Simplifying the permitting and inspections of residential PV system installation may be the perfect local opportunity for making a big change in the solar industry, but is the young industry up for the challenge? Solar industry leaders, Yann Brandt, CEO of SolarWakeup, and Mike Casey, President and founder of Tigercomm, share why one piece of the growth puzzle is squarely in the hands of local clean energy advocates, what tools they have to work with, and the simple actions they need to begin taking now to keep growth going.
Here are a few of the insights from Yann and Mike…
Casey: …so here we are asking local government not to give up control but to accomplish more, save money, and generate more jobs and tax revenues in the process. There are very few towns and counties in this country that don’t need those things right now.
Brandt: It’s a problem that faces every installer in the country….3,000 Installers that are helping 400,000 homeowners put solar on their roofs…but in order to do that, they have to get permission from some 18,000 building departments. So just the complexity of the sheer number of jurisdictions, different contractors, different engineers is creating a very fragmented process, not made easier by building departments that are not adept at change.
Brandt: So you want to talk about solar jobs….tell me the job you want, and I’ll tell you where in solar you can find that job; we have literally something for everyone.
You can also listen to this podcast and others in our series on these platforms:
- Solar Wakeup Newsletter: https://www.solarwakeup.com (we read this every day and recommend it to everyone in the industry)
- If you would like to hear more great podcasts and be notified of the latest insights from Freeing Energy, scroll to the bottom of this page and sign up for our newsletter.
- NREL’s SolarAPP: https://solarapp.nrel.gov
- Casey/Brandt article in PV Magazine: https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2021/01/01/a-no-brainer-for-u-s-job-creation-update-solar-permitting-and-inspections/
- Make Casey on our previous podcast episode: Podcast 044: Mike Casey – What is strategic brevity and how can it amplify the local energy story?
- Solar Careers DOE: https://www.energy.gov/eere/solar/solar-energy-careers
- IRENA 2020 Renewable Jobs Report – Global: https://www.irena.org/newsroom/pressreleases/2020/Sep/Renewable-Energy-Jobs-Continue-Growth-to-11-5-Million-Worldwide
- SEIA Solar Job Census – Covid Impact on Solar Jobs: https://www.seia.org/research-resources/covid-19-impacts-us-solar-industry
- SolarPowerWorld Article: https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2021/01/solar-jobs-have-up-and-down-year-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic/
- SEIA Solar Job Content: https://www.seia.org/jobs
Another warm welcome to everyone in the Freeing Energy Podcast universe. We are going to have a really interesting and in depth discussion today on one of the hottest topics in solar with two of the biggest voices and some of the smartest folks. We’re going to talk about jobs and soft costs. We actually have two guests today, which is kind of a first for us. It brings to mind some, I think the term is dad humor. What do you call it when you have two esteemed experts on photovoltaics at the same time? It’s called a solar panel.
Our first guest of the two esteemed is Mike Casey, who you all may remember from episode 44. He’s the CEO of Tiger Com, one of the top marketing communications agencies in the industry, and also one of the most thoughtful people.
Thank you. Thanks so much.
And we also have, for the first time, someone who I’ve long wanted to have join us, Yann Brandt. For most of you in the solar world, Yann is a household name, and if you don’t read his daily newsletter, Solar Wake Up, you probably should, as I do every single day. He has his own podcast and he’s a multi-time entrepreneur, and between all this, he’s helping remake the way that buyers and sellers work in the industry and inventing all kinds of things. Welcome, Yann.
It’s great to be here, Bill.
We are at this really unique and I think pretty special time in the industry. The cost of solar is plummeting, the case for solar, very large scale, is very clear, it’s being adopted across the world and in the US particularly. Some one or two little things have changed up there in Washington, DC, and that’s accelerating our ability to embrace this. But what still has tremendous room for improvement is the small scale stuff, which is exactly what we do here at Freeing Energy. It’s all about local energy. As if they had read our mind, we started off some early podcasts on this topic, these gentlemen published an article which immediately caught my attention, I put everywhere on social media, and the title of it was, A No Brainer for US Job Creation: Update Solar Permitting and Inspections.
