California and Hawaii have long been known for their rooftop solar markets, but in much of the rest of the US, rooftop solar arrays are still somewhat of a rare sight. So when I attended the recent NC Clean Tech Summit, I was surprised by one of the exhibitors. So I asked one of the organizers:
"What are Sungevity doing here? Solar leasing isn't allowed in North Carolina."
As has been widely publicized by now, I wasn't seeing things: Sungevity has indeed started selling rooftop solar in North Carolina, working with local hardware retail giant Lowes (with whom it has partnered with in the past) to market its products , and local installer Yes! Solar Solutions to install them.
This move is notable for two reasons:
1) Sungevity is better known for its solar leasing model, but as PV pricing comes down, and as access to credit becomes easier, new financing options are emerging that allow home owners to own their own array—sometimes with zero money down—and potentially still start saving from day one, once savings on their electricity bill are taken into account.
2) Sungevity is the first national solar company to start selling in North Carolina. Despite a booming utility-scale solar industry, rooftop solar has been a rare sight in this state. This may be a sign of new markets opening up to decentralized solar.
I got up with Sungevity co-founder Alec Guettel to find out more. I asked him why North Carolina, and why now:
"North Carolina is one of the top states in the country for solar, but all the action has been on the utility scale. There hasn’t been a financing solution that works for solar. So we partnered with Mosaic to design a financing solution specifically for North Carolina homeowners."
How is the financing different from what's been available so far?
"Our sweet spot is when we can come into a market and offer homeowners solar at zero money down, and have the payments be close to or less than you'd be paying on your electricity bill. When we started out, that was often achieved through leasing—but there are now an increasing number of options for people who want to own their own system. Mosaic's product allows us to offer this kind of competitive financing, and to take advantage of the state and federal tax credits. Obviously the specifics will vary with each installation, but we're confident that this will be an attractive option for many North Carolina homes."
What's the biggest challenge for a state where there hasn't, so far, been a lot of rooftop solar?
"By far our biggest challenge is education. But we have great partnerships with trusted brands like Lowes and Sierra Club, which help us to raise awareness of how homeowners can save. And as we've seen in previous markets, once homeowners start to install solar, it sells itself—spreading from neighborhood-to-neighborhood as people talk about their experiences and share their enthusiasm."
Presumably there are also business advantages in diversifying your markets?
Yes, as we grow our presence in more states—and internationally too—we're less vulnerable to political changes to state incentives, for example. But we're confident in the medium- to long-term that we'll see a huge growth in decentralized and rooftop solar, both in North Carolina and across the entire world.
Interestingly, in other news, SolarCity has announced it is working with local utility MP2 Energy to bring "full net metering" to Texas for the first time, meaning homeowners will be able to buy solar at less than their current utility power bills even without local incentives.
And in yet more news, solar system pricing in the US dropped 9% in 2014 alone.
Could it be that rooftop solar is about to take off in a lot more states than we might previously have imagined? Sadly, my own home will have to wait. Sungevity's fast and efficient iQuote process pretty quickly figured out that I have too many trees in my backyard. (Darned trees.)
Anyhow, here's a little background on Sungevity and what they're all about.