A leading provider of home automation and technology, Vivint is always on the lookout for opportunities to bring additional value to their customers with new offerings to provide more comprehensive home integration solutions. “We like to think of Vivint not as a specific product company, but as a residential home service platform,” says Brendon Merkley, chief operating officer of Provo, Utah-based Vivint Solar.
The company decided to enter the solar market in October 2011 with the creation of Vivint Solar after determining that solar would be a good opportunity for Vivint to provide benefits to homeowners, leverage its existing consultation sales approach, and take advantage of the company’s existing technology tools to be competitive in the market. “Solar fit the mold,” said Merkley. “The solar business unit has been a great extension of the Vivint product line because we’re not starting the program from scratch.”
Historically, even the most green-minded homeowners were often deterred from adopting solar energy for their homes because they saw it as cost-prohibitive with sizable upfront costs for hardware and installation. With the advent of solar energy offered by third-party financing, via a lease or power purchasing agreement, the costs of obtaining this renewable energy have been dramatically reduced because the homeowner no longer has to purchase the equipment. Vivint Solar’s program employs a power purchasing agreement (PPA) in which the customer agrees to purchase the power generated by the solar panels installed on their home. In turn, Vivint Solar designs, installs, monitors, and maintains the system for free. (See SDM’s profile on the market for solar options for the smartHOME here.)
Merkley says homeowners are excited about the program because the ease and affordability of it make solar a viable option. Not only do they save money on energy costs with energy purchased at rates lower than those offered by utilities, but they are also able to act on their desire to become more environmentally conscious. “They are glad to have the opportunity to do something that aligns with their personal feelings (about the environment). People are excited to save money and do something to help the environment,” he shares. In addition to saving money, Merkley says that many customers are relieved that they do not have the burden of selecting a product or manufacturer.
The residential solar system is actually fairly simple, consisting of the photovoltaic panels, microinverters to convert the direct current energy produced to alternating current, some wiring, and a net meter at the home’s connection to the power grid to measure energy produced and consumed by the home. Vivint uses solar equipment from Enphase Energy of Petaluma, Calif. for better energy production, stability and versatility. The mounting system by Zep Solar, headquartered in San Rafael, Calif. allows Vivint crews to install a system and have it operating in just a half day, as opposed to a two- or three-day installation needed for other products, Merkley explains.
Vivint Solar is currently available in Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, New York, Maryland and Washington D.C. The company has been expanding and is looking into new areas. “Growth opportunities exist where people pay a lot for power,” Merkley says. Indeed, Merkley said that the electricity rates in a given area are the primary determinant as to whether solar will be successful. Electricity rates outrank available sunlight and tax incentives. Merkley compares New Jersey and Arizona as examples of two potential markets for solar. With electricity rates in New Jersey two and a half times higher than Arizona, the cost of energy easily outweighs a difference of only 30 to 40 percent more available sunlight in Arizona, making New Jersey a more promising market.
Merkley says Vivint markets its system directly to the consumer via its existing well-trained, service-oriented sales staff. Leveraging its existing customer base for home automation, energy management and security products, Vivint has a ready market for its solar offering. By working to educate customers and win them over to the Vivint Solar offering, he says the company is creating customers who are excited about their solar energy systems, and Vivint Solar leverages that fan base to appeal to more homeowners.
Looking ahead, Vivint Solar plans to expand its market reach and further enhance its offerings. Currently, Vivint’s solar solution complements its home automation, security and energy management options. However, the company is looking to improve the integration for the homeowner, “The next big opportunity is to begin to integrate these services more closely. There’s a lot of opportunity in making the solar system communicate seamlessly, and building more value with home automation,” he says.