This is an angle that we talk a little bit about, but we’re going to talk more about today, because I think in US political history and US economy, there’s never been a more important time to think about job creation, and I think we’re going to help make the case today. There may be few or no better ways to create jobs rapidly in the United States than, well, local energy. So this is a great call to action, squarely aimed at governmental leaders, and really going to talk deeply about that today.
But, before we do, as we like to start off all of our podcasts, we like to drill down on our guests and their background, a little bit behind the curtain, see the wizard, for who or she is, and today we’re going to pick on Yann. So Yann, how did you get to be in the solar industry, and tell us a little bit about that, and tell us how that turned into Solar Wake Up.
Sure. I’ve been in the solar industry for 15 years. I actually graduated as an engineer and was working at a roofing contractor, one of the largest in the country. And this is in 2005 when it was a Republican governor of Florida hosting a climate change summit that really got us thinking about all these rooftops that we talk about all the time. You land at airports, you see these giant warehouses and the white roofs on top of them that are empty, and I thought to myself, we’re putting these roofs on these buildings, and that’s where the idea of solar is going to be a thing, is it the next big thing? This is 2005, 2006, and I had a supportive boss at the time who wanted to think about that as well. The political environment seemed ripe for it, because you had Republican governors going for it, and that was us leaping both feet into the deep end.
Truly made a ton of mistakes since then, but learned a lot. The market has also changed. I bought my first solar panel at $4 a watt, and that was a 180 watt module. And yeah. So we’ve come quite a bit.
Solar Wake Up was a function of me leaving that company after five years, and doing a new startup. And I was working in a windowless office. And I came to the realization that people are going to forget about me, and this was a traumatic thought in my mind that people would not know who I am. And in September of 2012, about 40 of my friends and work colleagues got a newsletter from me, that was episode one of Solar Wake Up, and about 10% unsubscribed. They weren’t as close as my friends as I had thought. But 2,600 episodes of the newsletter later-
It goes out five days a week, except for holidays, but Monday through Friday. I used to have a Saturday edition, which was a little ridiculous. But five days a week. I do it on vacation, I do it all the time. I can do it in airports. And it’s been my favorite second job.
Every morning I read it, I’m struck by two thoughts. Thank goodness this is out there because not only does it highlight the most important news, but you always have a great take on it. And the second thing I’m struck with is this guy can write a whole lot faster than I do, and probably reads and consumes news more rapidly than I can. So for that we’re all grateful. That’s a great background, and I appreciate you sharing it.
The cost of solar has really dropped in the last 30 to 40 years, three, 400 times from when it was powering satellites decades back. But one of the things that has actually gotten worse, and certainly as a percentage and even in some ways in absolute cost, is this thing we call soft cost. And Yann brings a really unique perspective to discussing this, because for a decade now he’s been leading a rapidly growing residential installer while simultaneously covering the clean energy transition with his newsletter. So Yann, I really want to put this first question to you. What exactly are these soft costs? Why should we care, and what’s all this red tape, and how is this going to affect if we can do something about it, all of these small and mid-scale solar installers across the country?
Yeah, I mean look, it’s a problem that faces every installer in the country, and having led a manufacturer for the past three years, you have a unique perspective. There are 3,000 installers that are helping 400,000 homeowners put solar on their roofs, but in order to do that, they have to get permission from some of 18,000 building departments. So just the complexity of the sheer number of jurisdictions, different contractors, different engineers, it’s creating a very fragmented process, not made easier by building departments that aren’t really adept to change. And what that results in is through time, money, inexperience, inefficiencies, about a third of the cost of installing solar on a home is on these soft costs, which is the cost it takes to get the approval and to both put it on as well as the sign off that you’ve put it on correctly according to the codes.
