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K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Solar

It’s almost November. Solar Power International 2010 is in the rear view

Keep it simple ... solar

mirror and 2011 is just around the corner. It’s a great time to ask the question: How are we doing as an industry? At ASES 2010 we heard Lyn Rosoff of Smart Power tell us that marketing polls indicate that “84% of those polled intend to buy clean energy.”

Of course their actions indicate far less. So, what’s wrong? There seems to be a consensus of opinion that the major market objections for buying solar are:

  1. Solar lacks a strong value proposition (high cost, long payback)
  2. There’s no financing
  3. Solar energy is unreliable because it depends on the weather
  4. It’s too complex
  5. There’s no marketing and therefore no buzz

In general, the consumers don’t understand the technology. We have an energy-ignorant public that is easily misinformed. So, what can we do? How can we engage the public? It’s not like solar is the first industry to face these challenges. All we need to do is look to other industries in the past to get a clue as to where we are going. Look at the PC industry in the 1980′s, look at the home improvement industry to some extent or the Internet in the 1990′s. Solar needs a user-friendly GUI. Solar needs to get simple. Over the past couple of years we’re seeing the beginnings to the move toward simplification expressed in many ways. The introduction of an AC panel by Westinghouse (formerly known as Andalay) last year has lead to a number of panel and micro inverter manufacturers announcing at the Solar Power International 2010 Show their own version of AC panels to be available for sale sometime in 2011. (by the way, WholeSolar is proud to now be an authorized Westinghouse distributor/dealer). Last year Zep introduced a labor-saving racking system, pushing other racking manufacturers to do the same. Further, Zep recently announced broadening the number of panel manufacturers with which its product will be compatible. One manufacturer, UpSolar, was displaying a Zep-compatible AC panel at the Solar Power International 2010 Show. We’re seeing more software and web-based companies introducing products that simplify paperwork required throughout the solar sale and installation process. “User-friendly,” “plug-and-play,” “easy-to-install” become common catch phrases as technology moves from the early-adopter to the mainstream market in any industry. Solar is certainly no different in this regard. But that brings us back to the market objections I identified earlier. How do we as an industry, or as members of the solar tribe, break through the mystery and engage the public? We believe the answer is simple (to paraphrase a former US President): it’s about the marketing, solar. The solar industry has a retail messaging problem. We need to develop a simple message, an easy message and a strong compelling call to action. The first step is understand the customer. Lyn Rosoff spoke of marketing studies that showed these ten key findings to help us understand customers:

  1. There are regional differences as far as what motivates buying solar customers. Some areas, like Oregon, customers are motivated by environmental concerns, while in other areas they are motivated by finance. In other words, there are two different types of “green” motivators.
  2. To many, going solar means a change in lifestyle
  3. There is huge customer confusion about solar. As one person put it, “Understanding solar can feel like a full-time job.”
  4. Solar lacks a clear brand, or as another respondent put it “Where’s the Nike of the solar industry?”
  5. Upfront costs are the biggest barrier.
  6. A solar sale is a long sales cycle (1 to 2 years).
  7. Installers are the key. Customers like their installers.
  8. Internet is the key. Most solar customers used the Internet.
  9. Many customers asked “what is the message of the solar industry?”
  10. Thinking about solar IS an action
Keep it Simple Solar

In addition to being a material aggregator for a group of small independent installers across the country, WholeSolar has begun to work with these same installers in making the conversion to being a retailer and simplifying the message. There are many ways to create a buzz about what we’re doing. We need to find the method that works best for you. The value proposition must be the number one message on our websites, in our conversations and throughout our messaging. We need to adopt the same approach as is used in selling cars. Simple. Easy. No-brainer. We need to take away the complexity by using the best sales tool available, our satisfied customers. In Portland they are called “solar ambassadors.” They are probably the most passionate solar advocates around. They’ve already put their money where their mouth is and they love it. And the probably also love you, if you were their installer. Solar ambassadors are probably the best lead generator you have. Once we’ve got the lead, don’t lose the sale. WholeSolar and others have developed a simple four-step sales approach that keeps the focus on the customer’s needs and “driving home” the value proposition in a compelling way. It’s important at this point in the sales cycle that the value proposition is delivered efficiently and effectively…simply. The key to success, we believe, is: Keep It Simple, Solar.

