The solar energy market’s growth has made it an appealing venture for small and large businesses alike. However, in recent years, behemoth solar conglomerates have formed, making it difficult for small businesses to compete. Indeed, the “Wal-Mart effect” has entrapped the solar energy industry, like it’s done to so many other markets. Solar market giants throw their weight around to drive prices down and eventually push out the smaller guys.
Before you throw up your hands in defeat, take a moment to recall that it was small entrepreneurs who blazed the solar trail, and it’s those individuals who are ready to branch off into solar market niches. So, how does one take a stake in the industry? Take a look at these unique ways to get involved.
OFF-GRID SOLAR MARKET
According to a study conducted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Lighting Global, there are 1.2 billion people living out-of-reach of the power grid, resulting in $27 billion spent annually on kerosene, bottle torches, candles, and fossil fuel powered technologies. Companies are now targeting those without modern energy access with products like stand-alone solar lanterns and solar home system kits.
In order to run off-grid, solar energy systems require additional hardware. You basically have to replace the work of a utility company, but on an individual scale. Remote or underdeveloped areas can benefit greatly from an off-grid system that eliminates any dependency on the electrical grid. Also, those who can afford the upfront costs of an off-grid solar system will enjoy the freedom of being untethered from the grid.
Solar panels are great and all, but what if you want your solar energy to fit in your pocket? Solio has tapped into the solar battery pack niche, targeting the outdoorsy, adventurous type. The portable battery technology has allowed Solio to expand into other accessories like the solar-powered filtering water bottle and their emergency preparedness kit filled with products. Birksun has also directed their attention to the outdoors-lover. The solar backpack company has created a product made for the traveler who needs a quick phone charge.
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a hot shower when you’re braving the wilderness? Coleman has created an inexpensive “solar shower” that heats up five gallons of water with the help of the sun. You will just have to wait a few hours for the special material to heat up the water. Other noteworthy camping accessories that use sun power include electric toothbrushes, car battery chargers, and coolers. The sky is the limit!
RVS AND TINY HOMES
With the growing tiny home and trailer-living phenomena, a niche emerges. Consumers who choose to live small normally strive to shrink their carbon footprint, making this audience a perfect target for solar products. A desire to live off the beaten path (campgrounds) is another likely trait that makes solar-driven panels and accessories perfect for tiny-livers.
The sun and farmers have always gone hand-in-hand. There is a wide variety of ways individuals in agriculture have offset their operating costs with the power of the sun. The 2016 USDA report noted that an Illinois corn and soybean farmer negated his entire electricity bill by installing a ground-mounted solar array.
Farmers who have been in the game for years have started leaning towards using their traditional crop land for something a little more predictable: the sun. Karlee Weinmann, a researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), adds, “Iowa and North Carolina have been particularly compelling stories. The prevailing reasons farmers decide to replace crops with solar are because the farmers are getting older or because it’s easier and more lucrative.”
Whether a farmer is looking to offset costs of crop or livestock production, or simply “grow” sun energy in place of crops, there are major opportunities for this solar niche.
A dead boat battery will always put a damper on the day. You also don’t want to be the boater who forgoes efficiency to turn the engine on and off throughout the day - not to mention the wear that has on your engine. Installing solar panels to continually charge the boat’s battery can prevent an unsafe and unpleasant situation.
Boaters can be wary of installing solar panels on their watercrafts because of the uncertainty that they will see enough sun to make it worthwhile. However, there’s an abundance of solar panel varieties, and - depending on the type you purchase - they won’t lose power in the shade of another boat or the marina.
There are tons of variables that go into purchasing solar panels for a watercraft, but Coastal Climate Control helps us out by busting 10 myths about solar panels on boats.
Similar to the tiny-living movement, people want to more easily save and produce their own energy at home. Some mobile apps have been developed to help - and even reward - people who want to reduce their carbon footprint. These apps are giving individuals the chance to become their own energy farmers.
Monitoring your home’s energy input and output has never been easier with mobile software that tracks energy production. Some solar panel systems come with their own app, but there is space for third party apps to monitor solar energy in a home.
Similar to solar-powered homes, solar-powered cars harness the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. Some solar cars funnel the solar power through a battery, but others have the technology to stream power straight into an electric engine.
While no dealerships are currently marketing solar cars, individuals have been creating their own models since the 1970s. Ed Passerini developed an entirely solar-powered car in 1977 coined the “Bluebird,” and Larry Perkins came up with the “Quiet Achiever” in 1982. The two men are considered the first to construct solar-powered vehicles.
As concern for the environment has continually increased, major car dealerships have toyed with solar power for auxiliary features, but there is currently no completely sun-powered vehicle being sold commercially. An opportunity presents itself to the entrepreneurs who can market solar accessories and installation to car makers at a competitive price.
Now that the entire solar energy industry has morphed from niche to mainstream, finding a unique calling is vital to success. Whether it’s a water bottle or tiny home, marketing to the solar niches may be the key to get you through the alternative energy door.