Solar Payoff In (Mostly) Bullets

Solar Payoff In A Nutshell

Educate Solar Payoff website users (at about the spectacular returns to an investment in solar ownership; from the financial curiosity stirred, generate quality leads for contractors in our closely-held network of smaller-scale, local contractors, The SunCrafters Alliance; develop proposals with our state of the art SAAS proposal tools on our second website (at; earn 6% commission on only jobs won; charge small fee for each use of the SAAS tools.

Solar Payoff Core Business Logic

  • 30-year financial returns. Solar Payoff’s website at develops a 30-year financial return on a DG property owner’s solar investment, according to six financing scenarios
    • Cash
    • Loan-To-Own
    • Term Power Purchase Agreement or PPA (form of lease where the lessee receives the guarantee, pays for any electricity generated above the guarantee)
    • Term Lease (lessee benefits from all the electricity the system will provide, effectively a traditional equipment lease)
    • Pre-Paid PPA
    • Pre-Paid Lease
  • Solar Payoff Data Collection. We ask for kWh usage or average monthly bills (for, respectively, More/Less Precise Financial Projections), address, utility (confirm), current tariff, phone (optional) and develop believable approximations of property’s solar-useable square footage (typically roof) to produce these charts/tables
    • System Costs and Maintenance
    • Incentives/Depreciation Expected
    • 30-year Annual Gain
    • 30-year Cumulative Gain
    • ROI

Our process is described in more detail below.

  • Cash and Loan-To-Own Emphasis. Typically, Cash and Loan-To-Own show the best and mostly spectacular returns (compared to all forms of investment, including the stock market, even in today’s market).   The Solar Payoff website steers users to both forms of ownership ….. by demonstrating forcefully the stronger, essentially risk-free returns.   Although there are cases where some form of leasing could make sense which we explain (and our math would clearly show), Solar Payoff’s website is designed to challenge the dominance of leasing in today’s solar market by showing the comparative weakness of the returns to all forms of leasing.
  • Get A Bid From The SunCrafters Alliance. Having understood the financial numbers, also environmental benefits should there be an interest in “green,” we assume that a high percentage of users will “Get A Bid From The SunCrafters Alliance,” an option that is presented on all three Solar Payoff website results pages: Own Solar, Lease Solar, and Comparative Financial Outcomes.
  • Consumer Access To Information Typically Hidden “Behind The Veil”. The Solar Payoff business model offers users free access to solar generation and financing information that it has been industry practice to keep “behind the veil.”   Throughout the industry, contractors and integrator sales staff have long had access to Solar Generation Estimates and Financial Projections math through relatively costly monthly subscriptions.  However, contractors using subscription SAAS rarely if ever divulge this information fully to clients.  They package their information in proposals to serve their purpose, typically to promote solar leasing.   Solar Payoff’s website’s purpose is to remove the veil.  Solar Payoff is a market “disruptor” in that sense, (a term that should be taken in context, given its current use in American political discourse).
  • How Does Solar Payoff Make Money? If Solar Payoff offers its generation and financial information to the public for free and fully, the question emerges, How does Solar Payoff make money?   Solar Payoff makes money by collecting a 6% commission on jobs won by local, qualified smaller-scale contractors we have screened and admitted to The SunCrafters Alliance, Solar Payoff’s hub-and-spoke, closed and closely-held network of smaller-scale, local solar contractors.
  • Lead Generation For Contractors In The SunCrafters Alliance. Solar Payoff is not, however, a lead generator in the traditional, increasingly discredited sense, where contractors pay a fee for name, address, email, and phone of someone whom the lead generator says might be interested in solar.  Solar Payoff’s agreement with our contractors is take our leads for free.  These referrals identify an informed, “qualified” prospective client whose chances of going solar have increased by the information delivered passing through our website.  If – and only if – the lead culminates in an actual job, contractors pay a 6% commission on the job.  Our contractor is encouraged to build our commission into a quote to the client.  All quotes must be within 10% up or down from Solar Payoff’s industry-standard pricing unless an understandable written explanation is presented to the client and approved by Solar Payoff.
  • Small Fee Charged For Each Proposal Generated By Suncrafters Alliance SAAS Proposal Tool. Solar Payoff also charges the contractor a nominal amount rto use our state-of-the art SAAS proposal software at $15/use to start.   The contractor can also use the software for the same nominal amount to generate proposals for his or her own jobs.  This software typically costs a contractor $200 plus/month/user, whether the contractor or his estimators use the software for proposals or not.
  • GIS mapping. The SunCrafters Alliance has been organized in 31 GIS defined Service Areas that cover the California map.   Because of the flexibility of our database, the approach can be extended to other states or even internationally with minor effort.  We have also GIS mapped every utility in California, including zones within utilities.
  • How does Solar Payoff protect our technology and secure payment from sometimes slow-to-pay, even sleight-of-hand contractors?   Controlling the flow of money from clients who agree to accept a bid assures that Solar Payoff will get paid.  But there are costs.   The complexity of the issue is explored below in “Other Important Development Issues At Solar Payoff.”
  • SunCrafters Alliance Website. Solar Payoff is not one but two “state-of-the-art” websites.  The second SunCrafters Alliance website is a contractor proposal writing tool which takes the financial math from the User Interface and pushes that to a formal pdf and, where useful, online proposal, after a contractor has done a site visit (see later discussion about strategies to eliminate the need for a site visit).  This website competes with products on the market today at Enact Systems, Energy Toolbase, and (earlier) Clean Power Finance. The SunCrafters Alliance website includes an employee database with assigned roles.   Jobs are bid on a roles-assigned basis (roles reflect an average wage for an employee type).   The job is managed after real employees with a specific wage are assigned to a job.   The website also contains a supplier materials inventory which is necessary to construct a bid.   Overhead and profit margins have default values which can be varied job-to-job to respond to competitive pressures.   Considerable attention has been given to formatting the pdf proposal carefully and attractively.

