Podcast 050: Andrew Birch – Can cutting red tape lower the cost of residential solar?

Solar panels by themselves are just 10% of the cost of a residential solar system, yet US buyers are paying significantly more than homeowners in other parts of the world.  Why is this? The answer is “soft costs” — the design, permitting, and sales costs associated with system installation in the US.  And, if this leading architect of the modern clean energy era has his way, we will see big cost savings in the near future.  Listen in as Andrew “Birchy” Birch, co-founder and CEO of Open Solar, unfolds his solution to reducing some of the most unnecessary costs of going solar.

I think, the opportunity for solar professionals and for mankind today is to come in and solve for that last mile, to solve for the things that we’ve solved in other industries that aren’t really so much rocket science


It has to be one of the great economic opportunities for American small businesses.


It’s not just lowering the cost of energy for the whole, it’s also shifting what you are paying into this hyper-productive economically generative, tax generative, local economy


In Australia today, there is over 20% penetration. So over one in five homes in Australia has a solar system today. If you go solar in Australia, you pay $1.10, $1.21 per watt. And you get your system within, one to three weeks, it’s really as fast as the installers prepared to drive out and install it. Where as you compare to the States, you’re paying probably, three to four dollars a watt, we’re averaging I think $3.40 a watt right now, for the exact same solar panels, and it can take two to three months on average to get that system. 

Andrew “Birchy” Birch, CEO of Open Solar

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Transcript

Bill Nussey:
Hello, and welcome to 2021. I’m really excited to roll out today’s podcasts one of the first of the new year. And I think one of the most spot-on guests we’ve ever had when it comes to making local energy affordable and widespread for everybody. And of course, I always want to thank our audience, all of you and my friends and colleagues and those of you who listen in for sharing your time with us. This is a really important topic and I know you’ve got a lot of stuff on your plate. So we really appreciate you, always encourage your feedback and ideas on how we can make these better.

Bill Nussey:
So today’s guest, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he is one of the architects of the modern local energy industry. He has had an amazing career, which we’re going to hear about that led him to be in one of the most pivotal positions I’m aware of, to help accelerate the adoption and the price declines of local renewable energy. One of the most iconic things he’s done prior to his current set of projects and companies was to help found and grow a company called Sungevity. If you’ve been in the industry, you know they’re one of the giants that built the early rooftop solar and small scale solar industry.

Bill Nussey:
If you’re new to the business, you haven’t heard of it, we’re going to hear about it. But Sungevity was one of the companies that laid out the pathway that’s ultimately led to millions and millions of US homes and many more millions around the world, having solar on the roof. So please, welcome today Birchy.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Hi, thanks very much, Bill, good to be chatting.

Bill Nussey:
So we’d love to start with the personal stuff, because I think that helps me and everybody get a sense of what makes you tick. So I noticed when I first met you, you have this accent and that doesn’t sound like you grew up in Omaha. So I’ve learned since that you grew up in Scotland, and you earned a degree from the University of St. Andrews in physics, which is pretty cool. And I also learned that St. Andrews is what some people call the ancients, one of the oldest schools in the UK, established in 1413, which makes Harvard look like a baby and has some pretty notable alumnus besides yourself, including Prince William and Princess Kate, 16th century physicist and mathematician John Napier. And by the way, thank you Mr. Napier, for logarithms and the use of the decimal. So let’s just start with that. What’s it like to go to a school that’s 600 years old?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So, I was born and raised in Scotland and I joke that my three Californian daughters were born in the middle of summer in the height of the California sun season didn’t see rain for four months, I was born in the Highlands of Scotland, and didn’t see the sun for four months from my February birthday. So an unusual study point for a solar geek. But yes, St. Andrews was fun and a great old as you say, university and I’ve always been, since I was really young, a proper physics geek, always trying to figure out how the world works and getting confused and trying to solve the odd problem.