Smart Grid: It Isn’t As Simple As You Think

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class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-759″ />By now, most of us know that the demand for solar continued to rise during the recession. Demand continues to grow throughout the world. A couple of days ago, the SEIA published The US Solar Industry Year in Review 2009. The opening sentence of the report stated: “Despite the Great Recession of 2009, the U.S. solar energy industry grew— both in new installations and employment.” Reuters reported that the “industry surged on incentives.” In February, Todd Woody provided details of how California and New York utilities are playing a key role in solar growth in the New York Times Green Inc. blog. “Over the past few weeks, some 1,300 megawatts’ worth of distributed solar deals and initiatives have been announced or approved. At peak output, that is the equivalent of a big nuclear power plant” wrote Woody. Yes, it’s only one big nuclear power plant, certainly not “As Big As Coal” which needs to be the rallying cry of the Solar Revolution, but, nonetheless, in the midst of the financial meltdown, it’s something.

So, OK, we are moving in the right direction over the last several weeks…but we’ve got a long way to go. There is so much do to on so many levels. As much credit as some will give to the utilities, the truth remains that the Solar Revolution is a grassroots cause. The efforts of the cause as a whole depend on each and every one of us doing what we can to educate and promote the beneits…even the imperitive…of creating solar As Big As Oil. We cannot settle for less. Along these lines, in order to be most effective, we’ve all got to understand the magnatude of unresolved issues that stand in the way of our goal.

In the Solar Industry Magazine (April 2010, Volume 3, Number 3~it is only available via “deadtree media”) that I recently receved, Michael Coddington, Kate Anderson and Benjamin Kropski did a great job of summarizing a New York City case study assessing grid-level effects of distributed photovoltaics. The article identifies many of the technical issues that stand in the way of rapidly connecting distributive PV to the utility networks. On the front page of the same Solar Industry issue, Bob Powell presents a look at utility-scale financing components. I highly recommend these two front page articles. The NYC Study article describes that utilities use two types of electrical distribution systems. By far the most common is these is the simpler radial system, which is designed for electricity to go just one-way. In such a distribution system, a lot of hardware and software is devoted to detecting and protecting against “reverse power flow,” which is “indicative of an upstream supply feeder fault.” Needless to say, this is not good from a net metering and feed-in-tariff point-of-view. The article also discusses the problems caused by the highly variable nature of solar energy supply and the importance of the development of solutions that will make this source of energy more reliable (such as battery technology or eventually a national or worldwide smartgrid). The front page companion piece reminds us that regulators and legistlators are driving the utilities to do the right thng, “either through mandates such as enacted renewable portfolio standards (RPS)…or via less formal expectations that a utility has in response to climate change.” Failure to meet RPS standards will hit the utilities where it hurts them most: earnings. The challenge for the utility becomes how to finance all the change required to achieve the RPS. There is so much great information is these two Solar Industry Magazine articles.

There was also a separate blog by Tom Raftery in the greenmonk blog. First, I want to say, that this blog is one great example of what we each can do to do our part for the Solar Revolution. Tom’s catchy sub-heading says “green from the bottom up; sustainable from the top down.” On April 16, Tom writes about “Are Utility Companies Ready for Full Smart Grids?” Tom takes a look at the IT angle to the new way of doing business. He also has a video interviw with Chris King, the Chief Regulatory Officer of eMeter. Tom writes that he commonly asks “What is a Smart Grid? Almost all the interviewees talk about an infrastructure capable of full end-to-end, two-way communications. That is, communication from utilities down to the appliance level in-home, and from appliances back up to utilities.” Tom probes the challenges that smart grid poses to IT, appliance development and, probably most importantly, consumer education.

