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Sungevity program donates cash to non-profits whose members go solar

on May 25, 2011

Oakland-based solar company Sungevity announced on Tuesday that it will partner with the Sierra Club, an environmental organization headquartered in San Francisco, to launch a campaign asking homeowners to install solar panels on their roofs.

“We have been promoting solar with non-profits in California for a year,” said Sungevity founder Danny Kennedy. The company launched a program called to help organizations and schools raise funds while getting their communities to go solar. For example, Sungevity will donate $1,000 to the Sierra Club for every Sierra Club member who leases or purchases a solar energy system from the company.

According to Sungevity’s website, a dozen other environmental groups including The Wilderness Society and the Center for Biological Diversity, and schools throughout the state are also in the same type of partnership with the program, which is open for more to join. “It’s a good way to get customers and a win-win-win situation,” said Kennedy.

“Our top priority campaign is to move our country beyond coal and retire the oldest and dirtiest coal fire power plants, ” said Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, which has 1.4 million members across the nation and more than 300,000 in California.

Dan Rademacher said except for the inverter (the device on the left) and the rooftop solar panels, no additional devices are installed inside his house.

Oakland resident Dan Rademacher, who’s also an editor at Bay Nature, an East Bay environmental magazine, has been a Sierra Club member for 15 years. Rademacher had Sungevity install solar panels on his roof last August, and the panels are now providing more than 90 percent of the house’s electricity. “A lot of people [in Oakland] live in small houses; we have small electricity bills, we don’t drive long distances. What else can we do to reduce our carbon emissions?” Rademacher said about his decision to go solar.

Rademacher’s solar system is composed of two-kilowatt solar panels on the roof and an inverter next to the PG&E smart meter, which transfers the DC power it generates to the AC power that home appliances use. An Internet cable is also connected to the inverter so Sungevity can monitor the device and troubleshoot remotely. Power from the city’s electrical grid can be used when no solar electricity is generated.

Currently Rademacher pays $65 a month for both the system’s lease and the electricity produced by it. Although his PG&E bill dropped sharply, Rademacher said now he’s still paying $30 more than before.

“To be honest, we didn’t do it to save money,” Rademacher said, who sees the extra $30 a month as a choice between a dinner at a Thai restaurant and contributing to the environment.

Kennedy said in long-term—in this case over the next ten years—the system will save Rademacher roughly $5,000 on his electricity bill because the utility rate of PG&E is projected to go up while the Sungevity fare is fixed.  People have the option to lease the system from Sungevity without producing a down payment, Kennedy said, or they can also buy one, which usually costs about $12,000.

To get started, Kennedy said, people can simply visit the Sungevity website and input their home addresses and utility information— a free assessment of the cost of the system and how much money they’ll save will be sent to them within 24 hours. After that a project manager will walk the customers through the whole process and the installation only takes two or three days.  “All you need is an Internet connection and about five minutes,” Kennedy said.

Although the solar company is trying to make the process simple and the systems affordable, Sungevity only has “dozens of customers” in Oakland, according to Kennedy. “It’s really a question of political will and uptake by the consumers,” he said.

Rademacher is no doubt one of the hopeful who would like to see more solar panels in the future. “30 years ago recycling was some sort of fringe activity—now everybody recycles,” he said. “I would love it if 10 years from now going solar was ubiquitous as recycling.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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