If it feels like you've been hearing for years and years about solar power... well, that's because you have. I mean, Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the roof of the White House when he was President... 35 years ago! (Ronnie Reagan immediately had them taken down)
Finally, though, solar might finally be arriving. And one of the key players in that movement is the Oakland-based Sungevity is a big player in the solar space. The company has raised some $175 million in venture capital financing and is helping to provide solar to tens of thousands of residential homes around the world. It employs 400 workers, with 100 living in Oakland.
Danny Kennedy, the co-founder and President of Sungevity, took the stage at Vator Splash Oakland on Wednesday to discuss the emerging solar power space.
"Oakland is the heart of the future of solar," he said, and specifically he called Jack London Square, where the event was held, the "epicenter of the future of solar."
The space is growing rapidly: it's a $100 billion, growing at about 30% per year, even through the great recession. In fact, it has seen 400% growth in the United States since 2010.
"We are prime time, big money. Buffet is the biggest owner of our solar firm in this country; Blackstone is owner of one of our biggest competitors. We’re the shizzle, as they say."
More importantly, though, solar is the backbone of technology.
"You have Wikpedia saying 'I know everything,' and Google saying, 'Well, I have everything!.' You have Facebook saying, 'I know everybody,' and the Internet saying, 'Without me you all are nothing.' And electricity saying 'keep talking, bitches!'"
Solar is the "network of networks in this network society," he said, because everything is based on electricity.
"The future of solar is the market we know now as electricity," said Kennedy. "The disruption that is coming is not just the disruption of telephony, through a semi-conductor or a silicon ship, but it is the disruption of the market known as electricity."
Electricity represents 80% of GDP value, and all companies "are nothing without electricity." On top of that, solar is also going to disrupt the transportation market as well, he said, ending dependency on internal combustion engine.
Right now, he noted, all power is actually solar energy anyway, except that most of it is 200 million years old, namely coal, oil and gas.
"This is an ugly solution," said Kennedy. "It's got death in every step of the chain." The solar panel, which just turned 60 years old, on the other hand is more efficient and "will take on the world."
"This the word processor to the typewriter, this is the automobile to the horse. In a century we'll look back and go, "what where we doing digging up dead plants and boiling water?"
So what is fostering this change? Part of it is cultural, as people like sunlight. They like health and well being and they push back, since 9 out of 10 Americans think solar should be a bigger part of the country's energy supply.
There is also the economic benefit, he said, as solar creates jobs at a pace 10 times faster than the national average.
And, finally, it simply costs less. While fossil fuel gets used up through time, because it is finite it becomes more expensive as there is less of it, the price solar actually comes down.
So what will the future of solar look like?
"To be honest, I don’t know," said Kennedy. "I know it's going to be a lot like what Sungevity does: great, branded business, which serves up solar electricity easily, makes it easy, simple."
This is just the beginning of the solar industry, which has 40 million homes to address and lots of opportunity.
Investors, he said, "are going to make bank," and entrepreneurs and engineers "will find no more fulfilling, enriching, and rewarding work, both socially and financially."