Like a tide turning, there’s a big shift happening in the solar market that many people aren’t really seeing because they’re bobbing about on an ocean of opportunity. The implications are huge in terms of who will get capital and attention in the industry, and the trend should lift all boats and take this solution to climate change further than before.

The power behind the seachange comes from the fact that that there is now more manufacturing capacity for producing PV modules than there is demand. It is manifest in a new focus on the customer and how you get solar solutions to them, not on hardware.

You might have noticed in the blogosphere for the last couple of years all the chat was about this gadget or that (Nanosolar, XsunX etc). And business press worried about Si wafer technology costs and other arcane aspects of the manufacturing process upstream.

Slowly, the coverage has changed and now much of what you read about is new ways to mount PV modules, or different strategies by integrators and customer financiers that seek to make it easier for people to buy solar. Sungevity is one of those companies.

This is a classic industry cycle – for awhile the gadget greats get the glory (think Wang or DEC) and then their products start looking more like commodities. Brands that bundle these components (think Dell) to deliver services (MS or Google) inherent in the product come to the fore. Obviously there is oversimplification in this view but it has some use.

And what it portends is that the next wave of innovation will be after the factory gate, i.e. how to get the customer the service of solar electricity more easily and at a better price?

The truth is there are a lot of great gains to be made by applying a wind tunnel to the process’ we use to market, sell, deliver, administer, install and maintain solar systems. Our remote solar design technology – based on software we built in a year – saves 10% off the cost of going solar for a residential customer and is available over the internet.

There are lots of other great examples of new business models like1BOG or SunRun or the property tax payment model pioneered by cities in California. In some ways these are more important in spreading solar than any of the tech breakthroughs of the last decade.

We need innovation up and down the value chain but for now let’s celebrate the mom and pop shops who persist with clunky channels to get PV on peoples’ roofs. Even more key -  let’s welcome new players making it easier to bring sunshine online everywhere. Shine on, dannyk.

Posted by Danny Kennedy

Danny Kennedy co-founded Sungevity and now serves as strategic advisor. He is an internationally recognized opinion leader on climate and energy issues. He is the author of Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy - and Planet - from Dirty Energy (2012), a book that has been described as the clean energy manifesto for the next greatest generation.