Solar is certainly "in" all across the United States. Many organizations are looking for ways to implement it for a host of reasons: to embrace the "green" movement, be more energy independent, to save money or even just for marketing purposes. Regardless of the driving force behind the interest in solar, cost continues to be an obstacle.
Despite the fact that we are talking about a 50-plus year old technology, solar adoption in the U.S. is almost negligible. The cost of components and overall system cost has dropped dramatically, but still companies are slow to embrace the power of the sun. This is largely because most companies are either unable or unwilling to make the necessary investment – an investment, by the way, that "pays off" in many ways on and off the balance sheet. No matter how "green" our ambitions may be, it is difficult to make a strong case for going green when doing so means financial statements turn red.
And that is why it is so important that more companies recognize that a creative approach to solar finance is the most powerful tool we can use to drive widespread adoption of solar. We are in the process of becoming solar power providers – not simply installers. The model of selling power through so called "Power Purchase Agreements" or "PPAs" is a tried and true one that has been used across a range of power-related industries globally. With the right credit-worthy partner, solar is suddenly within reach for many entities that are unable or unwilling to make any upfront investment. Under a PPA, our partners commit to purchasing power at an agreed upon rate for 20 or so years. They get solar. They get instant savings. They commit to "going green" in a meaningful, visible way. And, best of all, they bear no upfront cost.
Transitions are difficult in any industry, and it is no different in the context of the U.S. solar market. We need more innovation. Our success will be driven by more entrepreneurial thinking to transcend our reliance on the commoditized, fossil fuel-driven utility market. Here are some examples:
- Think like a partner, not a vendor: The nuts and bolts of a solar power system installation are important, but not nearly as important as it is to understand what motivates your partners. We are talking about long-term relationships that leverage proven technology. Talk with the partner about what they need from you to make solar work for them – be it enhanced savings, more prominent visual statements on their property or perhaps just more data to support the solar initiative internally.
- Create an ecosystem: Don’t try to be all things to all stakeholders. Focus on what your company does best and surround yourself with the very best suppliers and service providers who share your vision and approach.
- Look beyond the electricity bill: A conversation about solar often begins with projected savings. But understanding and appreciating the impact solar can have goes far beyond dollars and cents. Think broadly about the environmental, economic and social impact of the solar program. The utility bill is just the beginning.
Growing solar adoption requires a new game plan. All the grants and subsidies in the world won’t make for a sustainable market. We need focused, competent entrepreneurs to execute and ensure the solar industry itself is sustainable in the US.