The other part of that cost is the cost of the modules, the balancing systems, the racking, the inverter, and the labor to put it on. But fundamentally, that cost, the soft cost, isn’t going into anyone’s pocket inside the solar industry, it’s purely an inefficiency of the entire ecosystem.
The reason we know it’s a third … This is always the biggest pushback is, and if you read the comments of the article, it’s an overstatement that it’s a third of it. Well, it’s not an overstatement, because we know this to be true. Because in Australia and in Germany, they’re installing solar at a dollar a watt and putting it on homes, and they’re doing it very high quality as well as safely according to codes and standards et cetera. We know that there’s up to a dollar a watt that can be cut out of the system purely from regulatory inefficiencies.
And Bill, let me add something. Let’s say the critics of our piece are right. Let’s say that a third is too much, and it’s actually a sixth. My response is so what? The point is, in a divided country, one where you’ve got a recession that’s still biting into us, the need to put people back to work and get the economy normalized, why would you not do the obvious things? Our point is if you look around on the floor of the solar scaling workshop, there are few bigger pieces that are so obvious, have so few legitimate objections as this one. So even if it’s half of what we’re saying, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a no brainer.
I don’t think anyone ever said, “I’d really like more red tape, please.” Well, except for the people who do the red tape.
But when the team put solar panels on my house last year, I think it took, the senior project manager was here for two days overseeing a team of people crawling around my roof and putting the panels in. He was here for an entire third day, sitting in his truck on his phone waiting for the county inspector to show up, who would only say he’d come during the course of the day. And I thought to myself this is the most expensive resource on my project from this installer, and 33% of what I had to pay for him was complete idle time because of an inefficient process on several levels. I’m sure there’s better examples than that, but that one really struck me.
Soft cost, big issue, everyone needs to address it. There’s some really cool stuff rolling out that has maybe a better chance than many other previous initiatives to turn this tide. And you guys in your article talk about something called Solar APP, solar with capital A, capital P, capital P. And you reference some of the people involved with that from Rocky Mountain Institute, NREL. It’s a really amazingly diverse group of organizations and local governments that are behind this. So tell us a little bit about Solar APP, and how important is it that we have one unified system versus some thousands across the country. What is it and does it matter if we have one giant one?
Yeah so it is very important to have a unified system, because the codes and standards that manufacturers are held against to put their products in market, whether it’s racking, or batteries, there’s a national electric codebook, there’s a national fire protection codebook, there’s a structural codebook. The codes and standards that mandate how these products roll out is already national. What isn’t national is the process to get the approval for the building permit, even though a solar panel with an inverter is relatively a standardized process. So Solar APP, it’s important to note that Solar APP isn’t actually the first endeavor into this. [inaudible 00:12:34] program attempted to do this in Florida and actually had over 30 counties sign onto it.
In both instances, the first time it was entirely led by local government, and this time it’s in partnership between industry and local government. The whole idea is that we can standardize an offering that local governments can then take that allows them to offer up to instant permitting and standardized processes for approval of new system designs. But in a way where it can then, whenever you get a new system rolled out, can then translate into all the other jurisdictions that are part of the Solar APP process.
Solar APP right now is gaining a lot of traction, there’s some great names behind it, and it’s enabled because a lot of the busiest solar building departments in the country are behind this endeavor as well. Our hope is that as soon as we’re ready to roll out this, call it a software system or this process, that we get as many of the local installers across the country to act as part of the Solar APP business development team. The call to action is going to be we need jurisdictions to join this process or to learn more about this process. Because Solar APP itself is not a business so to say, it’s really meant to be this immense amount of grease that we can put on the wheels of the permitting process to lower the soft cost.
Mike, what prompted you guys to write an article about this? Why now, and why that article?
Several factors. Contested election, the rise of what I call the low information, high propaganda voter. Over the last 25 years it’s really crescendoed with Trump in office and the Capitol riots, which we were … The piece was done before that all happened, obviously. But I think if we’re going to find a path to functional governance in this country, we’ve got to find things that are beneficial, have significant impact, and have a very low drag coefficient in terms of ideological objections.