So, with this kind of perspective, how are we doing so far with our Big as Oil goal? Well, in a recent Greentechmedia research article titled “Can the U.S. or California Institute a Feed-In Tariff?” Eric Wesoff writes that the RPS in California has failed. “And the U.S. solar market remains thwarted by tight financing, fragmented policies, and spotty permitting, as well as restrictive access to public lands. Arguably, policy trumps technology in matters of energy, and the U.S. has a long way to go in developing a favorable energy and solar policy.” Wescoff’s article covers an April 14 presentation made by Ted Ko of the FIT Coalition. “California’s renewable energy piece was 14 percent of the energy mix in 2003,” cited Ko in his speech to the Silicon Valley Photovoltaics Society, “and actually dropped down to 13 percent in 2008. Further, he asserts that there is little chance that will California achieve its goal of 20 percent in 2010 and 33 percent in 2020.”

The answer, according to Ko, is getting a feed-in tariff imposed in California and in the U.S. Ko defined the feed-in tariff as a predefined, pre-approved PPA between renewable energy generators and utilities. He called it “the most effective policy in the world for getting cost-effective renewable energy online. It’s simple, fair and effective.”

As they say, “the Devil’s in the details.” There are so many details to research and understand. We need to continue to feed one another with newly developing information and ideas. Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are great communication tools for this. So are invididual, company and public blogs. Write your own; subscribe to this one and others. WholeSolar will be starting a blog list. Let’s all share what we’re discovering and believing. Find a solar or renewable energy meetup group in your area. If you can’t find one, start one. Please be a part of Vote Solar and other similar organizations, where our numbers create “power to change power.” And please encourage other to join you in signing the Solar Bill of Rights. Most importantly, take action (if you have not yet) and increase your action (if you have).

The Solar Revolution

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10/03/whole-solar.logo.08.jpg” alt=”whole-solar.logo.08″ width=”232″ height=”84″ />Recently, I read Senator Bernie Sanders’ blog entitled It’s Time for a Solar Revolution. He writes about how he and 10 of his colleagues (Senators Whitehouse, Cardin, Gillibrand, Merkley, Lautenberg, Leahy, Boxer, Menendez, Specter, and Harkin) are introducing the Ten Million Solar Roofs Act. The bill calls for 10 million new solar rooftop systems and 200,000 new solar water heating systems over the next 10 years. The idea is a knock-off of the “million roofs” program in California. Essentially the plan is to create 30,000 megawatts of solar power in ten years by offering consumer rebates for the purchase and installation of solar systems. So far the California program is on track to create 3,000 megawatts of solar power by 2016. What makes Senator Bernie’s bill different is that it is a Federal bill that supplements and complements state and local solar efforts. The idea is a good one, using a distributive approach, however the bill is but a small step in creating a full-scale solar revolution, but it is certainly an important one.

Jeff Wolfe groSolar CEO

Jeff Wolfe groSolar CEO

Ten million roofs is certainly a great start for a solar revolution, but it reflects limited thinking. My friend Jeff Wolfe, the founder of groSolar, made a presentation over a year ago entitled Thinking as Big as Oil. Jeff pointed out that as strong as growth has been for the solar industry, the entire industry’s revenues equal less than two days of ExxonMobil’s revenues. We have a long way to go to be as “Big as Oil.” Jeff gave several examples of where the solar industry was, perhaps, limiting itself in its goals and vision. And then he made a statement that should resonate with every member of the solar tribe: “I, for one, am not in this game to play; I’m in it to win ‐‐ to accomplish our mission for our company, for our country, and for our planet.”