Bill Nussey:
So after studying engineering and physics, you started your career in investment banking, I’m kind of interested to know how, what prompted the shift into investment banking? And how did you go from doing a deep dive in physics into the world of finance?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So the kind of educational piece was physics, but I was always very involved and excited about the environment that… I used to get called Captain Planet back in school.

Bill Nussey:
Nice.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
And so I was trying to come out of college, I was trying to figure out how I apply kind of the mathematical physical background training to a job that could do something meaningful in the environment. And I did an internship in the City of London, when I was still at school, with one of the really early kind of finding businesses that is Socially Responsible Investment, which has been through many different iterations of names, but responsible investing and try to figure out if that could be a path that can have an impact by directing dollars to businesses do well, as well as make money.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So that kind of took me into banking and I did that for five or six years and met some great businesses, including one of the really early solar companies AstroPower out of Delaware. And I remember just seeing that cost chart I may still remember sitting in their offices in the late 90s, looking at the cost curve of solar panels and thinking, “Wow, if that continues, that’s going to be huge.” So I promptly quit my job. And I left the 45th floor, Canary Wharf tower in London and a couple of weeks later, I was sitting in the back of a university, lecture hall in Sydney, learning about photovoltaic.

Bill Nussey:
So I love the inspiration for combining your education and your profession, and how that steered you into solar. So tell us a little bit about your solar awakening as your career progressed from that point?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yes. I mean, the stuff that all of us, I think we have our emotional drivers and rational drivers. And my brother in law is off doing the second tour of Iraq at the time, and my aunt was teaching English in Mozambique, and there are all these things going on. And I’m sitting in an investment bank wondering what my life purpose is, when I discovered the sort of financial opportunity of what solar was going to do to the energy industry, and saw the math and really kind of internalized what the trajectory towards dollar a watt solar LED light from $10 or what we were at the time.

Bill Nussey:
Wow $10 a watt that was a long time ago.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
The school back when I left the banking thing and went to USW, University of New South Wales, where some of the leading, photovoltaic scientists have come from. The school book was the extraordinary growth of solar from, 20 megawatts globally to 6070 megawatts, and I wasn’t so long ago, I had hair but it was only 20 odd years ago. So we’ve seen since then, obviously, I think this massive hardware revolution, where you’ve seen the cost fall to, coming out of this factory, get it 2025 cents, or what, and the scale of the industry is extraordinary north of 100 gigawatts and growing and obviously, what we’re going to talk about today is how you make that continue to grow for the next 20 years, so that we still have a planet to live on.

Bill Nussey:
Well, I love that insight into your family, I think you were dangerously close to being the underachiever of that crowd. Thankful you got out of big finance and went on to change the world to renewable energy. So a lot of folks who have been in the industry know you well, and the company that you helped create and build called Sungevity was really one of the drivers of growth in the rooftop solar industry for many, many years. So tell us a little bit about how you guys came together and what you were trying to do with Sungevity?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yes, so the Genesis was really so worth mentioning, I did a few years at BP solar, having left the postgraduate course. And in that it became really clear to me that there was a lot of capital coming into upstream. But given the trajectory of panel pricing, that the percentage of the cost for a consumer of energy to install solar, was going to shift massively to non hardware. So if you look at the math that we mentioned, $10 a watt, you’d be charging a customer the panel’s with 10 bucks, you probably charged him $12 of what for that system. Whereas today in America, the solar panel probably represents about 10% of the cost of what a customer pays for solar.

Bill Nussey:
10%? It’s amazing. I mean, it’s a testament how far the prices have come down. But it’s frightening to think about what are those other 90%? What else is there?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, exactly. So I think, the opportunity for mankind and for solar professionals today is to come in and solve for that last mile, to solve for the things that we’ve solved in other industries that aren’t really so much rocket science and that don’t have, you know, the requirement of massive R&D breakthroughs, or the kind of bet the farm Hail Mary pass on a new type of panel. Like if we have panels that cost the day, as long as we can get them to market very efficiently, then we have an incredibly scalable, incredibly viable solution to low-cost energy, energy access, climate change, pollution, job creation, name your global problems, solar is a very big part of the solution.

