GreenTech: Residential Solar

Allow us to paint you a picture… a picture of a you, shopping for a new home in the perfect neighborhood, a decade from now. You have it narrowed down to two places, for two very different reasons. The first, the hypothetical neighborhood we recently discussed in our article about other alternative green technologies. This place you love because its community power source is totally independent, and it has the perfect tiny homes… the other, a refurbish and solar rooftop retrofit.

In this second possibility, maybe you could fit these homes into the “upcycled” or “circular economy” category, but on the scale of an entire local neighborhood. The homes have been reclaimed, refurbished, and fitted with solar. This reimagining of the traditional neighborhood takes spaces that are going unused, retrofits them with solar, and prepares them for use as old things made new again. This neighborhood isn’t necessarily special just because of solar, but because of what it represents: problems solved, people served.

A Moment In The Sun

The all-solar neighborhood is an absolutely plausible scenario because rooftop residential solar is going mainstream. It isn’t just for big, fancy houses anymore. Rather, rooftop solar will be an incredibly popular, fairly normal choice for powering homes of the future. It’s like the satellite dish used to be… we remember when satellite was a novel idea, and if you had one the size of a car in your back yard, it was almost a status symbol. Gradually, everyone got one. That’s how solar is right now.

According to studies, gradual progress of the expansion of rooftop solar has helped it get pushed into the mainstream… and make it more accessible, and it’s becoming more so each and every day. Just so you know we’re not pulling ideas out of thin air, the recently published results of a long-term study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory indicate that the median income for households with rooftop solar is falling while the percentage of owner-occupied, single-family houses with rooftop solar is rising.

We expect to see this trend continue, especially with the Biden administration’s commitment to reaching energy and environmental goals, as well as reductions in the costs of solar systems and the growth of programs to help people with low and moderate incomes afford the technology. Our administration has made a commitment to solar and clean energy, and so have many states.

California agencies, for instance, are saying that the state will need to triple rooftop solar capacity within the next two decades to meet a 100% carbon-free electricity target by 2045. Now… we understand that the installation, support for, and regulation of rooftop solar is still being hammered out. We assert that it doesn’t change the long-term trajectory of the technology that we’re anticipating. Solar will be for everyone.

How It Works

Really quick, let’s make sure we know what it is, and what’s great about it. First, solar is usually an “install once, enjoy for years” kind of thing, having minimal long-term maintenance costs. Usually, unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re going to want installers to take care of that heavy lifting for you. Again, much like getting a dish, the installers put it in, do a “101” with you on operations, and then you enjoy the benefits. As far as what the panels actually are and how they work, it’s just a little bit of science.

Basically, the sunlight hitting the panel gets the electrons inside it really excited, creating a flow of electricity. Then, that electricity is sent to the system’s solar inverter to be converted into usable electricity. We sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the solar jargon, and how complicated it can get. Under the hood, though, all any solar panel is ultimately doing is getting some electrons really hot and excited to create electricity.

Increasingly, we’re seeing companies in this space pop up… and work hard to outcompete one another for their place in the hierarchy. Some are further ahead than others, like SolarEdge (SEDG). Established in 2006, SolarEdge helped advance the way power is harvested and managed in solar panels. Their system maximizes power generation and lowers the cost of energy produced by the system. Retrofitted systems like the one SolarEdge offers is exactly the type of unit we can imagine in our neighborhood of the future.

Another is Sunrun (RUN), where they firmly believe America’s energy future starts at home. Sunrun’s system integrates solar, home battery storage, and electrification into a smart solution for powering the home. What we really like about Sunrun is that the company is passionate about helping bring solar to average folks. Founded in 2007, the company knew they had to figure out a way to bring more affordable, clean energy to the people.

To do that, they came up with solar leasing and what they call Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). It allows customers to choose the option that works best for them… they can either pay a fixed monthly “rent” to use the system or utilize a PPA and pay a fixed price per kWh for power generated. This means that solar is opened up to a much broader market, and it can be done with no money down, which is pretty much the definition of accessible. As long as you can budget, you can have rooftop solar.

I love RUN. It’s one of my favorite opportunities as we approach the new year. And more and more, people are looking for simpler, more reliable, cleaner energy. Luckily, players in this space are more than happy to handle installation, maintenance, monitoring, and insurance for these systems, and they are becoming more accessible, which we love. We can imagine a future with neighborhoods with cheap, clean, rooftop solar… and we hope you’ll continue to come back and imagine with us next week. See you then!