This article is part of our new State of Solar Adoption 2021 Series which will interview a diverse mix of solar experts with the goal of better understanding their perspectives on the current state and future of solar adoption, what is holding the industry back, tips on how to boost adoption, and more.
The following is an interview we had recently with Arch Padmanabhan Rao, Founder and CEO of Span.
“Solar PV only accounts for 3% of electricity generation compared to fossil fuels’ 60%. To meet the Biden Administration's goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035, there’s much work to be done to reduce deployment barriers and accelerate clean energy adoption.”
What is the state of solar adoption today?
AR: Solar adoption in the U.S. is on a clear upward trajectory as costs decrease and policy encourages clean energy adoption—like California’s requirement for rooftop solar on new homes and the extended federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC). Over 40% of all new electricity generation built was solar last year, more than any other technology, with states like CA, TX, and FL leading in deployments. Despite this, solar PV only accounts for 3% of electricity generation compared to fossil fuels’ 60%. To meet the Biden Administration's goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035, there is much work to be done to reduce deployment barriers and accelerate clean energy adoption.
What are 3-5 things holding back the mainstream adoption of solar energy?
AR: In the U.S., soft costs remain 2/3 of total system cost for home solar despite major reductions in hardware cost—that’s labor, permitting, interconnection, and customer acquisition cost. To add to this, the complexity of home solar systems is increasing. Homeowners are rightfully expecting more out of their solar systems, whether that’s backup capability as outages become frequent on our aging utility grid, or increased intelligence and data access akin to the smarts and connectivity finding its way into our home appliances and vehicles. Today, few solar products build in everything by default needed to deliver this functionality easily, putting more upward pressure on installation cost with bespoke system designs and a multitude of components to be integrated on the job.
What more can be done to drive mainstream adoption of solar energy?
AR: Decrease system cost, Increase system value. As Australia found, solar-friendly policy and cutting through red tape goes a long way towards reducing soft costs (where the average solar system costs ~70% less than in the States). Smart policy is essential, though to further reduce soft costs and accelerate adoption to the point of mainstream, we need to completely rethink how this modern infrastructure interfaces with our homes. This is the premise behind the Span Panel—re-inventing the 100-year-old electrical panel and embedding control and monitoring into the natural centerpoint of the home energy system dramatically simplifies connection of clean energy technology. Moreover, building a powerful computer into the home’s nerve center delivers homeowners unprecedented insight into energy usage, appliance health, and allows for the best overall solar+battery backup experience.
How would the world be different if 75% of all Americans used some form of solar energy?
AR: The next decade will require aggressive deployment of clean energy technology to displace existing nonrenewable energy generation. The upshot is new studies are published each year affirming the path to power our lives entirely from clean sources is fully achievable in under 2 decades, all the while boosting job creation and generating positive health benefits. As climatic impacts like wildfires and storms become more dramatic and increase strain on the grid, moving from centralized fossil fuel generation to distributed energy systems with embedded intelligence will ensure homes and communities have access to the essential power they need at all times.
Why are you so passionate about working in solar?
AR: We have technology available today to reduce our carbon emissions to safe levels and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Better yet, this doesn’t have to come through limiting comfort or convenience. While we transition to power our world with modern energy sources like solar, we have an extraordinary opportunity to also increase grid resiliency, reduce energy costs for all Americans, improve local air quality, and bring our built environment into the modern era.