Bill Nussey:
Listening to you, I’m struck by two things. One, for somebody who isn’t in this industry, you just described solar solving a large number of the world’s problems at risk sounding like a panacea. But I’m also struck by how absolutely true it is. And the fact that so many people don’t realize that there’s a lot of forces, a lot of inertia, keeping solar from being even more widely adopted. And those are all problems that we are going to solve that you’re solving and this fantastic, almost panacea, like solutions actually going to live up to its position which is what’s really exciting. And frankly, that was a single reason I threw away and otherwise perfectly good career in software and marketing, to get into an industry where, as I like to say, “No one knows who I am or cares what I do. But I’m so excited about it. And the chance to make a difference is extraordinary.”

Bill Nussey:
So I want to hear a lot more about that. So you talked about, let’s talk about the problem of, particularly in the US, the price of this small scale solar systems. And we’re not talking expressly about the giant solar fields, just seeing the highway when you drive by those have their own set of challenges. But where you have focused your work and where I believe in, I think you really are the visionary is we can dramatically cut the cost of the smaller systems, the ones that you think about rooftop solar for homes and residences, but also commercial scale systems, they’re sitting on top of a factory or a big box retailer or something. So can you help me understand, help our listeners understand why is it that US solar, has all these added costs? What are they?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yes, so just to give you the most exciting answers to start with the success you’ve seen in other countries to just show that how it can work and how it should work. So in Australia today, there is over 20% penetration. So over one and five homes Australia has a solar system today. If you go solar in Australia, you pay $1.10, $1.21 per watt. And you get your system within, one to three weeks, it’s really as fast as the installers prepared to drive out and install it. Where as you compare to the States, you’re paying probably, three to four dollars a watt, we’re averaging I think $3.40 a watt right now, for the exact same solar panels, and it can take two to three months than average to get that system. So that is not the physics of a photovoltaic cell that is a function of the market construct.

Bill Nussey:
It’s got to be because Australia’s sunnier that’s got to be the difference, right?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Well I wrote an article two and a half years ago on this in Greentech Media, which created a lot of that sort of this recent move to solve some of it and a lot of people did write on the article that Australia is fundamentally different, the rooms are different, sounds different. But anyone who knows those two countries, the states in Australia, very, very similar thing, we all know that the sunlight differences is a very small differential on the end cost of system energy. And obviously, no data system cost. And the rules are pretty much the same, and the people the same. They don’t… they look and feel like your average American put it that way.

Bill Nussey:
You got really mean to the Australians, come on.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
They’re good bunch to both sides of the Pacific. And the biggest part of the problem is permanent. So in every other country around the world, and Australia included, but also even the more bureaucratic countries, you think, in Europe and parts of Asia, you can sell the system, you register the system with somebody that wants to know what’s been installed where, usually online, and you can install it, there’s always a generated code, we’re able to do that as a professional installer in a professional way. And the result of that is you do it in such an efficient process that you can install it at a $1.10 or $1.21. In the States right now you have 16,000 jurisdictions.

Bill Nussey:
16,000?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yep each have their city level decision making, here interpreting state interpretation of electrical code, each through different years and cycles by people who are kind of not best equipped to interpret code specific to solar systems, because they’re trying to do a bunch of different things in those permanent offices, so completely fair and not their fault. But they’re asked to interpret quite new technologies, standardized technologies, but things they’re not familiar with. So and then do that in 16,000 different cities. So you have completely different processes and lengthy processes that require multiple truck calls, multiple customer interfaces, which is where the cost really lives, because you’re then rescheduling site visits, going through cancellation conversations, rework and redesigns because the interpretations are so different from how you designed it. So all that adds up to a two, three month process and an awful lot of costs, and it just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.

Bill Nussey:
And when we were speaking earlier, you made a great point that as that time progresses, sometimes customers get frustrated. And it even causes a bit of a drop off that you don’t see in other countries, someone decides to get it, they get it starts working, they’re happy, right? But when I had my solar installed, here in my house, I had to have my power company visit twice, before and after. They had to change my meter. They can’t do it remotely. They had to do it physically. And then the county inspector, who I appreciate comes out and makes sure that it’s not going to burn my house down. But he had to come out several times.

