of empowering consumers to make smart energy decisions. Already an industry leader in shopping for rooftop solar, battery storage, and community solar, EnergySage plans to expand its offerings and develop similar capabilities for heat pumps, high-efficiency HVAC, smart home devices, and other clean energy products and services.
Learn more about SETO’s Manufacturing and Competitiveness subprogram, which has funded 228 small businesses, leading to nearly $11 billion in follow-on funding for the companies.