Rhone Resch SEIA CEO

Rhone Resch SEIA CEO

Thinking as Big as Oil is certainly worthy of being called a Solar Revolution, but a revolution needs many, many passionate people with a shared conviction. Al Gore likes to talk about political will being the only thing missing, but more importantly that political will is a renewable resource. Unfortunately, the obstacles in this arena are as big as Oil. Obstacles mean opportunities. These obstacle/opportunities lie in the areas of technology, politics and basic human behavior and create exciting potential for history-changing achievements. The next step in building and advancing our movement, it seems to me is about increasing the general awareness. The ARRA program certainly is helping. Rhone Resch’s declaration of a Solar Bill of Rights is another step.

There a few trail-blazing non-profit organization for us to get behind and support. I love Vote Solar. Their mission is “to bring solar energy into the mainstream.” I couldn’t have said it better myself and their every single action is doing exactly that. Vote Solar works at the state, federal and local level to implement programs and policies that allow strong solar markets to grow — working to remove serious regulatory roadblocks impeding solar adoption — and pave the way for a transition to a renewable energy economy. SolarTech is a PV industry consortium focused on creating a Solar Center of Excellence in the Silicon Valley. Their goal is to identify and resolve the inefficiencies inherent in the delivery of solar PV systems. This last January Solartech hosted a Solar Leadership Summit to Address Solutions that Cut Procedural Red Tape by 75% and Reduce Costs for Solar Customers and followed that up by announcing the launch of a new, free resource for solar professionals called SolarHub. In Solar Nation’s own words, Solar Nation “is the place where solar citizens live ” and “where citizens rally and convince their leaders to make America a true solar power.” There are probably many more similar organizations that part of the solar revolution. If you know of some, please let us know in an email: info@whole-solar.com. And if you are not familiar with Vote Solar, Solartech and Solar Nation, please check them out and get involved.

A solar revolution starts with you and me. As I heard Buckminster Fuller say, “each one reach one; each one teach one.” To quote Vote Solar’s website: “The clock is ticking. Join the Team” or, perhaps a paraphrase is in order — Join the Solar Revolution.

National Net Metering: Another Goal for the Tribe

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In an earlier blog post, I shared about California AB560 a net metering bill being considered by the California state senate. The bill moved through the California Senate Energy Committee 9-1 yesterday, but still has a couple of critical votes to clear. This is an important bill for at least three reasons that I can think of. First, its passage will further open up the solar residential and commercial market. Second, its passage is essential in order for another bill, AB920 (a bill that is about creating fairness within California’s solar market and about spurring ever greater consumer interest in investing in solar power bringing with it important environmental and economic benefits to the state) to pass, bringing a little more logic and sanity to solar energy policy. Finally, I believe that the nation looks to California as a leader in energy and climate control legislation.

A national net metering policy would make a lot of sense. It sets up the classic debate about Federal government versus state’s rights, but the quality of the environment is clearly a national, if not global issue that begs for a national net metering policy. In addition, any energy policy that moves us away from fossil fuel energy is really a national security issue. There are many issues, where I argue passionately for state’s and local community rights and against big government, but this is not one of them.

The net metering issue is really quite simple: just think of being able to turn your electricity meter backwards when your solar panels generate power. Why should anyone be afraid of this? Clean energy channeled into the grid, thereby reducing the demand for energy that comes from other sources. We’re worried that we’ll convert to solar too fast? Now wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have?

A national net metering policy would perhaps have the effect of further accelerating the development of a national (intra-national) and international smart grid. Admittedly, this will take time, but in theory a global smart grid will solve one of the largest problems facing the industry: wasted energy…energy generated but not used. Until we develop advanced energy storage technologies or a global smart grid, this will remain a large cost item to the utility industry.

Clearly there are many issues facing us as we all work to make solar power mainstream. National net metering is one of the vital issues. It is important that we keep talking and blogging about it. Let’s join together and keep the drums pounding.