Bill Nussey:
And what really struck me was that I had to be home and my solar installer had to send one of their senior people to sit around and wait for the six hour window and the inspector would come by and I know that while I wasn’t paying my solar by the hour, I have no doubt that the overall cost was greatly pushed up because the more, the senior people had to sit around for six hours waiting for the county inspector to come by.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, it’s just crazy. It’s completely unnecessary. You’re talking about standardized technology that the safety risks and quality risks are very low. It’s not done maliciously, it’s done out of a lack of understanding and coordination. And that’s what we need, we need a coordinated national standard process. And obviously, with the existence of things like the internet, heaven forbid, we might make that a digital process, as well as a standardized one. And that’s what we’ve set up this movement to do it.

Bill Nussey:
I’ve heard about this internet thing I wasn’t sure when my power company wanted me to fax back in agreement, I wasn’t sure that they were on the internet. But I’ve heard it helps if you were able to embrace it. So that’s encouraging to know that some places are using it, and just a call. But in all seriousness, just to clarify, in a place like Australia, they have a single national set of regulations, is that the case?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
It’s very similar country, you have state based code and code interpretations. And, but they’ve just got a national standard of managing solar installations. So you register the system and there’s a national process of quality assurance is the national registration of installers. So you don’t have this kind of regional city level, two to three month journey that you have in the States.

Bill Nussey:
Got it. So you have been at the forefront of fighting this battle of beating the Dragon of bureaucracy back for many years with Sungevity. And I love your story, which I’ve read is that you took a couple of years to do a listening tour, and you took all the experiences you had, and then you went to the market, you already knew well, but threw away your assumptions you just listened for a while is what can be done? Where are the problems? What do people need?

Bill Nussey:
And you have come back with something that’s specifically targeted at solving this soft cost problem. It’s called Open Solar. So I’ve heard about open solar, I’ve read about it, even before I met you, I think it’s an incredible business vision, and you’re in a phenomenal place to make it real. So tell us about Open Solar, how did it come into being? And what are you guys doing?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So yes, I think you sit back and look at, from a climate perspective, we all know, solar is really the key solution. Here’s the most scalable solution, we have to 60% of the CO2 problem. And the question is that how does it scale? And we talked about permitting, that’s one of the key barriers just in the US that remains that is a massive opportunity for cost reduction with digitalization and that solar app. So Open Solar is solving for another of these big, tangible operational scaling challenges that the industry has. And the fact is that if we’re going to grow at 30% per year, one of the biggest scaling challenges for local energy is local contractors.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
And how do we tool up and get the existing solar businesses to scale faster, more effectively, more efficiently? And how do we allow them to recruit other contractors and get new contractors into selling solar? And training is a big part of that. But what we realized was that the software that we got good at, we learn all about in Sungevity, which was a B2C company, we learned so much about efficiency gains you can get from that we figured, well, what if we built an app that captured all that technology that removed a lot of the training requirement because it just used software to make things so easy for installers to do? And how about we made that available as a white label app to the long tail of existing solar installers and new businesses trying to get into the solar revolution we’re trying engender. So, that was the genesis of it.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
And Adam Pryor, who’s the real brains behind it, he’s the originator of remote solar design. So he was the first person to figure out how to do remote design using satellite and aerial imagery to figure out the pitch of a route for multiple images and point registration and all that cool stuff back in 2007. So he has led the team that had built that the open source product, which does even more sophisticated new design technologies and 3D toolkit, really fast, efficient, beautiful software technology that also has project management, customer facing proposals, digitization of the whole customer journey. And you can now upload that on opensolar.com, put your logo top left.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
And as a contractor of any size of scale, you can start selling your really high professional solar solutions to customers in your area. And I think that’s one of the big, lovely things about local energy that I got wrong 13 years ago, we figured there’d be two or three big dominant solar companies selling the systems. But actually it’s not just local energy, it’s local employment and local sales that win those trusted relationships that exist within your community, they are the best position to sell solar at scale. And that’s where we think open solar can really kind of switch on the power of software to enable them to do that.