Here we’re asking local governments not to give up control, but to accomplish more, save money, and generate more jobs and tax revenue in the process. There are very few counties and towns in this country that don’t need those things right now.
We were looking for something that was painfully obvious that would meet all those criteria. And Yann has been speaking a wish of mine for a long time on Solar Wake Up. He’s called for the NRA of solar. I’m actually a gun owner. I was for a couple of years an NRA member. And I looked at how they rallied people who had a commonality of interest. We lacked that in solar.
Now solar is a one-time buy. You don’t keep going to the solar range every week. But nonetheless, we have an opportunity, because this is the lowest cost form of energy and the most popular form of energy, we have an opportunity to see that every time someone puts solar on their roof, they become an evangelist for non-polluting power, for a sustainable economy. And as a still young sector, we do not have the connective tissue, we don’t have the advocacy infrastructure to leverage that.
This goal of reforming and updating the way we do permitting and inspections could entail putting some of that connective tissue on the bones. And that to me was the most compelling opportunity, because in my background, I’ve built and run communications operations for three decades, and I know that it’s not easy, I know that it takes time. And you often need an achievable goal in front of a sector to have it mature and scale more rapidly.
Well you guys really hit I think the most passionately common aspiration, regardless of political party, regardless of where you sit in America. That is to create jobs. And these are often very good jobs. They require some degree of training but not necessarily advanced degrees. It’s a fantastic opportunity to grow that class of job in the United States.
Help me understand how it is that if we lower soft costs, how does that drive more jobs? What’s the connection there?
I’ll give you the indirect answer, I’ll let Yann give you the direct answer. The indirect answer is if you look at the map of where the solar industry is physically present, and then you overlay it with a map of where we are enthusiastically represented in government, county, state, federal level, there is a significant gap between those maps. We are present, generating jobs and tax revenue, in way more places than we have champions in government. That is a gap we can and should close. And if we pursue things, like what we’re talking about in this op ed, we are by definition building the NRA of solar because we’re getting local installers to communicate about what they’re doing. We’re not asking them to spend half their time on a job that doesn’t directly pay.
Yann had a beautiful quote on the last interview we did together. Government relations is business development. And what’s the cost to you as an installer of the current legacy permitting and inspection systems? Pretty high. If you spent a little bit of time telling your story in an organized fashion, in sync with other installers, your time investment would be paid back manyfold if we were able to achieve this no brainer. We would put momentum in the industry to scale faster and create a job tide that would lift al boats.
I like that context. It’s well said. Yann, how does that translate into the direct increase in jobs?
Well, I mean you lower the cost of solar, more markets are going to have more consumers that are willing to bite. The way we measure solar markets, and listen, all 50 states are currently installing solar, the value proposition of putting solar on your roof ranges by state, by utility, by building department, all the costs put in together. The moment you lower the cost and decrease the amount of time it takes from I want to go solar to going solar, it makes the efficiency of running the solar operations that much greater.
Last year we did somewhere between 350 and 400,000 homes, some of them new homes, most of them retrofits. In 2023, there’s a very good likelihood that we will sell solar to 1 million homeowners. Whether we’re able to install 600,000 of them or 800,000 of them, and potentially install 1 million of them in 2024 is entirely reliant on bringing more people into the workforce and training them. It’s actually going to be, we’ve created these great jobs, now we need to fill them. And second, allowing the system to let the industry actually put glass on the roof.
The jobs are going to range. I’ve got friends that are very successful lawyers that are behind the financing of these transactions. You have bankers. You have engineers. But you also have the local car mechanic who says, “I don’t want to work in a garage anymore. I want to be on a roof.” You have the coal miner in western Pennsylvania saying, “God, this job is terrible, it’s dirty if I can get it, and most likely I’m losing that job.” Like Reuters covered, that family of three coal miners in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, living in a $50,000 home, altogether because they can’t afford the second one. If the solar market was ripe in Mahanoy City and surrounding areas, each family member in that house could buy their own house with any job in the solar industry.
