We read with great interest cleantech industry leader Andrew Beebe's thought piece, The Revenge of the Long Tail: Small, distributed solar companies are retaking the industry. Here’s why. The following excerpt captures what Beebe's main point is.
During the period 2010-2014, we saw what looked like an inexorable march toward a market forever dominated by a few third-party ownership players, with no room for what is known as The Long Tail, best articulated by Chris Anderson. The long tail in solar is the vast array of thousands of small solar installers across the country. This long tail system of vendors you trust as neighbors, friends and local businesses is prevalent in most aspects of the service industry — from electricians to plumbers to contractors.
We are now about to witness a reversal of this consolidation and enter the period I call The Revenge of the Long Tail. The solar industry’s long tail has been losing ground over the last decade. Now, they’re coming back — with a vengeance. Here’s why.
The article cites three main reasons for this trend back towards the solar industry's "long tail":
- Financing is Democratized Again: "After nearly a decade of needing complex financial structures to make the economics work, solar is so inexpensive that we can get back to basics in the world of solar finance. PPAs and complex leases are no longer needed, and therefore aggregated tax equity is no longer needed."
- Solar Solutions are Becoming Commodities: "Panels, inverters and the balance of system hardware can all now be bought in kits at costs only previously dreamed of, even in small volumes."
- Solar Finance Gets Simplified: "More likely than not, if you’re in a top 10 solar market, your trusted local electrician, roofer or contractor has some solar experience."
This is all "great news for solar consumers and small businesses across the country," as the article points out. It also has potential implications for solar industry market communications ("marcom").
For starters, small solar installers obviously don't have the marketing staff or other public relations resources that large solar installers do. Which means that for small solar installers to get the word out about their products and services and to compete effectively with larger companies, they will need to get creative. One possibility might be for the little guys to go with turnkey marcom solutions, ones that help small solar installers generate customer awareness of their companies, improve their number of leads and conversion rates, better understand their actual and potential customers, take advantage of "inbound" marketing techniques, enhance their customer service capabilities, etc. The question, as Tigercomm President Mike Casey asks, is "whether there is a way to make marcom turnkey for low-budget, small solar installers." According to Casey, "answering that question is falling to the marcom service providers."