SunPower by Sun Solar used to be Sun Solar Energy Solutions. Shinnova Solar was once called Smart Home Innovations LLC. Somos Solar formerly did business as Santa Fe Stucco & Roofing. And the list of solar companies changing their names goes on and on.
Rebranding efforts in general are the results of weeks, even months of companies considering their position in the market, and how they appear to customers. These transitions can also be incredibly costly, as they affect nearly every part of the business from marketing to internal strategy.
In such a highly competitive environment with thousands of unique providers vying for homeowners’ business like the solar industry, rebranding the company can sometimes mean the difference between securing the next contract or going the way of the dodo.
Unfortunately, rebranding in solar does not always mean customers receive the same quality of service or products as they did under the previous company name. Let’s take a look at the main reasons why solar companies change their names, and what that ultimately means for the homeowners they’re selling to.
What’s in a name? To customers considering multiple solar companies: everything.
Solar companies recognize just how narrow the window is for them to communicate to homeowners what their values are, what they offer, and what makes them different from other providers. And as companies evolve, grow, specialize, or generalize, their brand will often follow suit.
Take Elevation, for example. Formerly known as Elevation Solar, the company dropped the “solar” part of their name not because they no longer installed solar panels, but because they recognized that solar energy was just one aspect of creating a truly sustainable future. Elevation now identifies as a “fully integrated home energy solutions company,” and has expanded its home energy services beyond solar energy to include insulation and sealant, HVAC, and door/window upgrades.
Other solar companies, like Somos Solar, change their names to demonstrate their pivot toward a solar-centric business model. Most of these companies are local providers that got their start providing specialty services like electrical or roofing repair; as manufacturing costs for solar products plummeted, these companies saw an opportunity to expand their suite of services to include solar power.
The Takeaway: diligent solar customers are encouraged to peek into a company’s history before signing the dotted line. If the provider has only recently transitioned toward solar power as one of its offerings, it’s possible they may lack the expertise of other companies that have been in the solar game for longer.
Mergers and acquisitions are as frequent in the solar industry as they are anywhere else. When the pandemic stifled door-to-door sales in 2020 and 2021, and subsequent supply and labor shortages hampered solar installations, many solar companies felt the burn and closed their doors for good. Others, in order to adapt to the shifting solar landscape, joined forces or signed a buyout deal with their competitors, the way Sunrun acquired Vivint Solar back in 2020.
Lumio is another good example of this. The company was founded in 2021 but boasts a broad, multi-state service area and a workforce of more than 3,500 employees. Part of the reason for its sweeping success was a series of strategic partnerships with other solar providers like Deca Solar, Smart Energy Today, and Lift Energy — all successful in their own right, but stronger together.
The Takeaway: mergers and acquisitions can appear clean on the surface, but they can actually be pretty messy, especially for customers. Contact information like email addresses and phone numbers, even the name of the account manager in charge of facilitating a successful solar installation and post-install support, can all change when one company swallows another. And it’s possible for some customers to get lost in the transition.
Companies are obligated to inform customers of such extensive changes; however, homeowners at every stage of the installation process need to be incredibly proactive. Names, phone numbers, and email addresses all need to be up-to-date to reflect the company they’re currently working with — not just the company they originally bought from.
America is the land of innovation. But with the increasing number of solar companies entering the market every year, it was only a matter of time before company names started sounding alike, or in some cases, were nearly identical, like in the case of SunPro and SunPro Solar, two completely different companies that were frequently confused for one another.
SunPro Solar exclusively operated in California. SunPro, however, operated in 13 states not including California. Yet these two companies were constantly mistaken for one other, especially in the way they were reviewed online. As a result, SunPro received a flurry of negative reviews meant for SunPro Solar that deflated its review scores. SunPro has since joined forces with security giant ADT to become ADT Solar. This partnership has only strengthened the company by uniting it with a trusted, and nationally recognized brand.
Similar confusion has been expressed for Solar is Freedom and Freedom Solar; American Solar, All American Solar, and First American Solar; Solar America and Solar in America; and Sunline Energy and Sunlinx Energy.
The Takeaway: as mentioned above, rebranding is a costly endeavor, so most companies will keep their company name, even if it sounds similar or the same as another company. Unless solar companies follow SunPro’s lead to rebrand entirely, solar customers need to pay close attention to the providers they’re considering. One simple way to avoid brand confusion is to visit the company website; even companies with the same name are required to employ a unique web address.
Unfortunately, select few solar companies rebrand as a way to skirt legal action from dissatisfied customers or the state attorney general’s office. Companies like Avolta, that have been accused of using misleading sales tactics, have often changed their names via DBA or “doing business as” filings without alerting customers of this change. This corporate filing allows the solar provider to continue to operate under a different name, leaving customers high and dry.
Take this actual review from a solar customer in Minnesota, whose state attorney general has filed a civil suit against Avolta and others:
Matt Malinosky | Savage, MN
Avolta (formerly Total Solar Solutions, Bello Solar, and Brio Energy) is a terrible organization. They misled me during discussions prior to contract signing, have terrible communication, and ultimately duped me out of about $10,000. I was promised to be enrolled in my utility’s solar rewards program and was not (over $5k in lost rebates) and was led to believe my system will produce 97% of my annual energy use (but is actually only sized for 77%).
This company does not know the requirements of my state, did not execute the project properly, I was reassigned to 5 different project managers in a year, and the system was not working properly for the first 12 months. I’ve tried to reconcile these shortfalls with Avolta for several months, and they are unwilling to come to the table. They won’t even have a manager who has any decision making powers call and talk to me directly. They will only communicate through a middle man who knows nothing. This [is] an extremely poorly run and DISHONEST business. Stay away.
Additionally, companies that reportedly routinely left solar projects uncompleted while still charging customers the full installation costs, can go out of business, only to have their assets purchased by an even larger holding company and recycled into a new business — barring customers of the first business to seek any recourse or support for their incomplete solar builds.
The Takeaway: the cinematic world of shady corporate dealings, shell companies, and the like is much more real that we might think. As should be clear by now, not all solar companies are created equal. While most providers that change their names do so as a way to better serve their customers, others do so to perpetuate a cycle of exploitation.
How can you tell the difference? Finding reliable resources to track a company’s evolution through time provides useful context in determining whether that company is the right one. Platforms like Wikipedia, OpenCorporates, and PR Newswire offer some objective facts and events about a company, including its rebranding efforts.
Additionally, reading updated solar company reviews — both from the experts and from actual customers — is the most direct way to cut through the noise. Best Company’s onsite search feature allows users to conveniently search a company’s customer reviews by keyword. Simply scroll down to the search bar, enter a word or phrase like “dishonest”, “customer service”, “or communication”, et voila!
The world of residential solar power is brimming with opportunities and challenges. Revealing the intentions behind a company’s motivations to rebrand can help solar customers decide whether these efforts portend growth and diversification for the company, or flag potential risks. By arming themselves with comprehensive research and up-to-date reviews, homeowners can confidently navigate the online landscape and find a solar provider that meets their needs while contributing to a sustainable future.
June 19th, 2023
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