Not only is solar a distributed energy resource when you install it on a house, the jobs are distributed. And you look at End Phase, for example, End Phase has an entire customer call center and operations center in Idaho. There’s a giant solar jobs boom in Idaho from one company. And the same is true all over this country in the most remarkable places.
What kind of jobs are these? If we can create all these jobs that you so well articulated, Yann, what kind of jobs are they?
It’s the entire gamut. It’s the guys in the warehouse that fill up the trucks at night, it’s the office staff that makes sure the product is available in the warehouse and is being ordered on time. It’s the sales team, the sales managers, the sales trainers, and the manufacturing trainers that are supporting those sales teams. It’s the software jobs that are creating the software. Yesterday we had a massive software exit in the solar industry. End Phase acquired, I know I keep bringing up End Phase, but they acquired a solar design software startup in Montreal, with sales teams all over America.
You name the jobs, it’s happening. It’s also the tech portals. Just this past week, Sunlight went public, the second largest solar loan provider, who’s providing $2 billion worth of loans. They have an office in New York, they’re doing capital markets, they’re doing policy research. And then obviously my favorite job in the solar industry, which is the regulatory policy, government relations teams that are … They are the engine behind the industry. The reason that the industry grows in total addressable market … And the total addressable market in solar is not just the homeowners, call it the 100 million homeowners that want to put solar on their house, it’s the fact that everyone that’s working in state capitals, city halls, and NDC that’s making solar accessible to those 100 million homeowners.
Right now the answer, it’s not every homeowner that has the same amount of access because they’re unfairly burdened by, maybe it’s an incumbent monopoly or a political regime that still thinks that solar is the enemy even though the Edison Electric Institute is now on par calling for 100% clean energy … These are the people that used to argue that solar doesn’t work because it’s too cloudy.
You want to talk about solar jobs? Tell me the job you want and I’ll tell you where in solar you can find that job, because we have literally something for everyone. And it’s going to be better paying than most other industries for that same job.
I’m going to tack on an answer, which starts with yes and. There are all the indirect jobs that a solar installer helps generate. The people at 7-Eleven who serve and sell takeout food, grab and go food, to a solar installer crew that doesn’t have time to stop for lunch. And on and on and on. The reason I mention this is because the real key here in our piece is a call to opportunity for the industry. If we go pursue this thing, which is eminently doable, right in front of us, and ripe with benefit and upsides for everybody, we will by definition get better at our public affairs game.
Included in that is learning from more mature sectors, which have learned long ago to enroll the other players in their supply chain, even the mundane players. Involve them in advocating for that sector. And it falls to us much more decisively to do that as a disruptive sector, as a young sector. We have outsized pleas for fair treatment from elected officials. We have undersized budgets to achieve that. So we need to punch above our weight, and one of the best ways to do that is to get companies and people that we kick checks off to to help keep our success going.
And we’re not very good at that yet, and we have an opportunity to get much better at it. A lot of room for improvement and a lot of room for benefit in improving.
INTERSTITIAL with Sam Easterby:
Aren’t all the jobs in solar just temporary construction jobs? Our guests in this episode give us a hint of just how far off the mark this question is. The solar industry today is creating a lot of jobs across many different skill sets, from manufacturing and system design to project development and installation and operations. The solar industry has opportunities across the board. For example, engineers of all types are needed to support this booming sector. Mechanical, electrical, industrial, and software are all engineering skills needed across the solar world. Lawyers, financial and real estate specialists, are a few other skills needed to as we make this transition to a clean local energy economy.
Like almost every industry, the US solar sector was not unscathed by the global pandemic, losing some 114,000 jobs in 2020 out of a record high 250,000 jobs in 2019. But consensus is that most of the projects delayed in 2020 will be pulled forward to 2021, and the jobs will return. The Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office, SETO, is supporting this growing solar workforce with training programs, professional development and career building. To learn more about support being offered and career opportunities, see the link to SETO’s solar energy careers website in this episode’s show notes, or visit energy.gov and search for solar energy careers.
