VCs always like to say they invest in people, not technologies.
The axiom seems to have taken hold at Sungevity.
The solar installer today announced that Patrick Crain, formerly the chief marketing officer at LinkedIn, has joined Sungevity at CMO. The idea here is to help Sungevity expand its grass roots-style marketing programs as it expands from its base in California, Arizona and Colorado to other parts of the country. Sungevity also wants to go overseas, founder Danny Kennedy told us last year.
Earlier in the month, Sungevity hired Mac Irvin, formerly the managing director of structured finance at SunPower, to become CFO. In December, Sungevity raised $15 million in a third round. In 2009, the company also lured Charles Ferer, a former SolarCity exec and an expert on solar leasing, to come to Sungevity.
The flurry of executive activity comes from both the infusion of capital and an ongoing growth spurt at the company. Installations, measured in terms of kilowatts, grew 10X from 2009 to 2010, and the total number of installations are up 9x. A rush of hiring like this can go awry: @Home -- remember them? -- had more all-stars on its executive roster than the original Poseidon Adventure, but the ending was still a tidal wave that killed all in its path. Managing the egos of drop-in talent can be a headache. Still, expanding the management team could help Sungevity navigate its growth to an IPO.
Like competitors SolarCity, SunRun and others, part of Sungevity's explosive growth comes through solar leasing, which allows consumers to skip the down payment. More than 99 percent of the deals that were booked in One Megawatt October revolved around leases. (Leasing and finance -- both huge topics -- will be covered at our Solar Summit taking place March 14 and 15.)
Sungevity's software examines satellite imagery of a rooftop as well as data on the pitch of the roof, local solar radiation, and the angle of the roof toward the sun, among other factors, in order to concoct a bid on a project. The software has been fine-tuned over the past few years. Sungevity projects now are almost one kilowatt larger on average than they were 2.5 years ago. Sungevity takes solar orders online and by the phone, but then hires subcontractors -- under supervision -- to conduct the actual installations.
--Here's an idea. Lately, states like Mississippi and South Carolina have provided low-cost loans and grants to greentech startups like Stion and Soladigm to build factories. Mississippi, for instance, gets bond funds for around 4 percent and gives it, without a premium, to its startups. Because these are better terms than the companies would get at a bank, they can be considered subsidies. These aren't loan guarantees like the DOE gives out: these are actual loans.
Why not take half of that money and build solar farms -- either on roofs or in fields -- in those jurisdictions? Think of it. Manufacturing startups face an uphill climb and must navigate around technological and economic risks: success is not easy. Solar farms carry almost no risk: developers construct solar farms from technologies backed with decades of field data and then sell the power to established utilities like Duke Energy that will be in business 50 years after anyone now reading this is dead. It's the modern day equivalent of a savings bond in a Christmas card from your grandmother.
"Both the technology and credit risk levels have been proven over the last several years. In fact, the residential solar lease industry has not, to my knowledge, experienced a single default," Sungevity's Ferer told me earlier this month.
Such a program would create a number of construction jobs and ameliorate that constant complaint of developers: that their projects are held up because of a lack of funds. Laws would have to be changed: some states recruiting green firms don't have renewable portfolio standards. They want to make, but not necessarily use, the technology. Nonetheless, shifting the funds around in this way could help balance the policies at the state and federal levels.
--USA Today and other publications warn that the U.S. could see $5 per gallon gas with continued unrest in the Gulf region. If we start to see a clamor that the U.S. must defend our allies so gas prices stay low, it will be a historical moment. We will then know that Americans are just too dense to survive in the wild on their own.