Interview: Can't Install Solar Panels? -Discussing Alternative Options with Kiran Bhatraju

Kiran Bhatraju headshotKiran Bhatraju, CEO of Arcadia Power

Our consultants might make it look easy, however, to finance and install solar panels on any property is always challenging. Sometimes the conditions are less then ideal and other times it simply takes too long to return your initial investment.

This is why our team decided to interview Kiran Bhatraju, CEO of Arcadia Power -a company that offers a very scalable alternative to placing panels on your property.

Let's start off with a brief introduction on Arcadia Power's community solar program. When did it start and what's its main goal?

We launched the Beta version of our nationwide community solar program in late July. Our goal is to give solar access to the ~80% of people who can’t get rooftop solar, often because of shade, cost, not owning the roof, not being south facing, living in apartments, etc. We believe everyone should have the chance to benefit economically from the solar movement, and we also want to help push forward the development of new solar projects.

Our projects are modular, meaning a customer can buy as little as one panel. And it's portable - you can move and your savings will move along with you. Our technology is taking a niche product (rooftop solar) and taking it to the mass market.

You mentioned solar access for homeowners and renters across the U.S who can't install solar panels on their properties. Is that achievable? Are there solar farms that can be tapped into in all 50 states?

It certainly is and we are doing it right now. Our proprietary billing system works across all major utilities. It enables us to credit people’s accounts with money based on the exact amount of production from the panel(s) a customer subscribes to. We have had people everywhere from California to Arkansas subscribe to our community solar projects located in Washington D.C to Maine.

Solar is currently less than 1% of our electricity generation today, so our hope is that as more and more people choose community solar, we can help build the next generation of large, scalable solar farms.

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The price of a produced kilowatt from PV panels really depends on solar days and solar availability throughout the day. Of course, there are regions where it's still not economically feasible to install solar panels and produce electricity at competitive pricing. What kind of solutions does Arcadia Power's power offer to customers in those regions? Solar at a higher cost or supply from other alternative energy sources?

This is exactly another point we are tackling. We only connect customers to projects in the most optimal states. But for our residential subscribers, the solar option is the same price regardless of what state they live in. The host-site economics where the actual project is built differ state by state, but there is more than enough sites to choose from in the current market to satisfy the supply-side. For example, a customer in Florida, which doesn’t have an active solar market, can connect to a profitable project in Massachusetts and get savings.

Does Arcadia Power own some of the solar farm capacities or does your company simply act as a broker between the supplier and the end-customer?

We construct and maintain the project, financed by our subscribers, but the host retains ownership of the project.

If a resident can install solar panels on his property, is there still a good reason to buy electricity from a solar farm?

This generally depends on the net metering policies and whether they have an optimal roof. There are still plenty of states where our program is a quicker payback than rooftop. Although presently in a state like California or Massachusetts, if you have a good roof for solar it would make more sense to do rooftop due to the incentives. But again, only a small sliver of folks have optimal south-facing roofs and plan to be in those homes for 20 years.

You also offer renewable generated electricity from wind farms. If a customer decides to use all renewable resources available in his vicinity, is it possible to go 100% renewable? What percentage of renewable generated electricity can an average consumer hope to receive?

Yes we do offer a renewable energy certificate program where consumers can choose to support wind farms with 50% of their usage for free, or 100% for a small premium. We have several customers who are both on our wind program and have subscribed to panel(s), in order to support the development of our community solar projects and receive the economic benefit.

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How does all of this translate in the commercial sector? Now that running an energy sustainable business is becoming more important, can commercial users count on solar farms or should they be looking for ways to install solar panels on their property?

We absolutely believe that the commercial sector will adopt community solar. There is an enormous market for businesses who lease office, retail or industrial space and don’t have control of their rooftop. Community solar would allow these businesses to benefit economically and help achieve their sustainability goals.

For now, those who install solar panels on their properties reap the greatest benefits from solar generated electricity. Do you see that changing in the near future?

It’s possible, although in states like Massachusetts or California, rooftop incentives are hard to beat. Having said that, our goal with this is to not compete with the 20% of the market who can possibly ever get rooftop if all states succumb to adopting solar and net metering, but rather give access to the 80% who will not have the rooftop options.

Our movement is about inclusion. Rooftop solar has been a boon to homeowners, and those with perfect credit scores who can shell out 30 to 40 thousand dollars for a system. We’re going after the mass market, folks who might move from their current home, who only want one panel instead of thirty, but who still wants the savings and predictability that solar brings.

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