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U.S. Solar Needs A New Model – Lumio Answers From Silicon Slopes

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Solar energy’s success depends on its business model as much as its photovoltaic cells. Despite the challenges of 2020 and the global pandemic, U.S. solar installations achieved record levels and the Energy Information Administration expects 2021 to far exceed these levels, with solar accounting for 39% of all new electricity generation capacity in 2021, surpassing wind for the first time.

While Utility-scale solar is cheaper than rooftop solar, rooftop is more likely to make a bigger difference in our energy mix and in decreasing carbon emissions because it is easier to install in small pieces. It also doesn’t kill birds, take up miles of pristine land in the Mojave, or require billions of dollars in financing. And it doesn’t stress the grid as much.

Logistically, rooftop solar is just easier. There are over 170 billion square feet of residential rooftops in America, about a third of which is facing the right direction. No need to take more space away from Nature. New rooftop solar emplaced during new builds also amortizes the cost to the point that the homeowner would barely notice it.

Rooftop solar is also more personal – owners feel they are doing something themselves in their own community. That’s why we have one on our roof. Rooftop solar is also a big part of any successful Green New Deal, along with hydro, nuclear and wind.

As solar energy costs decreased significantly over the last 15 years (see figure below), the United States market saw incredible growth (see figure above). But with less than 3% of the residential rooftops covered, the consumer market has already seen huge set-backs, humbling solar industry giants as well as Mom & Pop start-ups.

So it is notable that several smaller companies have coalesced to form Lumio, a solar company with a unique approach to this problem, like building a decentralized service platform that can be an app on your iPhone, in a very centralized and old fashioned construction market.

Like Uber

UBER
did for the car ride.

Lumio just launched this month but is already a top five U.S. solar provider with a 12-month run rate of more than $1billion in gross sales, over 3,500 employees covering 37 states and strategic partnerships rare in a new company.

Lumio was born from a series of meetings between two renewable energy leaders – Greg Butterfield (WordPerfect, Novell, Legato, Altiris, Symantec

NLOK
, Omniture, Vivint Solar, SolarWinds

SWI
, Workfront, Domo, Venafi, Route) and Jonathan Gibbs, CEO of Smart Energy Today. Each saw a unique strength in the other – perfect for this opportunity – and they were each making their next big moves.

Butterfield said, “Gibbs walked into my office with a business plan that was already on my white board. He wants to build exactly what I was planning to build.” 

Greg Butterfield has an unmatched record in growing incredible companies and leaders over the past 30 years, and Gibbs brings an unswerving focus on customer experience and an openness to learn how to lead this next generation. The match cold build one of the most impactful companies to-date.

Lumio is working on being much more than just another solar company. They appear to be creating an entirely new category and new era of smart energy creation and management, together with Home Experience intelligent software. Imagine your home generating its own electricity and managing how and when that power is used or stored, or even cleaning its own water, filtering its own air, and dispatching professionals when Lumio notifies you of a problem.

Currently, if you need to buy something for your home, solar, HVAC, yard service, what do you do? 

You Google.

You start a process of searching and then you evaluate. Then you price shop. Then you schedule. You basically have to become your own general contractor on any home improvement job, no matter how big or small. All of us have had a bad experience with that.

Although solar is booming, it’s still a scary concept for many homeowners. The number one reason why people don’t buy solar today is they don’t really understand it, or they don’t trust the person that’s trying to sell it to them.

Lumio is simplifying the learning experience, the financing process, the buying experience and the energy management experience – it needs to be an easy and enjoyable decision or the homeowner will not make it.

The solar industry’s average install time is 60-90 days. Lumio’s average install time (with high satisfaction) is less than 30 days — in some cases less than 10 days. No 1,111 days like Bill Maher had to contend with in California to put up his solar panels.

Together with Lumio’s record of implementing multiple improvements like new roofs, battery backups, and smart technology upgrades on the same home, the idea of a one-stop smart energy shop becomes a reality.

“Speed is the currency of solar,” according to Jonathan Gibbs. “The future leaders of this industry will ultimately find a way to reliably complete installs in seven days or less while elevating the customer experience.”

And it is a substantial list of companies that have merged to form Lumio, each company bringing different expertise to make this complete. They are Atlantic Key Energy, DECA, Lift Energy, Our World Energy and Smart Energy Today. Each leads their respective markets in customer satisfaction and time-to-install (see footnote for links and key players).

In the last several years, big residential solar companies have struggled to make a profit. Two of the nation’s largest residential solar companies lost over $500 million combined in the first nine months of the year, and their operations and purchases of solar systems collectively used up $1.3 billion in cash.

So a new business and operational model was needed.

Solar does have the support of the new administration. President Biden has pledged to make the United States a leader in clean energy manufacturing as part of his efforts to jump-start the economy and create millions of green jobs, even in the face of Asia’s continued status as the dominant solar manufacturing hub, and despite steep tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.

So it’s also good that Smart Energy Today, the seed of Lumio, used only domestic components in its solar arrays, also necessary to obtain some of the state and federal financial incentives.

Solar advocates say there’s good reason for the Biden administration to be interested in manufacturing. Producing more solar parts domestically could ease the transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, a campaign pledge of Biden’s that will require a massive build-out of renewable energy, hydro and nuclear.

Almost 90% of America’s low-carbon energy sources come from hydropower (21%) and nuclear power (67%), which together avoid almost a billion tons of CO2 emissions each year.

Increasing hydro is easy. TheDepartment of Energy and the National Hydropower Association have a plan to double hydropower in America over the next two decades, without building a single new dam, by powering existing non-powered dams for new power and for pumped hydro storage.

Advanced nuclear and small modular reactors (SMRs) are ideal for a low-carbon future, but the political hurdles are still large. But since SMRs are especially good for load-following renewables, particularly solar, they will be necessary if we are to reduce natural gas.

So between the non-fossil fuel sources we have, we can achieve a just and sustainable low-carbon energy future. We just have to speed it up a bit!

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