Sam Easterby:
What are the soft costs of a residential solar system? And how much do they cost? Our guest today, Andrew Birch points out in a recent article that here in the land of technology, leadership and free market enterprise, American regulation has more than doubled the cost of solar. And it’s not just in the local permitting area, according to Department of Energy data, soft costs make up 64% of residential solar system costs. Technological innovation, along with increased production, and adoption have brought down the cost of major solar components like panels, inverters, and even the racks that attach some panels to your roof. But non hardware soft costs have not declined as quickly, if at all. Solar soft costs are the expenses associated with customer acquisition, permitting, inspection, interconnection to the electric grid, installation, taxation, and system financing.

Sam Easterby:
We will explore more of these soft costs in upcoming episodes, and why they cost more in the United States. So be sure to like and subscribe to the Freeing Energy podcast and let us know topics you want to learn more about. Now back to Bill in Birchy.

Bill Nussey:
So Open Solar, and beside yourself has some of the other folks from your previous company working on this new mission.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, exactly. The head of technology, Adam, my co founders, he was the originator of that at Sungevity and we’ve got another guy Joe Schultz, who’s based out of California, he was one of the early employees at Sungevity as well.

Bill Nussey:
I used to work at the venture capital from Greylock and one of the signals that we like to see in companies be funded were teams that had been successful together in the past, that’s an unusually potent success factor, because they’ve typically had all the fights they’re going to have or a lot of them. And they’ve already proven they can work together. And they sometimes they fought some battles together so they are even wiser as a team. It’s really exciting to know that you’re coming to this opportunity to win. It’s great.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, I know that feeling. There was chilling, chatting here, right at the beginning of the new year, you come back from your holidays, and you sort of, you people in the radio just gutted that they have to go back to work. And I come in on my Monday morning post holidays, I’m like, “I can speak to Joe and Adam and Mike and the team.” It’s just great good people and all on mission to grow. We’ve got some fantastic people in the industry, how are we going to win?

Bill Nussey:
What’s awesome to see, that team come back together, What I would say is a new chapter in the industry, right? It’s a different time, different challenges. The price points are completely different, the consumer interest is much higher. While the regulatory hurdles remain, the permitting hurdles remain substantial, they are coming down, there’s an acknowledgment. And I even heard there might be some changes coming from Washington DC with a perhaps a bit more open approach to these things, we’ll see. Say that facetiously. One of the things you mentioned when we were talking earlier was about the jobs needed. You said you did a spreadsheet that you calculated 10 million jobs to really put this movement in motion. Is that right?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah. Over the next 10 years, if we’re going to scale the industry at 30% per year, plus or minus a few percent that’s the math. Just real job numbers.

Bill Nussey:
I was reading a piece in PV magazine, that I’m going to link to this article that a couple of folks, I’m sure you know John Brandt and Mike Casey of Tigercomm who was a guest on my podcast a few weeks ago, wrote a great piece and basically drove home the point that it was a bit of an open letter, sort of an open letter to the administration. Listen, if you want to create a lot of jobs, there’s just about no better way to do it than to, it’s not just clean energy, but particularly local energy, the small scale systems, which have the highest need for jobs, and these are great jobs compared to many others and they require training they pay above minimum wage in many cases. And it’s an industry that’s got lots of upside if we recognize it for its jobs capability. So really love that part of your vision.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
The way I see it, as you’re taking billions of dollars of US consumers money, taxpayers money that used to be spent on fossil fuels, and you’re replacing it with labor, like this is a more labor intensive source of energy. But how you do that results in the lower cost energy for the end customer because it’s net cheaper. So it’s not just lowering the cost of energy for the whole, it’s also shifting what you are paying into this hyper productive economically generative, tax generative, local economy. And the beauty for the new administration in the States is they can come in and they can basically address permitting at zero cost to the federal purse as well. You know how many times you get to come along and have the cost of an energy technology at zero cost to you?

