Silicon Valley has long been known for its technology innovations, from computer chips to PCs to the web. Today, Silicon Valley is increasingly focused on solar energy. But while there are many very exciting solar technology innovations coming out of the valley, it may be that Silicon Valley’s greatest contribution to the growth of the solar energy industry comes not from technology but from new ways of selling solar to consumers.
Given Silicon Valley’s long history of innovation, it is no coincidence that Burnham Nationwide’s solar services subsidiary, Burnham Energy, is based in Silicon Valley. Burnham Energy had a booth at this year’s Solar Power International conference, the largest solar industry event in North America, and I was able to break away from our booth for a few minutes to catch a conference session that showcased a few of the business models that are revolutionizing the delivery of solar energy.
The session included a presentation from Sungevity, a Berkeley based company that is developing innovative web-based solar delivery solutions. Sungevity Co-Founder Danny Kennedy creatively illustrated the point that broad adoption of solar will take place only when the industry stops trying to sell technology and starts selling something people can relate to. As he so aptly put it, we need to stop trying to educate every consumer about kilowatt hours and inverters, and focus on the fact that solar energy can make your beer cold for less money. I’ll raise a pint to that!
Lynn Jurich, President of SunRun, offered another exciting new business model for solar delivery. SunRun installs their own solar systems on residential rooftops, and sells the power produced by those systems back to the homeowner for less money than they currently pay for electricity. This model saves homeowners money from day one, and most importantly does not require a significant capital investment at the front end. Offering a solution that allows people to “go green” in these cash-starved times is just one reason SunRun is one of the fastest growing companies in the solar industry.
The session also featured a presentation by One Block Off the Grid (1BOG) Co-Founder Dave Llorens. 1BOG uses social networking and other communications technologies to identify, organize and coordinate communities that wish to go solar. These group buys allow all the participants to receive large-scale discounts on their individual residential solar project. And, it provides a platform for people to communicate with their neighbors, a great residual benefit of this innovative model.
While each of these companies is different, what unites them is the fact that none of them actually install solar panels. Instead, they find the best installers in each new region and partner with them to deliver solar projects to their customers. These new models hold the potential for a significant expansion in the number of residential solar installations throughout the country. As part of a company that provides services to this sector, I look forward to seeing how these companies grow, and I can’t wait to see what other new business models come out of Silicon Valley in the future.