By now, you’re probably well aware that solar is spreading. Maybe you’ve installed a system at home, or you’re just noticing more and more solar on buildings, fields, and parking lots as you drive to work. You know there are incentives for going solar, and you’ve heard costs have come down dramatically. You’re also fairly certain your organization could benefit from installing a solar power solution to meet some portion of your energy demand.
So, what’s the hold up? It’s likely the challenge of rallying support for solar, and getting approval for such a big capital improvement project.
The learning curve can feel like an entirely new job responsibility, and the uphill climb can tax what limited hours you have left and any political capital you’ve built from other successfully completed projects. The thought of getting consensus and ultimate sign-off for a technology that doesn’t fit within the conventional, historical approach is the biggest hurdle we hear from our customers early on.
To help you navigate your organization’s approval and vetting process, here are five tips from individuals who were integral to their organizations going solar.
1. Speak your Stakeholders’ Language
Solar may seem inconceivable. But in reality, if positioned correctly, solar fits cleanly into the buckets senior managers typically think about. A power purchase agreement (PPA) may be a new concept to the head of finance, but a strategy for hedging against volatile and increasing fuel costs is Finance 101. Solar panels may look like some futuristic technology, but a chief engineer will rapidly grasp key parameters such as production, up-time, and performance guarantees just like he would for a co-generation heat engine or chiller.
2. Tie Project Benefits to Your Core Mission
Getting your organization excited about something unrelated to its mission and the function it serves everyday can be difficult, no matter how attractive a project is. Begin by considering how a solar project would enhance the execution of your core mission.
For example, a university energy manager asked Borrego Solar to provide a team from its business school with the data necessary to evaluate financing options for solar. With some guidance, the students built a business case that included deliverables being used to make real decisions. In this case, the solar project was directly tied to the university’s mission to educate its students.
Another customer was able to provide greater reliability and power quality to its tenants—biotech firms with exacting requirements—by deploying solar adjacent to their offices, which were at the end of a feeder that had been plagued by reliability problems. The firm improved its tenants’ experience by providing a more reliable energy supply and consistent utility costs.
3. Address Project Risks Head On
As with any substantial capital improvement project, there are a number of risks to deploying solar that experienced managers should be aware of up front. Rather than pitching the benefits and waiting for questions about risk to arise, outline the potential risks from the onset and include risk avoidance and mitigation in your communications along the way. You and your stakeholders may be pleasantly surprised to learn how low-risk a proposition solar can be.
4. Identify the Risks of Inaction
While it is easy to conjure up all the risks a solar project might entail, organizations often neglect to consider the risks of not securing their own long-term energy supply. A smart financial planner once told me, there is no such thing as “sitting on the sidelines when the stock market is volatile.” He correctly identified how getting out of the market is an investment in U.S. dollars (which may or may not be a good thing). By the same token, not deploying solar, or other forms of distributed generation, means your organization is still making a bet, only in this case it’s that buying from the utility, with little visibility into future prices, is the best option.
5. Find (or be) a Mobilizer
Almost every completed solar project has seen the light of day thanks to a champion within the organization who was passionate about the benefits solar brings to its operations, staff, and customers. With facts and data, they conveyed their passion to the necessary stakeholders and shepherded their projects to completion. At Houghton College, it was sustainability coordinator Brian Webb (watch a video of the project he sponsored).
If you’re an executive with broad responsibilities, you might not have time to personally become the informed advocate required to get your solar energy project built. In that case, identify someone on your team, or a related team, who would be excited by the opportunity to make a difference and also has the analytics and communications skills necessary.