Bill Nussey:
Maybe never.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Maybe never. It’s sort of net savings all around with massive job creation is I just cannot believe an intelligent administration would not want that.

Bill Nussey:
But we are talking politicians here. People would say that using intelligence in administration, regardless of the party might be an oxymoron. But I’m with you, man, let’s keep our fingers crossed. And just to wrap up on Open Solar, when we were speaking earlier, I believe you said that, by your calculation, 1% of all the global solar sales that took place last month, were done on this platform, did I get that right?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah.

Bill Nussey:
Wow.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
We’re only a little over a year into it. But we’ve seen extraordinary growth just in the last year. I think I failed to mention it’s free. Our vision was to build the best software and make it absolutely the best sole software in class and make it available to everyone. And the real kind of revolution, I think on the revenue model is that we don’t charge for it. So you can access that no matter how big a contract you are, you get this really great toolkit for free. We get asked how you pay the bills. And so we have relationships with the paddle companies, the battery companies, they actually pay to put their video collateral, images, branding in the proposal. So it’s a lovely service for the installer, so the installer can now embed, video content that describes how the battery works or where the panels are great.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So they don’t have to do that works, it’s good for them. And it’s lovely for the panel company, because they can then say, “This is how our panels great,” and control that kind of brand messaging. So they pay us a small fee and that means we can make it free to the users, which is great.

Bill Nussey:
At the risk of letting you describe that and sound like an absolute visionary, I will point out that death is, first of all, a completely new model, as far as I know, in the solar industry, but it is the entire model for the internet itself. And then most of the services we use the internet are free, and we pay for it by digesting advertisements. I tip my hat to you, because you’re bringing a very modern business model to an industry that is at least five if not 10 years behind in terms of technology and business models.

Bill Nussey:
It’s always surprises people when you see the solar panels, and you think about the science that goes into making these things. And people assume incorrectly, that the solar industry is really advanced as a business. And it’s not, is one of the least advanced businesses I’ve seen in my experience. And so I think that your business, Open Solar or your vision of this business model, spot on for taking us up a generation. So let’s shift gears to your other project, which I was also intrigued when I found out you are working on both of these. Because just starting up super cool company and growing it to 1% of global sales isn’t enough. You’ve also helped put together something that I think the free energy crowd really needs to know about and needs to endorse and needs to get the word out about it. It’s something called SolarAPP.

Bill Nussey:
Solar with a capital letters A, P and P so tell us what SolarAPP is and how did it come into being? And what were you guys thinking?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yes, is this really trying to solve for the fact that solar costs two and a half times as much as it should for your average American consumer. And so with every other country in the world paying $10 or $20 a watt, SolarAPP is finally we think this national solution to the problem of permanent, it’s a digital solution. So it’s an application you can access for free, you can register your system that you sell. And if your local AHJ, if your city has registered to use SolarAPP and signed up to be a part of it, then they can accept and automatically generate the permit based on the information you put into the tool. So that is based on a national standard interpretation of code.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
We’ve worked with all the code officials and agencies, fire code folk, lots of the city’s obviously the solar industry itself. We started a consortium up two years ago and it was great to be working with folks like Lynn at Sunrun and Billy at Mosaic who helped pull the people together with me to get the consortium powered up and Rocky Mountains she’d come in and sort of project managed it. And with all the agencies and UL and ICC and others we failed to get a real consensus together for the first time as an as a national standard.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
And we’ve built the app, so the app goes live in the second quarter. So all these local energy businesses will be able to see their AHJ, guys this is the national standard as built by [inaudible 00:29:38] funded NREL built model that you need to sign up to and once they do that you’ll be able to sell and store within two weeks and what that opens up is cost plus sales price that you get in every single other country and if the hardware costs a buck or what, you should see a $1.20, $1.30 solar in not too distant future in the States.

