FranklinWH Panel: Challenges, Innovations, and the Path Ahead

Industry insights · Jan 29, 2024

At Intersolar 2024, a podcast-style panel held by FranklinWH brought together industry leaders for a dynamic discussion. Hosting by Justin Hopkins, Sr. Director Strategic Accounts at FranklinWH, the guests include Scott Hyde, CEO of KOTA Energy Group, Ben Sullins, founder of the Free the Data Academy, Les Wood, CEO of GreenTech Network, and Jake Hess, founder of SolarCon. Everyone offered unique perspectives on the evolving solar landscape.

Surviving NEM 3.0

As the first speaker, Scott addressed the aftermath of a 70% business drop due to NEM 3.0, emphasizing the necessity for a philosophical shift. KOTA Energy Group adopted a bold stance—no sales without a battery. Scott stressed the economic intricacies tied to crew efficiency, revealing the importance of adapting to labor costs in California.

“We went from zero battery installs to 100% battery installs. To get to that point, we had to make a philosophical change in our business. We decided hands down, no matter what we were going to do, we were always going to sell a battery.” – Scott Hyde, CEO of KOTA Energy Group

Industry Unification and Mindset Changes

Next, Jake emphasized the theme of perseverance as he observed a remarkable unity within the industry, with companies swiftly mobilizing to find solutions and adapt to evolving economic landscapes.

“People are trying to educate people all across the country right now. I think it's all part of a unified movement for everyone to kind of understand what is happening to our utilities.” - Jake Hess, founder of SolarCon

The conversation took a critical turn as Jake addressed a pervasive issue—the need for comprehensive market education, particularly among sales reps. He pointed out the detrimental impact of a mentality fixated on lowering prices without understanding the broader implications on installers and the industry as a whole. As a solution, he advocates for educating the masses, especially sales reps, on the intricacies of revenue streams and market dynamics, highlighting the importance of grasping why certain market adjustments, such as raising minimum prices, are essential for the industry's sustainability.

“I think to fix the problem, it would be with the mentality of sales reps. Because sales reps don't understand that we need to raise the prices.” - Jake Hess, founder of SolarCon

Consumer Education

In the next segment, Ben Sullins, a prominent influencer in renewable energy, who is known for his honest and insightful content on electric cars and home energy solutions, shared his journey from covering electric cars to focusing on home energy solutions, particularly solar panels and batteries.

“And I've really focused on the home energy side. Solar panels and all that. Thankfully now the math is very apparent, especially if you just sit down and do it. FranklinWH is good because they have a longer warranty. That really makes a big difference.” – Ben Sullins, founder of Free the Data Academy

Delving into the complexities of consumer education, Ben emphasized the shift in focus from electric cars to the burgeoning interest in home energy solutions. He highlighted the consumer's primary concern—understanding the financial and practical implications of investing in batteries for home energy storage. Ben pointed to the need for straightforward communications, asserting that consumers are less concerned with technical details and more interested in protecting their families and maximizing their investments.

Involvement and Integration

In the next segment, Les Wood, a leading influencer using LinkedIn to drive policy change and advocate for clean energy, reflected on his notable achievements in Bakersfield, emphasizing the significance of active involvement in policy and regulatory proceedings to shape the solar market positively.

“What I would say in terms of what's going on in the solar market in general, people need to get involved. They need to get involved in their local government, the regulatory thing, and they can't be caught blindsided.” - Les Wood, CEO of GreenTech Network

The conversation turned to the evolving landscape of solar technology and the trillion and a half dollars earmarked for innovation by the Department of Energy. Justin and Les delved into the transformative potential of emerging technologies, especially in the realm of Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X). Les highlighted the importance of integration and interoperability in shaping the future of solar technology, particularly in utilizing electric cars as energy management devices. The discussion touched on the challenges of net metering agreements and the impending bans on gas-powered generators in California, showcasing the need for innovative solutions such as those offered by FranklinWH.