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Posted by solaroy at 11:11 AM 0 comments
Labels: AB560, AB920, Al Gore, American Clean Energy and Security Act, California State Senate, clean energy and climate legislation, green, net metering, solar, solar power, Vote Solar Initiative

Repower America – Independence Day

It seems like things have been so busy lately, running the business, networking and rallying the solar tribe to go into action, that I have not had time to write the next blog. I want to pass along the letter I received today from Al Gore:

Dear Roy,

This Independence Day, we have a lot to celebrate — including a major victory for our planet.

The historic vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House of Representatives last Friday moves this bill to the Senate. Now, we must continue to build momentum and work for its passage.

Just as our founders struggled to achieve our nation’s independence, we must encourage our leaders to stand up to the entrenched special interests in another struggle of great historical importance — the fight for our energy independence.

Tell Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell that you support bold action on clean energy legislation. This July 4th, declare your energy independence and demand that they work to do the same in the Senate.

Declare your energy independence to Senators Reid and McConnell.

Today, our nation lives under the oppressive thumb of foreign oil, dirty energy and a climate crisis that could change life as we know it.

We are held hostage to volatile gas prices, as Americans send hundreds of billions of dollars overseas each year. This dependence on foreign oil leaves our nation vulnerable to unstable and hostile regimes, burdening our military and their families.

And our reliance on dirty energy continues to cost us — average annual household energy spending increased approximately $1,000 between 2001 and 2007.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and clean energy is the path we need. Add your voice and declare your energy independence now:

http://www.RepowerAmerica.org/declaration

Repowering America with clean energy can revitalize our economy by creating millions of clean energy jobs, stabilizing energy costs, strengthening our national security and addressing the climate crisis.

Show our Senate leaders that we mean business: stand together with us and demonstrate your support for change.

Our founders fought to live in a free nation — and they succeeded. The clean, prosperous and energy independent America we seek now and for future generations is closer than ever, but this legislation must succeed in the Senate.

That’s why I’m asking you to declare your energy independence to Senators Reid and McConnell today:

http://www.RepowerAmerica.org/declaration

Thanks for all you do,

Al Gore

As soon as I post this, I’m going to follow the links to declare my energy independence. What are you waiting for? Join me by taking action at RepowerAmerica.org

Posted by solaroy at 7:02 PM 0 comments
Labels: Al Gore, American Clean Energy and Security Act, clean energy and climate legislation, repower america, solar, solar power

Vote Solar: Leading the Solar Tribe

VoteSolarIt’s time to change our culture, time to change our strategies, time to change our thinking about solar power. There are so many ways that we, as a culture, can change the way we think about solar power. In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to dive into as many new ideas as I can. Your feedback is very important. We are all in this together. The best thing that has happened in blogging about the solar tribe, is meeting new friends and colleagues who are each thinking along the same lines. Please feel free to shoot me your questions and ideas. My email is roy@whole-solar.com

In the last blog, I described the how Berkeley is leading the way in the municipal space, but there are other communities who are attempting to break new ground in this area. We can’t have a conversation about the emerging Solar Tribe efforts in the municipal space without talking about a non-profit organization known as the Vote Solar Initiative . Vote Solar’s website is a virtual hub of information about the status of these various municipal programs. Vote Solar’s mission is to stop global warming, foster economic development and increase energy independence by bringing solar energy into the mainstream. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Put in my own words, Vote Solar is part of our Solar Tribe, having earned one of the lead positions.

Working closely with other organizations, such as Solarnation, Vote Solar “is working at the state level to implement the necessary policies to build robust solar markets — and pave the way for a transition to a renewable energy economy.” In order to do this, they stay close to solar projects being developed and assist in identifying and removing roadblocks that stand in the way of the wide-scale adoption of solar energy.

Vote Solar has a great website, where you can become a member and financially support their vital work. One of the features of their site is that you can track the progress of various state and municipal solar projects. I’d like to briefly tell you about some of them.

