The pandemic is raging. Some solar companies still sell door-to-door


Normally, selling solar is a relatively old process.

Branded vans crisscross neighborhoods, unloading employees knocking on dozens of doors. When lucky enough to find a listening ear, many salespeople walk into a customer’s house, ready to sign the contract on the spot.

While the utility of rooftop solar panels is more complex to explain than, say, encyclopedias or a fancy knife set, the general technique for selling them has been in use for over a century. Door-to-door selling practices, used very aggressively in solar by companies such as Vivint Solar and employed by most of the larger companies in the industry, are seen as an essential tool in finding new customers.

The coronavirus pandemic has ended much of this. But only for a while.

Of the nearly 20 solar home companies contacted by Greentech Media to inquire about current door-to-door sales practices, many said they are currently canvassing.

Sunrun and Vivint Solar, two solar companies that merged and accounted for about 15% of installations nationwide in 2020, have confirmed they are using in-person sales “wherever permitted.” New Jersey-based Suntuity is knocking on the doors of states like South Carolina and Florida and has suspended operations in only a few states. While Louisiana-based Sunpro has “stopped selling out of respect for the health and safety of the local communities” where she works for a time, it has since resumed door-to-door sales in cities like Houston and San Antonio.

Activity can be difficult to monitor. Many companies contract with separate sales organizations, and door-to-door sales are largely unregulated. Eight of the companies contacted by Greentech Media did not respond at all. Others declined to give details of where they started knocking on the door again. And a few said they were very cautious about a return to canvassing. Long Island’s SUNation Solar Systems halted unsolicited in-person sales in March and have not resumed, although they are now allowed to do so.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 case rates in many areas are higher than in the spring, when some states, counties and cities have asked residents to stay in their homes or placed restrictions on how businesses operate. Despite this, those restrictions have been eased or lifted entirely in many parts of the country – and solar companies are taking advantage of the situation.

Knock Knock

The decision on how to conduct sales was not a straightforward one. During the pandemic, solar companies have faced a patchwork of changing coronavirus restrictions. Some states with a large solar market, such as California, have limited many activities.

Others have established few restrictions. Arizona, for example, does not have a statewide mask mandate. In many states, solar has also managed to find its way into the “essential work” category.

It can also be nearly impossible to enforce security protocols in private homes, although some companies such as Sunrun have traced the steps they take. (Sunrun also told Greentech Media that it was not aware of any instances of transmission to customers or potential customers.)

The fact that some solar home installers rely on a diffuse network of dealers or contractors makes it more difficult to keep track of how each company is doing its job.

“I think some companies have leveraged this where they can to make their operations run as smoothly as possible,” said Bryan White, solar analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. “We know that not all businesses follow the rules.”

Overall, cases in the United States are currently on the decline and vaccines are on the way. Still, the health implications of in-person solar sales are unclear, and health experts have a range of views on the risks.

Some solar companies use door-to-door sales to collect the names of potentially interested buyers, a process in the industry known as “lead generation”. This would require minimal speaking time, according to White.

But other companies, such as market leaders Vivint and Sunrun, often struggle to close sales the same day canvassers make contact. This traditionally requires a long conversation and a home consultation, which could mean more exposure depending on compliance with public health measures such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Neither option is completely risk-free, according to Marissa Baker, industrial hygienist and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Occupational Health at the University of Washington. But having short conversations outside with a mask on is better than communicating indoors for an extended period of time, she said.

“The type of environment this disease likes to spread in is indoors near [and among] people who interact for more than 10 or 15 minutes, ”Baker said. “A contact tracer would consider this to be an exposure event.”

Amesh Adalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security who specializes in emerging infectious diseases and pandemic preparedness, said home visits can be done safely with “simple security policies” consistent with public health councils. But he also encouraged shorter outdoor interactions.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association has brought together protocols for “home service providers” such as electricians and plumbers, a category that would also include home sales. John L. Henshaw, former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration who helped draft these recommendations, told Greentech Media that home visits always carry a significant risk.

“I think it’s a significant risk, at least currently,” he said. “Mainly because you have someone traveling from house to house. “

Failure to follow public health guidelines such as wearing masks could endanger vendors and owners. Only about half of American adults surveyed in a recent national representative University of Southern California study said they wear masks – now a polarizing choice in the United States – when interacting with people outside their homes.

WoodMac’s White noted that widely divergent attitudes regarding the severity of the pandemic across the country have forced solar companies to assess the potential threats to their brand as well as the possible health risks of door-to-door selling. Many have chosen to move some or the majority of their sales online.

“There is an inherent risk [door-knocking]. Not only from a health point of view, but [also from the] customer response, ”White said. “It only takes a few people to get angry before they have a problem on their hands.”


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