“Eventually, you're going to be able to see the full integration and interoperability of electric cars with systems like FranklinWH.” - Les Wood, CEO of GreenTech Network

Virtual Power Plants and Home Energy Management

After that, Ben and Scott explored the transformative potential of virtual power plants (VPPs) and the role they could play in reshaping the energy landscape. Ben expressed excitement about the concept of VPPs, envisioning a future where electric vehicles become an integral part of a distributed energy network. He emphasized the idea of turning every electric car into a battery, transforming companies such as Tesla into utilities rather than traditional automakers. Ben sees VPPs as a goldmine that can revolutionize energy generation and distribution.

Scott delved into the software side of VPPs, highlighting the importance of home energy management systems. He drew attention to the advancements in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, where a consolidated platform efficiently manages various energy products. Scott envisioned a future where homeowners move away from traditional utilities, empowered by sophisticated energy management systems that integrate solar panels, batteries, and smart devices. He sees this shift as pivotal in offering customers not just equipment but valuable services, ultimately changing the conversation from cost savings to providing overall value.

“We will all move further and further away from utilities, and the utility companies will combat it with dynamic tariffs and more complicated ways of charging people money for the power they create. That's their prerogative and right as a business owner. But we try and actually do what we all say we're going to do from the beginning, which is to harness free power from the sun.” - Scott Hyde, CEO of KOTA Energy Group

The discussion seamlessly transitioned to FranklinWH's innovative aGate, a technology that symbolizes control and autonomy for homeowners. Justin commended the strategic approach of shutting out traditional utilities and managing diverse power sources through a single app, aligning with the future vision of a sophisticated energy management system.

Solar Financing and Power Purchase Agreements

In the final segment of the panel, Justin shifted the focus to the changing landscape for financing solar systems, particularly discussing the shift towards Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and the implications for installers.

Jake provided insight into the transition to PPAs, attributing it to sales reps finding more financial incentives in this model. He emphasized the importance of salespeople being agnostic to financial options, advocating for a neutral understanding of the pros and cons of various financing methods. Jake believes that a sales force educated to speak neutrally about financing options can better serve homeowners, leading to more efficient processes, reduced cancellations, and improved overall expectations.

“If you're asking me, the reason for that switch is salespeople; but the healthiest mindset that you could have is to be agnostic to whatever the financial option is.” - Jake Hess, founder of SolarCon

Scott then delved into the financial challenges and pitfalls within the solar industry, addressing issues of irresponsibility and immaturity across salespeople, installers, and finance companies. He emphasized that while the industry was thriving, many companies exploited the easy money, relying on M1 policies that offered quick capital without considering the long-term consequences. He also pointed out the consequences of an over-reliance on M1 policies, leading to a financial crisis for many companies when lenders restricted funding due to changes in interest rates. In his opinion, the current popularity of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) is a reaction to funding restrictions and challenges with loans. Stressing the need for financial literacy within the industry, he encouraged companies to document their finances, communicate with peers, and make disciplined decisions to avoid further industry-wide challenges.

“PPAs are the current fad because they're the darling of the industry right now, and everyone wants to go sell them because they're available. But if we don't as an industry, figure out how to take care of ourselves financially, what happened to every one of these last six months, will triple in the next six months.” - Scott Hyde, CEO of KOTA Energy Group

Looking Forward

In the closing, the guests discussed their upcoming projects and initiatives in the solar industry. Ben shared his plans for incorporating solar panels into his house and highlighted upcoming content on his YouTube channel, focusing on solar and battery installations, including FranklinWH batteries. Les expressed his excitement about ongoing collaborations with the city of Bakersfield, emphasizing economic and business development within communities. Jake talked about his efforts to create transparency in the industry, unveiling a network that visualizes solar news and upcoming solar awards to recognize achievements. He envisioned creating a network akin to Hollywood, increasing visibility and accountability within the industry.

Justin appreciated the candid conversations and expressed gratitude for the collaboration. With challenges and innovations, the guests look forward to future endeavors and the path ahead of the solar industry.

Franklin Home Power