There is no shortage of project in the San Francisco Bay area, In addition to Berkeley, Marin, San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond have all been getting in on the act and staking out success in their respective programs. Back 2001, San Francisco approved a $100 million bond initiative calling for the city to borrow money for solar panels and energy efficiency measures for public buildings. The money that would have gone to buy electricity from power plants instead goes to pay down the debt. Just last week, the City authorized a 10-year solar incentive program for city residents and businesses. Under the program, which is called GoSolarSF, the city offers incentives ranging from $3,000-6,000 for residential installations and up to $10,000 for commercial installations. Program funding is generated by revenues from public power generation sales. In Oakland, Vote Solar worked with the city council too prepare a request for proposal to purchase a megawatt of solar energy (Vote Solar has made available a lot of valuable resource material that other cities can use and not have to “reinvent the wheel”).

This last March, Richmond City Council voted unanimously to support a goal of developing 5 megawatts of solar photovoltaics on municipal, commercial and residential buildings by 2010. In Marin, city officials put solar panel systems on their own buildings and have identified local business owners with solar-friendly roof-space, and are educating them about the benefits of solar. And that’s just the Bay area!

San Diego, New Mexico, Hawaii and the California State university system each have initiatives calling for the installation of solar power. The point to all of this is that it is up to each one of us to become aware of the efforts and initiatives going on in our communities, use the resources available to the tribe and take the actions to push the progress forward. Solar makes sense in so many different ways and there is an army of us available to help in the push.

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Posted by solaroy at 7:20 AM 0 comments
Labels: Marin, Oakland, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco, solar, solar 101, solar power, Solarnation, Vote Solar Initiative

Berkeley FIRST: Leading the Way to Solar Power Ubiquity

When we’re having a conversation about the goal of solar power ubiquity, the conversation HAS to be about innovations. It’s a conversation that must include ideas previously considered outside-the-box. I have a dear friend who is always reminding me, “to get to a place we’ve never been before, we have to go a way we’ve never gone before.” The city of Berkeley is pioneering a new approach to municipal financing that has become known as “Berkeley FIRST.” It’s such a simple idea. It makes me wonder two things: “why did it take so long for someone to think of it?” and “why aren’t more municipalities grabbing the idea and making it their own?”

With this program in place, homeowners in Berkeley are able to go solar without paying high upfront costs. No barrier to entry! They pay for the solar panel system through their property taxes. The money to purchase and install the solar panel system comes from bonds, not the city’s operating funds. It’s as clean as a whistle. Viola, a solar powered community!

The long name for this program is the “Berkeley Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology” (if you look closely, you’ll see how they came to “Berkeley FIRST”). Under the terms of the program, property owners can roll the price of a residential solar system installation into a twenty-year increased property tax assessment. Berkeley authorizes bonds to cover the costs of the installations. Both bond holders and property owners participate voluntarily, while the community as a whole has the potential of dramatically increasing the penetration of residential solar systems, thereby removing both the culture and financing barriers discussed in earlier blogs.

This financing innovation is totally outside-the-box. Wide-scale adoption of this model would significantly accelerate our advance toward solar power ubiquity. “Not so fast, Daniel-San” you say? OK, let’s all quickly agree that Berkeley is not your normal, run-of-the-mill community. A few years before, Berkeley voters had adopted a climate change goal and was not progressing at a pace that was fast enough to achieve it. City officials were smart enough to see the same thing that we see everywhere when it comes to solar power, namely, that high up-front costs represented a significant barrier for even the most willing property owner to overcome. As is the case more and more across America, the willingness and awareness was there, but the financial ability was not. So the City officials came up with the idea of issuing taxable municipal bonds which will be reimbursed as the opt-in property owners pay their property tax bills bi-annually over the next twenty years.

Once the City officials had figured out the concept, the politicking (er, “public policy”) began. Suffice to say, there are a lot of details: creation of special improvement districts, new ordinances (for example, to transfer of property tax assessment obligation to new home buyer when property is sold), city council, city staff, bond counsel and financial advisors, to name a few. How exactly they did it is available publicly to any community that wishes to follow there footsteps. And I understand that many are looking at it.

