Powell, CEO of Sunrun, sees a need for more solar on the roof

Powell, CEO of Sunrun, sees a need for more solar on the roof

NEW YORK (AP) – As head of the nation’s largest rooftop solar installer, Mary Powell has a stake in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which includes tax credits to make rooftop solar more affordable.

But Sunrun’s CEO’s excitement over the project’s approval goes beyond business. Powell was passionate about climate change long before it was a topic at cocktail parties. Now that President Joe Biden has signed the legislation into law, Powell believes growth in the residential solar industry will accelerate, bringing the country closer to meeting its climate goals.

The Associated Press spoke with Powell about the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act. Answers have been edited for length.

Q: How much will the Inflation Reduction Act drive the growth of the solar industry?

A: We’re seeing 33% year-over-year growth and incredible customer demand. At the same time, we are still collectively as an industry in just 4% of the 77 million addressable households.

I think mainstream America is really becoming very aware of the value of solar energy, storage and electric vehicles. So this legislation makes my heart sing, because it means that many more customers who would benefit from a more affordable, resilient and comfortable future will now be able to do so.

We have to go from 4% of the addressable market to a much larger number to achieve the types of emissions targets that are in this act.

Q: Does the legislation facilitate access to solar energy for low-income Americans?

A: Our average customer now has an average household income of $50,000 to $100,000. So with the additional support in the bill for low-income working-class families, we really hope it remains the segment that grows by orders of magnitude. So we’re really excited about it.

This has some very good incentives that will help us scale up the multifamily housing work that we are doing right now.

So many decisions that affect energy-related emissions are made at the kitchen table. That bill is littered with ways that when that kitchen table conversation happens, customers can see, “Oh my God, I could go electric and save money, I could go solar and save money. I could get storage and save money.” And then you put it all together, and the average American of this lower working class can actually save $1,800 a year, which when you balance school budgets, healthcare, food costs, etc., is a significant number for so many Americans.

Q: Why is increasing the amount of solar energy on roofs so important to you?

A: Grandpa’s grid solution cannot be the only solution of the future. It is a very important part of the solution.

Some people don’t realize that the solar energy we put on roofs in a given year increases the capacity of a nuclear power plant. Just think about it. And it’s on rooftops across America. So when we combine storage with it, another thing that I’m super excited about is how we can leverage these assets by working with the grid operators, with the utilities, to really lower the cost of the grid for everyone and make it more resilient for everything.

Q: How have attitudes about climate change evolved since you started?

A: I used the word climate change and I was basically told, “Oof. Never use that word. You will be viewed negatively, people will not take you seriously.”

I was definitely the skunk at the garden party at any of the utility events I went to, talking about customer obsession, talking about innovation, talking about a distributed network, talking about climate change. Then things changed drastically.

It’s so exciting to me that there’s so much national and international interest now. There’s a lot of money being invested in climate solutions, technological solutions. It’s a complete sea change in the last two decades. So while I wish it had happened faster – that’s the way I’m wired – I can also see that things have changed drastically and this project could be the catalyst for the next big change we need to make as a society.

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