Next Steps

Solar Payoff’s online presence is sine qua non for the Solar Payoff business plan.   The argument has been to create the websites with our own resources to show investors our commitment.  Which we’ve done.  We are seeking investor resources to complete five minimally necessary Next Steps to bring Solar Payoff to its feet, in order of importance from our perspective.

  • Strengthen Web Identity / Traffic. We are looking intensely for an equity partner with web marketing skills.  We have equity partners who can code in Python/JavaScript.  Creating a sophisticated website has, however, proven a very different challenge than driving people, pulling people to it.  We need someone on board working intensely on helping us develop traffic.  We especially need investor resources to advance the agenda proposed.  To the extent good data about actual clients informs us that changes in the site’s content structure are warranted, those changes will be made.   Some of the possible changes we have discussed without actually knowing user response are discussed below.
  • Recruit Banks. If the conclusion the website draws is that solar adopters should take ownership of their systems, then in an economic climate where disposable income in the property-owing middle-class has shrunk significantly (costly mortgages on expensive homes, car purchases on credit, saving for kids college, other essentials are sopping up loose cash), then offering loan-to-own is essential to Solar Payoff’s success.   No dodging this fact.   We need banks or credits unions to support our efforts.   We’re currently trying very hard to establish these relationships.

From what we can tell, banks and credit unions are either unaware of the market potential of solar and/or risk averse.  Solar for some reason solar looks risky to bankers, presumably because of the perceived lack of collateral.   But the system itself is collateral, can be disabled or finally removed easily.   Mostly, from our limited experience, banks and credit unions appear to be simply unknowledgeable about solar and not very interested in learning.   One reason we’re interested in joining an incubator/accelerator is that these organizations are better plugged into these institutions than ourselves.  At a minimum we would hope they could help us establish these relationships.

  • Build Out the SunCrafters Alliance. Use The Company RV Office More Effectively.  Of central importance.    Since I spent many years of my life involved in contracting, I’ve never thought building out the SunCrafters Alliance would be difficult.   That assumption remains to be tested, however.

I’ve driven four times now from Chula Vista, seven miles from the Mexican border, to the Bay Area.   And then back.   Coming, the emphasis was on getting through the L.A. quagmire very late at night, crash in Goleta at a spot I found, then continue on tp Bay Area next morning.   Pretty much the same returning although L.A. comes later in the travel so more easily navigated.

This focus on beating L.A. traffic amounts to misuse of the significant potential that the Solar Payoff RV offers as a rolling office.  Future trips will target contractor interviews coming and going.   Adding a task to RV travels that would be virtually impossible to accomplish without low-cost mobility just makes sense.   At the same time, it’s impossible to underestimate the value of having a stationary place to work from in the Bay Area or Los Angeles or wherever we choose to park for longer periods of time.