Most important is that it works. The pilot project has been successful, the interest rates work for both home owner and bond holder and the budget has now been expanded. Berkeley has authorized up to $80 million in total bond financing. Here’s the good news: With a few changes to state law, the FIRST model can be adopted by any city. This is where we come in: we need to keep supporting any and all efforts along these lines. There are several other municipal projects in the works that I’ll cover in my next blog. It makes so much sense that this is one of major routes to solar power ubiquity.

The Berkeley FIRST program also shows that there is money available to finance solar power, if the deal is well thought out and properly structured. There are more examples of this point that I’ll be discussing in future blogs.

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Posted by solaroy at 6:11 PM 0 comments
Labels: Berkeley First, solar, solar 101, solar financing, solar panels, solar power

How Do We Change the Way the Culture Thinks of Solar Power?

Last week, a few of us were bouncing ideas back and forth on Twitter. We were talking about the obstacles preventing ubiquity of solar power in both the residential and commercial areas. Lack of financing, of course, came up. So did the issue of different states and municipalities offering incentives, not to mention varying or even non-existent net metering rules. Jeff Wolfe of groSolar tweeted, “Financing and culture are the two biggest hurdles.” I understood and agreed with financing, but I wasn’t sure what he meant by “culture.” Jeff quickly set me straight, “Culture. Getting people to think about energy, or a future — that requires concerted effort. Changing people’s thoughts on what is valuable.” I got it loud and clear.

Jeff is the CEO of groSolar, one of the fastest growing solar companies in America. He has put together a great team of professionals and recently acquired Borrego Solar’s residential operations. In addition to that, Jeff is one of the good guys in the industry. His point-of-view is to be much valued, as he is on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the industry. So when Jeff speaks, I listen. “Changing the Culture” is a pretty big order. How do we do that? What exactly is involved? Let’s try to break it down.

Well, to start with, the regular Joe or Jane on the street just isn’t thinking about energy. They aren’t thinking a whole lot about their future, or the future of their kids. But let’s keep the discussion just about Joe or Jane thinking about there own future. As I mentioned in my earlier blog, three years ago, I was right there with them. Fortunately for me, I got a wake-up call and jumped into action. So how do we wake up Joe and Jane? What does it take to make a cultural change? As Jeff stated, what is needed is “a concerted effort.” We’ve got to change “people’s thoughts on what is valuable.” Many years ago I heard Buckminster Fuller recommend that to bring about change it needed to be an “Each on, teach one” proposition. Hopefully, we can do this by many of us blogging and tweeting. I’m always in search of other blogs that further this cause and I have listed the ones I’ve found elsewhere on this page. Solar Fred has been blogging about how much sense it makes and how easy it is to “go solar.” He has a passion to which I can relate, he’s not on anyone’s payroll and integrity is just as important to him as going solar is. If you know some good blog sites, please shoot me an email at roy@whole-solar.com

Financing needs to be more readily available and easier to access. This is an area that holds great interest for me. I believe there are great investor opportunities to be had in solar in the down-market and I’m personally trying to put together some ideas that will be good to help change the culture. The 1BOG model of bringing community activism into the process to converting community energy to solar at a big purchase discount is definitely going to help change the culture in the communities they reach. The Berkeley First is another idea whose time has come, and more programs along these lines will advance the change in how we think of solar. The Duke Energy model of renting rooftops and installing solar panels has me scratching my head wondering why there are not more utilities following this course. I believe there are people like Mary Shields, and her new company UR Solar Power, who are focused on pushing the possibilities in this arena. All of these separate initiatives will undoubtedly make contributions to the change that is needed…and inevitable.

But for us, right on, let’s stay with the idea of “Each one, Teach on” or as I said in my last blog, “pass it on.” In the process, Joe and Jane will become more fully informed.


