online-only home solar seller bags $23m, pledging ‘dramatically lower prices’

Project Solar doesn’t make solar panels, nor does it employ crews to plop them on roofs, but the startup argues it can shake up the residential solar business by steering clear of sales reps and automating parts of the ordering, design and installation process.

Backed by $23 million in fresh series A funding led by Left Lane Capital, Project Solar says it is on track to install 30 megawatts of solar this year, mostly in California and Texas, while apparently undercutting some of its competitors on price. The startup aims to top its 2022 installation figure by a factor of five in 2023.

But first, some context: Tesla bailed on door knocking ages ago, only to see its marketshare slump. Sunrun, meanwhile, has more than 100 sales jobs listed on its site and is the top residential solar brand by marketshare. So why would cutting out salespeople work for Project Solar, which is currently nowhere near as active as the industry leader?

For homeowners, the sell mostly comes down to price. The startup says it charges $2.20 per watt on average for installations, and as low as $1.63 after federal incentives. That’s about 25% cheaper than the 2021 national average of $2.94 per watt (before tax credits), according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Whether it qualifies as “dramatically lower,” as the startup characterizes it, is more a matter of opinion. For folks who are especially handy, Project Solar also offers cheaper DIY options.

Project Solar’s revenue comes from marking up equipment prices, for which is gets volume discounts. The company says cutting out salespeople saves it as much as a buck per watt, and from there it leans on its in-house software to trim the time needed for things like system design, permitting and coordinating contractors. For each sale, “there are about 40-man hours of work involved in the backend process (not including the physical labor of install which usually takes a crew of 3-4 people 8 hours),” CEO Trevor Hiltbrand told TechCrunch. He added that the firm’s software includes “a tool that has reduced engineering/CAD time from 3 hours to 30 minutes.”

Project Solar plans to use the series A to expand in the Midwest and South, and to continue working on its software. Beyond Left Lane Capital, Project Solar declined to share who chipped in on the funding round, calling them “strategics within the industry.”

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