  • Strengthen The Accessibility of the Less Precise Branch of the Website. Although we have no data yet one way or the other to substantiate this concern, many very experienced professionals who’ve looked at our website think we need to make the Less Precise Estimate more accessible so that casual visitors can get to results without having to drag up 12 months of kilowatt hour usage data.   This amounts to redesigning our front-end data page (the page that follows the homepage if the user clicks on “Let’s Go Solar”) to make the Less Precise Estimate more prominent.   Not very difficult to do.   Strengthening the accessibility of the Less Precise Estimate becomes less of an issue if we have developed the Utility Account Kilowatt Hour Pulldown feature.  See below.
  1. Park Information Behind “Learn More” Linkages. Everyone who has reviewed the website thinks it’s Too Much Information (TMI).   They agree that we’ve covered virtually everything involved in DG solar and made our point that Own Solar is the way to go.   If you don’t have Cash-On-The-Barrelhead, Loan-To-Own is the next best thing.   But many of the discussions are very detailed and long and some a bit abstruse/obscure for the average user (e.g., the discussion of opportunity costs though important for the wealthy probably isn’t of much interest to the average website user).   Scrubbing the website, especially for a more prominant Less Precise Estimate branch, makes sense.   Where we want to keep an argument intact, use of “Learn More” linkages would also be a step forward.   Write a short summary, then throw the body text behind “Learn More.”   Standard practice on many websites.

Other Important Development Issues At Solar Payoff

  • Develop Working Capital Strategy. Relatively late in the game, owing to conversations with a Singapore-based electrical engineer whom we’re considering as a potential equity partner (i.e, “cofounder”), the subject of getting paid reliably came up again, rather forcefully.

It is very hard to know in advance how serious a problem cheating could become.  Securing payment by controlling the money flow – i.e., all job-related monies move through a Solar Payoff payment window which takes its 6% off the top to assure Solar Payoff of being paid.  In this scenario Solar Payoff, having received the clients initial payment, would also advances contractors 40-60% for materials.   We would then pay the remaining two partial payments based on performance.  The last payment will amount to 10-20% of the job’s total depending on the contractor’s history.

It should not be missed that a payment window increases Solar Payoff’s working capital requirements substantially because of cash-flow concerns. Cautious and focused management of these flows would certainly be crucial to Solar Payoff’s success.  The alternative would be to trust contractors to pay us from the job’s initial consumer(-investor) payment.

There are important pluses and minuses to moving job money through Solar Payoff.   If cheating weren’t a concern, especially in the beginning, the preferred option would be to keep our financial footprint as small as possible to minimize our own overhead risk.   The contractors pay us or they don’t.   We use cyber tools to surveil our network but accept cheating as the cost of doing business.   Also, ruthlessly terminate cheaters!

The payment window, although costly to both develop and oversee, assures Solar Payoff that it will be master of the SunCrafters Alliance domain.     A topic not covered in depth here, the payment window could also be a channel for consumer finance and one day be expanded to move inputs from which Solar Payoff could take a cut.

A payment window has its pluses and minuses from Solar Payoff’s perspective.   One must also consider the comfort zone of the banks. We need banks to underwrite loan-to-own consumer debt. Smaller contractors often have working capital constraints because of low-volume supplier and few or no banking relationships.   Offering banks or credit unions more business by providing working capital opportunities might be attractive to financial players.   On the other hand, a payment window loaded with a working capital offer might be perceived by risk-averse banks as increasing risk unnecessarily.  Whether banks will want to accept the risk remains to be seen, especially in the beginning.

Decision about a payment window is still pretty much up in the air.

  • Utility User Account Kilowatt Hour Pull-Down. Concern over the prominence of the Less Precise Estimate on the initial data page comes up only because acquiring twelve months of kilowatt hour usage data is troublesome for the average user who doesn’t keep records.  However, technologies exist that automate the process of acquiring 12 months of kilowatt hour data by accessing the user’s utility account can be purchased (check out UtiltyAPI) or implemented ourselves.   All that is required is user permission to create or, if already created, access the user’s utility account.   This is a feature our programmers have discussed from the beginning,  The argument always was that this was a feature that would have to await investor buy-in.   That this feature is feasible, no one doubts.
  • Community Solar. We currently know relatively little about how subscriptions to community solar projects are marketed.   That will change soon.  What we do know is that up to 80 percent of DG populations cannot install solar either because they do not own property (they’re renters) or their property is not solar amenable.    Solar conferences over the last several years have been filled with discussions of community solar.