Now back to Bill, Yann, and Mike to learn even more. And don’t forget to like and subscribe to the Freeing Energy Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.
PODCAST CONTINUES with Bill Nussey:
We’re talking about quitting jobs here, we’re talking about solar quitting jobs. There are in my mind really three segments that you can address this with. And when we go to our officials at the state level and federal level, help me understand how to separate them. Do they need to be separated? One is manufacturing. I work a lot with the Department of Energy, there’s a very large call that we need to build lots of factories and start manufacturing stuff. That’s an important call for jobs. The second one is utility scale stuff. These are gigantic projects that employ a lot of people at once for a period of time. And then there’s what I think we are all talking about is the smaller scale stuff.
When we have an ear and a policy maker who’s listening to these points, how do we help that policy maker parse up those three different segments, or are they not different? Does it not matter?
It’s not. People get lost in the details. When you think about the solar industry, think of the car industry as a relative analogy. The solar industry, if we grow the demand, and the demand is everything, it’s utility scale, developers, having more utilities that want to buy more solar output, it’s corporates that want to do deals or put them on their rooftops, and it’s homeowners. All those three markets are working in parallel in a rising tide environment. They all benefit from the success of the other ecosystem. That’s why SEIA at the top level in DC does not represent one or the other, it represents solar as a whole.
What policymakers tend to forget is the jobs are all relative. What we need to do is if we grow the demand, the jobs will come. The car industry absolutely would have, if they only manufactured a tenth of what the demand is, we’ll just call it 15 million cars a year, they would not be making them in the US. Because manufacturing operates on total volume [inaudible 00:29:46]. What you end up doing is once you create the overall demand, like we’re already seeing now, we have solar factories, and everyone’s so focused on solar factories, but we have them in Alabama, we have them in Georgia, we have them in Florida, and we’re going to have more. But the whole point is that we are a global industry, but also have the ability to grow with this super hyper local thing that Mike and I are talking about, which is permanent, and inspections. If we get rid of this little pain point, that will reverberate and have manufacturing expansion across America, because the advantages, logistics to the local markets are going to outweigh all the negatives from another perspective.
But then take it back one step, and I know this isn’t the point of our conversation. I used to run California’s only racking manufacturing company. We manufactured in Walnut Creek, California. And it wasn’t just taking things and putting it in a box. This wasn’t a fulfillment plant. We took coils of aluminum, cut them up, put holes in them, made L feet out of extruded aluminum planks.
When trade policy, and this is … We’ll get nuance, but when trade policy raises the cost of commodity of aluminum, for example, by 10%, or steel by 25%, you’re going to crush American manufacturing because the input costs are too high. And SEIA’s number one topic in DC has been and continues to be that the trade policy that is supposed to be helping the industry has resulted in us having almost 100% offshore manufacturing as well as double the price for solar panels that a consumer or an installer in Europe is paying. Now that’s a detour of what we’re talking about, but it all comes back to the fact that if we do this permitting thing, which should make it faster and more predictable and efficient, and then make sure that the inspection is done in a way that the guy doesn’t have to sit in the driveway for eight hours and hope that the inspector shows. You’re going to drive up demand, and manufacturing will be exactly where we want it to be as Americans.
I love it. Great vision. You know what, we had Charlie Gay on one of the previous podcasts, he’s the CEO of Violet Power and the most recent company to take a serious shot at building sand to panel fully vertically integrated manufacturing, so we’re all cheering for him.
Last topic is the part I don’t think you guys talked about as much, but it’s the interconnection with utilities. In my own experience I had to have the utility folks come out twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. We all waited for them. And apparently even though the meter I have didn’t have to be changed, they weren’t able to, or choose not to change it remotely, they had to come out and type into it directly, which I thought was fascinating. Utilities, they have a different view on these three segments I talked about. They’re all for utility scale solar, generally speaking, and not as much, and put up some roadblocks for the smaller scale stuff. They don’t like that metering, some of them don’t. How important is it that we streamline interconnecting, and how are the utilities helping or hurting that?