Bill Nussey:
I’ve had a lot of guests come on here and talk about how we’re going to make all this better. But that’s about the most distinct, hard punching, digestible and achievable thing I’ve heard yet. So there’s a lot of folks listening in, what do they need to do to help make SolarAPP real? What can they do? Who do they need to talk to? Who do they need to reach out to? How do we make this thing happen sooner?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So I think that the real ask is going to come in the second quarter, because we’ve been through piloting with a number of cities, we’re going into launch mode now. So I think in the second quarter, the ask will be to get on and to AHJ and have them sign up to solar up to really lobby your local city officials to sign up to this national standard. That’s the fundamental ask.

Bill Nussey:
You’ve used the term AHJ?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
That’s right, AHJ, authorities having jurisdiction, so it’s kind of the acronym mania of solar continues, where if we can use an acronym we shall, basically the City Office.

Bill Nussey:
Got it. I hope that you guys are able to let me type in my zip code or have somebody help you with that. Let me know if you need some help. I’m sure you’ve got plenty of volunteers, but type in my zip code and tell me the name and address of the person or the body I need to reach out to and give me a draft of something I can send them because we’ll definitely get that message out there and see if we can help in our tiny way get the news out about SolarAPP is broadly across the US possible.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, that’d be great. I’ll share the link to the current site. And then I think we’ve got the state associations who are going to be leading the tribe locally. So we had an excellent call with over 20 state associate solar associations just before the holidays, getting prepared for the rollout next year, so…

Bill Nussey:
Wow.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, it’s going to be I think, a big year. And if we have the ITC extension, that removes the risks of a really tough period for US solar, if we have both ITC and SolarApp, then you could see just enormous growth for the industry over the next few years.

Bill Nussey:
Yeah, and I have many friends in the solar installation industry. And every time I talk to them, the problem is I can’t find the people that we need to get people trained, we need to get them up and running. So I’m pointing them towards SolarAPP, sorry, Open Solar as a way to help streamline what people they have. But I think that’s another great area that perhaps we need to look at and Freeing Energy project is whose vision of how to help accelerate the training of all these folks to create those jobs, make them real and get qualified people available for these companies to hire because it feels like we’re on the precipice of a huge surge in the growth of this important industry.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, I mean, it has to be one of the great economic opportunities for American small business, like because to some degree, were limited from participating in the digital revolution, the money that was made in the valley, and the kind of I think formerly largest economic revolution in the States is hard, the world is hard with the internet. But here’s a situation where if I just lay out the vision, any contractor in America can upload an app, Open Solar, put the logo in top left and have a completely world class toolkit to sell design, present, and close sales with financing with all the stuff plugged in, that they need at a big company would have an instead of working hard for 10 years to build that they get that the next day, the cost of that is zero.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
And then when they sell the system, instead of having to learn an equivalently complex process to designing to actually get through a permitting, standard and code interpretation, you then just press a button and that information comes out of Open Solar straight into your SolarAPP form. And you automatically get an email saying and I click a screen coming out saying, “Permit complete, click here to generate PDF.” There you go and install it. And the ability to cross sell stolen IT, whatever it is, you’re in the home discussing with them today, you are the solution to the climate, and there’s an awful lot of money, I think that will be made over the next 10 years as we go from 1% to 20, 30% penetration as you already have in Australia.

Bill Nussey:
I love hearing this. This is so exciting. What an optimistic vision and one that’s, I believe, entirely achievable. We live in a strange world today where millions of people believe that there’s a dark forces pulling the strings behind the scenes and nefarious actions are happening, they can’t control. Well, I think this is a counter example where there’s a small number of people yourself in that list that are pulling the strings for fantastic solutions. They’re going to help raise the benefits of solar to everybody, but are having a very outsized impact on helping the world in the country move to this more quickly. So if people are really hell bent on doing conspiracy theories, I suggest they look for some good ones. And here’s an example they should pay some attention to.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Appreciate it. And it’s because the power of the people, right? It’s the small guys, it’s the consumers, the small contractors that are going to solve this and even if you [inaudible 00:34:54] signs up to Paris, what is cop 26 can achieve and cop 27,28,30 you’ve seen every one of those cops delivers zero carbon savings. But with low cost solar and efficient processes and great software and a tonne of great people, we can basically deliver it ourselves.