Whatever the manner in which subscriptions are currently marketed, as with all forms of DG solar, “customer acquisition” seems to be the cost factor that threatens viability.   The concern is repeated incessantly in these conferences.   It should go without saying that if Solar Payoff creates a web identity that attracts property owners to our website, we could use that window to push renters or property owners without adequate solar insolation towards community solar.  Sooner rather than later it is Solar Payoff’s intention to create a Community Solar Window (Branch) at

It is also important to consider that by bringing engineering skills onboard we might also create community solar projects.  Competition in DG solar is intense and profits have been slim or non-existent for some time, even as the price of solar dropped and solar adoptions grew at a rate of around 70% per annum (according to Greentech Media).   Bankruptcies have occurred unexpectedly.  We are convinced that we can build a DG solar company based on ownership, breaking the lessors hold on the market.   This online marketplace approach solves the costly customer acquisition puzzle.   At the same time, other income opportunities like community solar exist. Building a strong web identity will open those doors (see our #1 Next Step).

  • From Solar Potential Estimates to Permit Drawings In a Bundle. There has also been discussion of using AI algorithms to remove the user from the panel placement action altogether.   Other technologies could be used to identify tilt, orientation, and especially more accurate shading analysis. Different ideas, each with a price tag.

One advantage of taking the Google Polygon drawing away from the User and automating the process is that the data developed can easily be transcribed into CAD drawings that contractors can use for permitting, so that information developed as early as the User Interface is contractor-ready from the moment a potential client clicks on “Get A Bid ……”   We would have to acquire a programmer with CAD experience to take this step.

This alternative strategy to develop Solar Potential (Insolation) can also be strengthened by stepping away from Google Maps and using available drone/airplane 200’ flyover resolutions which can show a contractor the roof or other property features as well or better than an actual site visit.   Site visits become superfluous.  The algorithms place the panels, accounting for all the roof or ground-mount obstructions. The reductions in wasted contractor time would be immense.

Again, significant upfront development costs but large long-term savings for the system as a whole.  It has long been obvious that the easier we can make a contractor’s job, the more faithful the contractor will be to the SunCrafters Alliance and Solar Payoff and the more there is to lose by cheating.     Adopting these technologies also has the perhaps even more important benefit of streamlining the user experience at Solar Payoff.

Smaller Shorter-Term Issues Considered

  • Shading estimates are weak, other proposal tools have more sophisticated technology to estimate the effects of shading on insolation, whether this makes a difference in long-term return on investment is the issue
  • We have developed panel-by-panel placement technology at that we may move forward to the Google Polygon page on Solar Payoff, unless and until we develop

Solar Payoff Website Step-By-Step

  • To produce a 30-year ROI, the website gathers user information on address, current tariff, and either monthly kWh usage (12 recent consecutive months) for a More Precise Estimate or for a Less Precise Estimate summer/winter monthly $$$ averages
  • User’s tariff designation syncs with an underlying tariff database holding all DG-relevant California tariffs. The structure of the database is flexible enough to hold any U.S. and likely international electricity tariffs.
  • User is led to a Google Map polygon tool to estimate useable roof-top/yard square footage for solar, then uses orientation arrows to establish azimuth, also approximates tilt and shading
  • The information gathered is sent to PVWatts5 which returns the property Solar Potential Estimate in monthly kWhs
  • From Solar Potential Estimate – based on either kWh month usage or winter-summer $$$ averages – and industry standard $/watt-DC pricing, the Solar Payoff website generates 30-year charts for each of the six financing options.
    • Cash
    • Loan-To-Own
    • Term Power Purchase Agreement or PPA (form of lease where the lessee receives the guarantee, pays for any electricity generated above the guarantee)
    • Term Lease (lessee benefits from all the electricity the system will provide, effectively a traditional equipment lease)
    • Pre-Paid PPA
    • Pre-Paid Lease

Charts include

  • System Costs and Maintenance
  • Incentives/Depreciation Expected
  • 30-year Annual Gain
  • 30-year Cumulative Gain

The 30-year ROI is displayed in a table along with other key results that don’t display as a 30-year chart

  • To receive the finance results user must sign up for a Solar Payoff account, which would include providing name, address, verifiable email, phone (optional for starters). We already have address, utility, utility zone, and tariff information.
  • Having understood the annual and long-term annual and cumulative gain, User clicks on “Get A Bid From The SunCrafters Alliance.”

SunCrafters Alliance Website Step-By-Step


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