The U.S. solar industry has experienced massive growth in the past few years, reaching almost 16 GW of new installations in 2016. This was about 60 kW for each of our 260,000 workers. But this year, the U.S. market is expected to shrink. Although many of us are disappointed about President Trump’s actions on the Paris agreement and worried about his future actions on the Suniva trade case, we have to take more responsibility for the success of our industry – more doing, less complaining.
Trump’s actions on Paris don’t really impact the solar industry, which will continue to sell robustly in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, state-level policy has a much bigger impact, and Trump’s announcement has led many states and cities to pledge to accelerate goals to install more renewable energy.
What we need is more “selling.” The solar industry enjoys one of the largest sales forces in the Advanced Energy Economy. Since Trump’s Paris decision, Climate Mayors have adopted the Paris agreement goals for their cities, a coalition of governors has formed the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance, and many colleges and universities have also stepped up – but most have barely scratched the surface on rooftop, parking and ground-mounted solar.
Our sales force has to do more to move beyond the traditional residential and utility-scale efforts we have been chasing and add distributed solar for these partners. Further, there are only 25,000 cities and towns in the U.S., and pretty much every one of them can adopt much more solar faster.
Analysts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have used improved data analysis methods to estimate a technical potential of 1,118 GW of capacity and 1,432 TWh of annual energy generation on rooftops across the U.S. – equivalent to 39% of the nation’s electricity sales.
Almost all of these buildings could save a minimum of 10% on day one using “no money-down financing” solutions that are prevalent these days. Furthermore, most other buildings without rooftop potential have adjoining parking lots and other space that can host solar power systems. It is time for the solar industry to work to grow our presence and not fight over the same 720+ FICO score residential customers and 5+ MW utility-scale projects.
What’s holding us back is a lack of focus on credit analysis and soft-cost processing innovation, not a lack of opportunity. Solar does not keep progressing to more rooftops and fields without people pushing their local politicians for more deals and their financing partners for more leeway to do smaller and more difficult deals. There is always a roof or field that needs solar and a mandate that needs reaching.
So, contact people within your sphere of influence. Each of us can grow the solar industry one rooftop or field site at a time. With just 60 kW of solar installed per solar employee in the U.S. last year, it feels like we need to be just a little more loud about our industry. Every relative, friend and classmate should be hit up for solar on their rooftop. I am sure that all of the people signing these pledges to do more for renewables will get distracted with other priorities unless our industry holds their feet to the fire. Again, it is time for more doing and less complaining.
Jigar Shah is the co-founder and president of Generate Capital.