Well this is a problem topic for Yann because he has no opinions about utilities in their relation to solar, and especially when it comes to Florida Power and Light. But I’m going to let him sit on the griddle here and come up with an opinion since he has never authored one on solar wake.
Yeah, by the way, we can see each other for this recording, and Yann is sitting here with a Cheshire cat grin from his ear to his ear. So I’m dying to hear what he has to say.
My first reaction is I’m laughing because both of you live in utility territories that are far worse than mine with Florida Power and Light, being Dominion and Southern Company. Look, utilities love solar as long as they own the asset. That’s the fundamental difference. They want solar everywhere. They just don’t want you to own your own power, or you to own anything, because they make 10% return plus on every dollar they invest. That’s a fundamental, intellectually honest debate between us and utilities.
But look at it. When we talk about net metering debate, and I’ll get back to interconnection, because net metering and interconnection standards are typically created at the same time. It’s not the fact that they used the word subsidy, which is false, and they debate on the pass throughs and non bypassable charges. All the utility is trying to do is to make it more complicated, because they know that any complication will reduce the amount of customer acquisition and increase that customer acquisition cost.
With interconnection standards, it’s exactly the same concept. And it’s part of the soft cost environment. The more inspections they have to do and you to have to stay home and the solar installer have to be on the site, that is going to drive up friction for the customer to want to say yes, and for you to want to make a referral as a homeowner. So the interconnection standards are incredibly important. And Mike has said it now a few times on this call.
Let me add this. The monopoly utility as the incumbent is never going to voluntarily say to you that the entire interconnection process is completely unneeded. The technology of adding solar into a service panel in a home is almost like adding an extra refrigerator or because you’re adding a hot tub. It’s another 40M breaker in some cases, or some otherwise, I’m not an electrician. But it is incredibly predetermined on how it’s going to integrate into your home energy system. The utility doesn’t actually need to know anything any more than just a hey, we put solar on this house.
But fundamentally, they’re going to try to drive more complexity. And as Mike has been saying is who is actually watching what they’re doing? And there’s timely … What just happened, so IREC, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, is really the policy organization that does the most work on interconnection standards. They alongside all the other solid solar policy pros. So as part of the important call to action here, and Solar APP is part of this, Solar APP was largely funded by some of the biggest players in solar. But because they don’t want this viewed as a I don’t want this to be good for me, this needs to be good for the entire industry to create this uniform reduction in soft costs, they put it in the hands of NREL and Rocky Mountain Institute, two third parties, one of them government and the other one nonprofit.
IREC, SEIA, CALSSA, they’re all fighting to make this rising tide continue to rise. Utilities are spending tens of millions of dollars telling you, both because they have really good communication staff, which Mike will say only because he has taken an ethical vow to advance clean energy policy and to not take advantage of that financial power that they have, the reality is they’re also spending in policy in the halls of Congress, Congress, state capitols, et cetera. And I always advocate for, and not often get people to buy into, I think that solar companies should allocate 1% of their revenue to a policy budget, whether it’s through staffing or through joining organizations or through hiring their own lobbyists. If we invested 1% of everyone’s revenue into policy, revenues and profits would rise probably 5X that investment. We’re not quite there yet, we’re still a little bit immature as an industry to understand that.
I sit on the board of CALSSA and I chair our membership committee. I make calls to all these companies that are making hundreds of millions of dollars in the California market. And that metering is under attack this year, which many people are not aware of. And PG&E who, they put a solar guy on the board, and they talk about clean energy, fundamentally would love for residential solar, community solar, C&I solar, to absolutely disappear. And they’re going to fight. And they could care less that it’s the biggest solar market creating 100,000 plus jobs.
