Monday, March 29, 2010

I Love A Good Idea

I think this idea is fabulous and deserves some attention. Instead of trying to get folks to buy solar panels for their homes, this company is leasing them:
California company Sungevity has seen a surge in demand for residential solar power systems, after launching a new 10-year solar lease program.

The scheme means customers face no up-front capital cost for their solar power systems, paying a lease payment each month and an amount for their power that Sungevity says will reduce their overall electricity bills.

Sungevity, which has its head office in Oakland, California, said it will give customers a free assessment – called an “iQuote” – for a solar lease at the touch of a button via its website.

The company uses satellite and aerial photography to assess customer roofs to make a determination on what kind of solar system would be appropriate.

Customers will save money “immediately”, pledges the company, increasing their savings over the 10-year lease period.

Danny Kennedy, President and co-founder of Sungevity, said: “This is the killer app for driving the mass adoption of solar. We’ve made it more than affordable to access electricity free from the sun, and we’ve made it easy by selling it over the internet.”

”It’s a killer app.” I love it.

I’m a little leery of the “quote at the touch of a button” thing -- Google Earth satellite images are out of date, someone really needs to check things like trees and the pitch and condition of your roof, etc. But the basic premise, leasing solar panels instead of selling them, is brilliant.

And I have loads of questions. How much does a 10-year Sungevity lease cost? Can state and federal tax breaks be applied to a lease versus traditional installation? What kind of arrangements are worked out with the local utility? What percent does Sungevity get of the money from the energy generated?

Let’s face it: right now solar panels are prohibitively expensive. They just are. And while it’s nice to get $1,000 from NES and 30% tax credit from the IRS at the end of the day neither of those is sufficient to make a solar array of any useful size affordable for the average American family.

And here’s something else of interest:

The new solar lease scheme is being funded by US Bank, the nation’s fifth largest bank, which has set up a $24 million tax equity fund to support the service.

“We’re excited to partner with Sungevity on their solar lease program,” said Darren Van’t Hof, Vice President of Renewable Energy Investments for US Bank. “We like the residential solar space and are convinced its growth will outpace commercial solar development in the coming years.”

Well good for them! Financing something that helps people here at home, not a new hotel-on-steroids in Dubai. And for the first time I've found someone who agrees with me that residential solar is a growth industry. See, I knew it. I'm so excited by this I could just pee myself.

Installing solar panels creates jobs -- good, blue collar construction jobs, the kind that we saw evaporate with the pop of a housing bubble. It creates clean energy, helps lower our dependence on mountain-crunching coal, lowers carbon emissions, you name it. It’s simply a win-win all the way around. And with Tennessee getting into the solar game, more of these panels (we hope) will be made here at home.

There are miles of rooftops that could benefit from solar panels. Churches, schools and hospitals are another one -- those are all huge buildings which are just perfect for housing a solar array, yet the non-profit world lacks the upfront capital required.

Here's another idea: will we ever see a day when utilities like TVA pay us to put solar panels our our rooftops? Sorta like how outdoor advertising companies pay property owners to erect billboards?

So thumbs up on a good idea. Maybe some local entrepreneur can get to work on launching a solar leasing scheme right here in Nashville.