Sungevity: finding solar’s emotional button

Accelerating the rooftop revolution is the personal and corporate mission of Sungevity’s founder Roebyem Anders. She shared her passion and experience in the lecture series ‘Meet the Energy leaders’.

Roebyem Anders on the roof of a student home in Amsterdam. (Photo: Sungevity).

Roebyem Anders had her revelation in the early 1990s in Mexico City after an early morning power cut. Immediately, all over the city, small generators started generating power. Shortly afterwards, the city was covered by a dense orange-grey smoke under a rising sun. Why not use solar power instead, she thought. This is madness.

The madness of fossil fuel use has become more evident ever since, while the price of solar power has been dropping continuously. So what keeps people from putting solar cells on their roofs? Perhaps, Anders said, some people are not yet convinced of the need to reduce CO2 emissions; others think that some new technology will save us; and still others think it’s too late anyway (after decades of climate change denial).

Anders’ lecture at 3mE. (Photo: Roy Borghouts)

There are clear stages in the adoption of photovoltaics, said Anders, who is an economist by training and a self-declared solar warrior by heart. In the first stage, people buy solar panels because they are ecologically driven to do the right thing, never mind the extra cost. In the second stage, the early adopters see that investing in solar power makes sense economically. The Netherlands has arrived at the end of this second stage, with a total of nearly 3 gigawatts installed power in 2017 (source: Nationaal Solar Trendrapport (NST) 2018). But how can the next phase, the ‘late majority’, be activated? This is what Anders’ Amsterdam-based company Sungevity has specialised in.

The company’s 160 ‘solar warriors’ mainly work from behind a computer and a telephone. Thanks to Google earth, they can locate every rooftop and calculate the power generated by solar panels, the investment and the revenues. They’ll be ticking the boxes to make sure that installing PV makes economic sense. The whole process of installing has been streamlined and people get personal advice within three mouse clicks. 

“So what’s holding people back? That’s what I’m obsessed about,” a clearly driven Anders confessed to the audience in the filled 3mE lecture hall.

Sungevity tried all kinds of emails. ‘Save the environment’. No reaction. ‘Save money with cheap solar power’. Nope. ‘Your neighbour is saving money with solar cells.’ What?!

There she touched on the emotional button that makes people move. “People hate to be outsmarted by their peers,” Anders found out. Once you’ve got a roof some place covered with PV, solar panels start spreading like a virus. The next thing you know is people start feeling naked without them.

By 2050, the Netherlands will have over 200 GW installed PV estimates the NST 2018. Half of that will be on rooftops of houses, schools, and companies, the other half will be integrated into buildings or large installations on land or water. Anders’ call to Delft researchers was to lead the development of other forms of solar energy than panels. She mentioned the power-generating windows by Physee as an example and invited interested students to apply for internships. She ended her lecture with the wish for all to “shine on.”

Meeting the audience. (Photo: Roy Borghouts)
Science editor Jos Wassink

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