Innovator Update: Solar is 100,000 strong and growing stronger!

By Danny Kennedy, Planet Forward's Innovator of the Year and Founder of Sungevity

At the manufacturing end of the value chain there has been some fallout from the rapid decrease in prices for photovoltaics. That is why companies like Solyndra have failed – they could not compete with the standard photovoltaic technology when it’s price has fallen more than 50% in 2 years. Contrary to some of the media circus’ coverage, solar is doing great but this is the first year where we’ve really seen the effect of oversupply in the industry.

The flip side of this is that, the buyer or the off-takers of these products are in the driving seat – PV is becoming cheaper while becoming more powerful, kind of like computer chips did. That is good news for people and the planet, because it means these products and the solar electricity that comes out of them are ever more affordable and commonplace.

Lower prices are also why we’re growing so fast and creating ten times more jobs than the general economy. And we’re only going to continue on this trajectory. The bottom line is we’re producing electricity cheaper than coal-fired power so our uptake is accelerating. Consider a coal-fired power plant being planned today - by the time it’s built and permitted and running five to eight years from now, it’s juice is going to be more expensive to a residential customer than what solar will provide in five to eight years from now.

This is a function of grid electricity price going up and solar electricity price coming down.

What is more, you can now pay for the electricity coming out of our rooftop power plants as we go. Third-party financing such as leases and power purchase agreements are one of the greatest innovations in the industry in the past five years, in that they have made it affordable to go solar. Instead of the old way of paying up-front for electricity for 20 years, we now install the system on your home for no deposit, and bill you for it as you use it.

Third party financing has proven its worth as a new business model. More than 50 percent of systems sold in the last quarter were third-party financed. The customer has spoken. In Sungevity’s case, even if our customers have the cash and do the math and work out that they may be marginally ahead if they buy it, they prefer the lease because a lease on a solar system takes into account the total cost of ownership. It is a great time to be going solar in America!

So, don’t believe the hype –

  • The US solar industry now employs 100,000 people, which is more than the coal mining industry or US steel production.
  • According to a new Jobs Census by the Solar Foundation, ours was one of the fastest growing industries adding 7 percent of jobs in the past 12 months
  • This is compared to the fossil fuel-based electricity generation industry, which lost 2 percent of their jobs and the broader economy that flat-lined.
  • These are mostly jobs after the factory gate in sales, design, finance and installation that cannot be offshored and are good quality, well paid jobs.
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