Dec 4, 2014

The SolarCity App Is Full of Potential, But Will Their Strategy Work?

Green Tech
4 min
Big news came from the SolarCity camp today as it announced the launch of its app,

Big news came from the SolarCity camp today as it announced the launch of its app, MySolarCity. Essentially, the app will act as a hub for customers to engage with not only the company and track their energy usage, but also interact with other members of the SolarCity community.

The app has some really nifty features, such as EnergyExplorer, which allows consumers to see where their energy is being used via forecasts and a graphic breakdown. Clearly, the idea is to get consumers thinking about their energy usage and encouraging them (through fancy visuals!) to find ways to conserve.

Perhaps the most unique features–especially for an energy company in general, let alone a solar installer–are the social ones.

SolarCity uses some pretty loaded language and rhetorical devices in describing their functions.

“Welcome to the movement,” they title the section of the blog post introducing these features.

Sure, this might seem like a bit much, but a “movement” is really what SolarCity is going for here. Ironic, then, that perhaps the most interesting feature of the social portions of the app is a relatively passive one. NearMe allows users to see other SolarCity projects in their region, presented on a fun, interactive map. This presents users a great opportunity to see their neighbor several streets over also has SolarCity panels, drive by their house, and yell, “Hey man, nice panels!” Or, maybe not.

If actually getting in the car and going somewhere is too taxing, but users still feel like shouting to the mountaintops about solar, there are functions in the app for that. Ambassador and AmpIt! allow users to spread the word about solar via referrals, photos, and educational resources. According to SolarCity, people actually dig this thing, with more than 30,000 signing up since its inception in May. SolarCity also gamifies the process by having built-in leaderboards, incentivizing users to get the word out. Oh, and each referral nets a user $250.

While they appear to have seen some success already, these social features really require users to buy in to “solar culture” (is that a thing?) and that’s certainly the biggest challenge they have to overcome.

“People are very excited about that they’ve gone solar, but if you go to a BBQ or a bar, you can’t take your solar panels with you,” Peter Rive, the company’ Chief Technology Officer, told the Washington Post. “The next best thing is to take out your phone.”

Forbes contributor Ucilia Wang aptly labels Ambassadors as “unofficial salespeople,” and that’s exactly what the company is looking for.

“The value of social networking is proportional to the size of the network,” Rive said, “and SolarCity has a large network.”

So, the big question, then, is will SolarCity’s new approach work?

Looking at this initial offering of features and the number of people SolarCity claims are already on board for the Ambassador program, I would venture a cautious, “Yeah, probably.” However, according to Josh Rogol, Director of Business Development at UGE, it really might not matter whether SolarCity’s new venture is successful.

“New technology is changing the way consumers interact with their energy,” he explained. “For the past century, people have traditionally spent very little time thinking about where their electricity comes from.  Consumers now have more choices about their sources of energy, and that means they want more data at their fingertips to make better decisions that save money and reduce carbon footprint.”

Of course, SolarCity’s app offers much of this, and while they’re the biggest company launching something like this, they won’t be the first.   

“Mobile technology helps people understand how their solar system is performing, make system adjustments, and send maintenance alerts,” Rogol continued. “Cloud-based technology enables energy providers to serve up complex data in a user-friendly format that is easy for customers to understand. Whether it's UGE's remote monitoring system or SolarCity's app—you'll be seeing a lot more of this type of mobile technology.”

So, whether the app is a flop or a massive success, this type of customer engagement is here to stay and commendations need to be given to SolarCity for leading the charge with something of this scale.

What do you think? Is this the interactive solar revolution you’ve been waiting for, or is this misstep for the country’s largest solar provider? Let us know on Twitter @EnergyDigital and on Facebook at /EnergyDig!

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Jun 25, 2021

UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC

Dominic Ellis
5 min
The UK must put an end to a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices warns the Climate Change Committee

The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.

While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.

"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."

The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.

  • Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
  • Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
  • Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
  • Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
  • Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.

In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies. 

Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”

Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society. 

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."

Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).

Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.

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