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Posted by solaroy at 5:46 PM 1 comments
Labels: 1BOG, Berkeley First, Borrego Solar, Buckminster Fuller, Duke Energy, groSolar, Jeff Wolfe, Mary Shields, PPA, solar, solar 101, solar fred, Solar lease, solar panels, solar power, UR Solar Power

Gathering of the Tribe


Do you feel it? It is a feeling that starts in each one of us. It’s a feeling of urgency; a feeling of expectancy; a feeling of excitement. Many of us who

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seem to be very like-minded are finding one another on the Internet through social networking or in the business community at get-togethers and functions. We are a part of the inevitable change of our times. The solar power industry has been around for a long time, as have some of those people being drawn together. Solar has always been “cool,” but it’s also been mostly impractical, unaffordable or just plain too technical — at least, that’s the way it’s been for me until the last three years. For me, it started with a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth in late 2006.

My initial response after viewing An Inconvenient Truth was more about Al Gore and the 2000 Presidential election. I was haunted with the thought of how much different the world would be today if the Supreme Court had gone the other way. Today I believe that sometimes things must fall apart before they can fall together. Anyway, after viewing An Inconvenient Truth, my pathway to solar began by passionately working to convince Al Gore to again run for President. I was one of the hundreds of thousands of “Goristas” carrying the Draft Gore banner though 2007. Then, after the call came from Gore’s office asking that we stop, I shifted my passion to the Biden campaign and then to the Obama campaign. In October 2008, with the election assured, I attended the solar tradeshow in San Diego.

Wow. Walking the aisles of the solar show took me back to some of the Internet tradeshows I attended more than a decade before. The aisles were jammed and there was a palpable air of confidence among the exhibitors. Speaking with the folks who were putting on the event, I found that they had turned away nearly 500 exhibitors, having only contracted for space for about 425 exhibitors. I immediately realized that my passion for solar had been awakened at the same time I got swept up in the Presidential campaign. I was excited to have found a new channel for my passion.

Since then, I am encountering others who have a similar passion for solar. There is a solar tribe. There’s Ken Oatman who was previously involved in the distribution industry and started up a top-notch solar installation business in the Boulder-Denver area. He’s embracing microinverters as the best way to go in designing residential solar solutions. Then there’s Tor Valenza, who many will know as “Solar Fred.” Tor has been in the industry for nearly 30 years and is one of the leaders of our tribe. I totally relate to the 1BOG people, who, like me, were walking neighborhoods for Obama. Today, they are walking neighborhoods for solar power. And then there is my good friend Michael Powers and his partner Kent Harle. They are the founders of one of the best solar installation firms in California, Stellar Solar and the two of them demonstrate to me constantly that solar power is a bi-partisan proposition that we all can agree on. This is but a small cross-section of the solar tribe. Some of our tribe have been here awhile. Some are just arriving. We are coming together at Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and in our respective communities, just to name a few examples.

Each of us plays a different role – installer, wholesaler, consultant, financier – but together we all have the same job to do: to change the way the world thinks about solar. Coming from the Internet/software development industry, I like to say, “We need to put a better GUI on solar power.” Solar needs a better user interface. I believe it is the mission of our tribe to do this. Within our circles, we are just “preaching to the choir.” Together as a choir, we need to get the word into mainstream and change the paradigm from that of purchasing solar panels to purchasing solar power. Together we need to make acquiring solar power as easy as signing up for cable and DirectTV. Together we need to tear down the walls preventing access to solar power. We must tear the walls all the way down.

So the tribe is being called. Many have heard the call. It’s about cooperation, not competition. It’s about a movement where we can express our passion and earn a living along the way. So, when you see someone’s blog or Tweet or an article that forwards our message or stimulates more creative thinking, pass it on. Together, let’s make history.

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Labels: 1BOG, good day solar, green, Ken Oatman, Kent Harle, Michael Powers, Roy Gayhart, solar, solar 101, solar fred, solar panels, solar power, stellar solar, Tor Valenza, whole-solar, wholesolar