Newsletter: Rooftop solar leader Sunrun hits the accelerator

If you want to gauge the health of the solar industry, you could do worse than checking on its leading practitioners.
By Julian Spector

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If you want to gauge the health of the solar industry, you could do worse than checking on its leading practitioners. So I caught up with Sunrun, the largest rooftop solar company in the U.S., to see how 2021 is going.

We’re increasing the growth rate,” CEO Lynn Jurich told me yesterday.

As recently as February 25, Sunrun expected to grow solar installations 20 to 25 percent in 2021. Now, less than three months later, the company says it will grow new installed capacity 25 to 30 percent this year.

How much is that, really? Sunrun installed 603 megawatts in 2020, so the new targets would mean adding 754 to 784 megawatts in 2021. That means all those little rooftops add more than almost any large solar plant under construction.

The cumulative effect of small projects is useful to keep in mind as Congress delves into President Biden’s clean energy infrastructure proposal, conjuring visions of megaprojects.

If we’re going to electrify our buildings and our transportation…the most efficient way to address that is to use the local infrastructure with rooftop solar, with batteries,” Jurich said. We’re really evolving from just a solar company to, How do we electrify our buildings?’ ”

Then again, there’s only one Sunrun, and it already absorbed No. 2 rooftop installer Vivint Solar in a deal last year. Activity at one-time market leader SolarCity dropped off after Tesla acquired it and hasn’t fully recovered.

Scaling solar installations to meet Biden’s desired clean grid target of 2035 will require even faster growth, from Sunrun and the rest of the industry.

So much of how fast it can go is tied into how much soft costs we’re able to reduce,” Jurich noted.

The recently expanded online permitting initiative SolarApp could help with that. Another persistent pain point is the cost to sign up customers; roofing giant GAF is tackling those costs by inserting solar into traditional roof sales.

Still, Sunrun’s latest projections put it growing faster than it has since 2016, though it’s moving far greater quantities in absolute terms.

(Lead image: Science in HD)

Julian Spector is a senior reporter at Canary Media. He reports on batteries, long-duration energy storage, low-carbon hydrogen and clean energy breakthroughs around the world.