AN INTERVIEW WITH ONEROOF ENERGY: SHOUT OUT FOR SOLAR

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Reprinted with permission; originally published at http://www.revivinggaia.com/green-blogs/area/usa/san-diego/an-interview-with-oneroof-energy-shout-out-for-solar/

By Roy L. Hales

January 23, 2014 (San Diego)--The U.S. has good reason to “Shout Out For Solar” when the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) celebrates its 40th anniversary on January 24.

While costs of solar panels have been dropping, companies have been streamlining the sales-to-installation process and this increased efficiency has resulted in lower prices. The explosive growth of rooftop solar has enabled the U.S. to surpass Germany in cumulative new PV installations in 2014, according to a study by Greentech Media Research.

The big story for 2014, however, is how customers using internet and e-commerce platforms will take control of their investments in solar energy. These were among the many topics that Nick Hofer, the VP of Sales and Marketing for OneRoof Energy, recently discussed with Reviving Gaia. 

“The average American’s principal investment is in his home,” Hofer said. “Homeowners will continue to seek out options that are both more efficient and reduce costs within their home. The development of internet and e-commerce platforms both lowers installations costs on the backend, allows homeowners to control the sales process, and gives them a clearer picture of how their system is performing once it is installed.”     

It will allow customers “to sell to themselves,” quipped Morgan Lee, in a recent U-T San Diego column. 

“It allows a homeowner to design what they want to buy, nothing more, nothing less,” OneRoof Energy CEO David Field told U-T San Diego. “It increases transparency and drives down costs, much like when Dell Computer came to market.”

Lee described OneRoof Energy as a “rooftop-solar financing upstart” and picked Field as one of the nine San Diegan businessmen to watch in 2014.

More than 70 percent of OneRoof Energy’s California customers prefer to lease, rather than own, their solar installations. They do not have to make a down payment and their energy bill is less what they used to pay the utility company. As electricity prices continue to rise, the difference will grow even larger.

No wonder a recent column in the Motley Fool states the solar sector is expected to grow 35 percent and “be the fastest growing renewable energy source in 2014.” 

Few could have predicted that when the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) was founded on January 24, 1974. There were reputedly six homes powered by solar energy, in all of North America, by the end of that year. The U.S. solar industry’s first boom was born out of the oil embargo and energy crises of the 1970‘s. When oil prices came down, so did interest in solar energy.

Other nations continued to develop the technology. Japan was the first nation to set up a subsidy program. By 2004, it was leading the world as the first country to break through 1 GW of cumulative solar PV. Germany introduced the first large scale feed-in tariff system that year.

Meanwhile, in the United States, SEIA held the first Solar Power Conference.

The rebirth of American enthusiasm for solar energy is largely tied to the economic meltdown of 2008. That was the year that SEIA led industry efforts to shape the government’s 30 percent solar tax credit and remove a $2,000 cap for residential systems. At a time when most industries were floundering, the solar industry grew from a $3.6 billion market in 2009 to $6 billion in 2010.

That was when OneRoof Energy was founded in San Diego, but the company really took off after they started leasing systems to homeowners in 2012. By the end of that year, the company had tripled in size and opened offices in Arizona and Hawaii with plans to open in New York and Massachusetts in the near future.

SEIA has been working to ensure the solar industry’s growth. One of their most recent victories was to persuade the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to cut down the number of time-consuming studies needed for solar projects that meet certain technical standards (One of the factors that spurred Germany’s rapid development was the lack of red tape!). 

The cost of a solar panel has dropped 60 percent since 2011, and installation costs have dropped 16 percent in California last year alone. There are currently 120,000 people working in the solar industry and, according to SEIA, a new rooftop system was installed every four minutes in 2013.

The explosive growth of rooftop solar has involved some friction with America’s investor-owned utilities. Some of the friction grew out of the lack of standardized contracts. SEIA defended its members in several states and was one of the parties that helped forge an agreement that was acceptable to all parties in California (bill AB 327).    

“The adversarial approach does not accomplish much,” said Hofer. “Ultimately, we all have to come together and find a solution that will work for everyone.”

In a recent Breaking Energy article, Field wrote about California’s approval of a program that will benefit utilities, solar companies and a category of investors that have previously been barred from the market. Up to 600 MW can be produced by utility-scale community projects. Renters, business owners who lease their offices and homeowner associations can now purchase up to 100 percent renewable electricity.

Instead of fighting the development, over the past six months some utilities have been investing in leasing companies like OneRoof Energy.

The U.S. now has 13 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, enough to power two million homes, and is believed to have surpassed Germany’s record for installed systems. 

“We will go past them quickly,” Hofer said. “The solar industry has evolved in a significant way over the past 40 years. This is still an immature industry, but it is rapidly expanding. Homeowner awareness, utilizing e-commerce platforms, will be the next stage of that growth as awareness grows.”

The United States has good reason to shout out for the development of solar. It has become a key component of the national economy.