State utility regulators haven’t helped the rooftop solar industry either.  Dozens of state utility commissions have reduced the economic incentives homeowners obtain from rooftop solar systems, which has forced solar installers to change their sales pitches.  They used to be able to sell new solar systems to homeowners with no money down and immediately lower the homeowner’s monthly electric bill (even after financing and capital costs).  Now, many of these nifty deals aren’t available because state utility regulators have pared back the rates homeowners get paid when they sell power from their rooftop solar systems back to the grid.

Other greener and less invasive solar options are also popping up.  Community solar programs—where homeowners pool their resources to collectively build and share a larger community solar system—have become more widely available.  As have green power programs, where customers can simply pay a little more every month to ensure that they obtain some form of “green” power. Turning the rooftop solar industry around will likely require new thinking, and potentially, new and better rooftop solar products.

Elon Musk’s highly publicized new solar roof tiles are exactly the type of innovate product that could revive consumer interest in the industry—especially given Mr. Musk’s track record of success.  Instead of attaching large rooftop solar panels to an existing roof, solar roofing tiles effectively replace (or cover) the existing shingles.  Of course, Mr. Musk isn’t the first to wade into the solar roofing tile space.  A few other companies have been selling different solar roofing tile designs for the last few years.  And one such company – SunTegra Solar – has had a lot of recent success.

 According to its CEO, Oliver Koehler, whom I spoke with this week: “the company is currently on an accelerated growth path, achieving over 300% revenue growth in the second half of 2016 and actively selling in 10 U.S. states.” Perhaps this is because SunTegra uses a different model than the larger rooftop solar companies: they provide solar kits to roofers and home builders, who then install them as an upsell when their clients need new roofs. Other new products, like Totem Power’s smart hub, are distributed solar systems that are not even intended for existing or new roofs.  Totem’s smart hub product would replace street lights with integrated communication, battery storage, and grid responsiveness towers topped with solar panels.
 The rooftop solar industry isn’t dead.  And it may not even be dying.  But if it wants to survive and reach its prior levels of growth, it’s going to need to do something different, and quickly.  Otherwise, the rooftop solar-coaster may not come back up again.