Bill Nussey:
The final chapter in this book I’ve been working on for a few years also called Freeing Energy basically talks about the fact that you as an individual, probably have no idea the reader, what a difference you can make individually. What some of the stats I have, as many people I know, they’re very conscious of their carbon footprint, they’re changing how they drive, they’re thinking about the food they eat. And based on the research I’ve done, if you’re in a position, if you have the good fortune to have the financial wherewithal to put solar on the roof, there is no bigger thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint in your life and do that, everything else is second, and most of it’s a distant second.

Bill Nussey:
Actually, the one thing is better is if you get a bicycle and you drive to work, your long distance commute everyday in a bicycle. That’s better. Next to that is solar. So this has been a fantastic back and forth. As I expected, this is probably two or three podcasts worth of stuff, but we’re going to cram it into one and wrap up on the four questions we like to ask all of our guests we’re privileged to talk to. So I’m just going to go through what we call the lightning round real quickly. First question, what excites you most about being in the clean energy industry?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
The people I already talked about it, it’s the power of the people and just hundreds of thousands of awesome motivated smart people who are doing this on the ground that you get to work with every day.

Bill Nussey:
Awesome. If you could wave a magic wand and see one thing changing the transition to clean renewable energy, what would it be?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Government get out of the way.

Bill Nussey:
Man, five stars versus single.

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
I want to repeat the permitting message, it’s either Little government or big government, but if you stop subsidizing fossil fuels, and you stop subsidizing environmental cleanup and put a price on carbon, and you get rid of the paperwork, which the big guys don’t have to deal with, that the small guys do, and just let the people deliver clean energy that’s the answer, I think.

Bill Nussey:
I agree with you. I think there’s a few thousand people who listen here that are going to agree entirely. What do you think will be the single most important change in how we generate store and distribute electricity in the next five years?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Software?

Bill Nussey:
Yes, I spent 30 years in software, my friend, so…

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Not just Open Solar, which is obviously where my, I think the biggest kicker comes from. But beyond the sale, the software that connects the battery to the car to the smart grid to the consumer, to the consumer that refers and creates the social model of sales in this contagious growth business that we’re creating in our communities is at the heart of it, I think it’s software and small businesses using that software. That’s the crux of it.

Bill Nussey:
One of the reasons I got into this industry was the realization that unique from almost every other business and industry in the world. The electricity industry has so little software, it is an analog business in the digital world. And offer of all kinds, I think is transforming it just as it did virtually every industry before it. Final question, when someone asks you, what can they do to make a difference in our transition to clean energy, what do you tell them?

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
So if you’re a consumer, you should go solar, if your contractor to start selling solar. Will it change the world if I just did it myself? I think the power of networks, the power of community, what’s that phrase little drops of water, make the mighty ocean, in everyone taking that action themselves, you have this mission right there in front of you just it just requires the community at large to go and do it.

Bill Nussey:
I think that is the best possible way we could wrap up this fantastic conversation today. So Birchy, thank you so much, I’m really inspired. I feel like I have a mission to go out there and make sure the world knows about SolarAPP so we can get that rolled out across the United States as quickly as possible, particularly here in the southeast where I live where we’re sometimes conflicted about whether or not solar energy is a myth or something that can actually make a positive difference and so it’s, I think this is one of the many tools we can bring to bear on that. So I’m really excited. Thanks so much for your time. Thank you for all the tremendous work you and your colleagues are doing to make the promise of solar real for the rest of us. And we wish you a tremendous and successful healthy and good fortunes in 2021

Andrew “Birchy” Birch:
Yeah, thanks to you and all those listening, Happy New Year to everyone.

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