I think as solar industry players, we want to look at monopoly hold on profits as just something that comes by the nature of monopolies. It’s not personal. It’s just the way the big kids play the sport. Why does a dog bark? Because it’s a dog. Why does a scorpion sting? Because it’s a scorpion. Why does an IOU resist net metering? Because it’s a monopoly. And it’s not personal. So it’s our job as advocates to get in, put pads on, get on the field, and play the game.
Do they have more practice? Yes they do. But you miss every shot you don’t take. And if we don’t get in and make a bottom up, local jobs case for solar, we are never going to successfully defend that metering, much less expand it.
That’s the interesting thing about this soft cost discussion, because net metering, it’s a local issue that happens at the state level. So for a lot of solar installers, it kind of feels out of grasp of their ability to influence. In this instance, when Solar APP goes through the pilot phase and gets the support, it’s actually going to need to get it at the very local level. And the solar installer that complains that this permitting process, his or her permitting process, is taking too long is actually going to be able to say, “But I also have a solution for you that helps you and helps me.” And it won’t be some national trade organization or the local trade organization that’s going to do that work as efficiently going to every building department that they’re working with and educating them on the fact that they’re doing permitting for solar wrong, that there’s a better way, exactly how they’re doing it for air conditioning and for satellite dishes. They should do it the way that lowers the soft cost for the consumer. The mayor is going to be behind it, because now homeowners are going to get a better price in their city and county.
The political will is going to match the solution power that the installer’s going to have in their own name.
Who is it that said all politics are local? And that installer probably knows the people downtown. This is an entirely different approach than the top down, national first movements we typically think about for making change, and this is exciting. Solar APP has taken on a much broader role in my mind thanks to all these great points you guys are making. And I also want to echo the tension with utilities, the fact that the more of this local energy, the more successful Solar APP is, the less happy some of them will be is really the heart of the Freeing Energy Project. When we say Freeing Energy, what we mean is freeing it from, not entirely, but freeing it a lot from the monopolies and the bureaucracy. This discussion today is entirely about why we named this entire thing Freeing Energy.
This has been a great conversation, gentlemen, and really some good insights. I’ve taken a bunch of notes. Limited time. Definitely past our target time, and time to wrap this up. And as we do at the end of all of our podcasts, we put our esteemed guests, in this case Mr. Yann Brandt, on the hot seat with the four lightning round questions. So Yann, I hope you are ready for this.
First question for you is what excites you the most about being in the clean energy industry?
Right now it’s that we’re going to outperform every expectation for growth.
Bam. Love it. All right. If you could wave a magic wand and see one thing changed in the transition to clean, renewable energy, what would it be?
Well this one’s a no brainer. It’s going to be elimination of all the regulatory red tape and permitting.
Excellent. What do you think will be the single most important change in how we generate, store, and distribute electricity in the next five years?
2023, one million solar homes, and growing from there, the flexibility and resilience that we’re going to get by building the spiderweb of generation is underestimated by all grid planners, and will be an amazing tool for the 100% clean energy grid.
That’s what I love to call the energy internet. And final question, we all are asked by folks, what can they do personally to help with this transition? So Yann, what would you tell somebody that asks you, “What can I do to make a change, to make a dent in this giant glacier that doesn’t seem to want to move?”
Politics is not a spectator sport. Quite the opposite. It’s a full contact sport. And if you or the company that you work for, assuming that you’re in the solar industry, 1% of revenue should be spent on policy. Policy is business development and is not a charity.
Wow. Great answers, Yann. Thank you. Definitely worth sharing. We’re going to try to get these great, inspired, insightful words out as broadly as we can. I think the folks in the Freeing Energy world have really enjoyed this certainly as much as I have. So gentlemen, to both of you, we are all grateful that you took the time to share these thoughts with us, very grateful for the leadership role you’re playing in the industry to try to lower the cost for all of us. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Thank you Bill.
Thanks Bill. Enjoyed being on.