Sustainable Heroes III
Lynn Jurich is the co-founder and CEO of Sunrun, one of the leading home solar companies in the U.S. She followed her passion for preserving the environment and invented the business model “solar as a service”. Lynn thrives on the mission to create a planet run by the sun, and making solar power accessible to everyone.
How did you end up in solar?
Nature has always been important to me; important to humanity. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, appreciating fresh air and trees, and want to contribute toward preserving them. I completed an undergraduate degree with a focus on Science, Technology and Society at Stanford, followed by a career in venture capital.
I spent some time in China, where I witnessed the impact of air pollution firsthand. After having been exposed to the digital and information industries in Silicon Valley, it made me realize the infrastructure problems we have, and compelled me to think about ways to use our resources more efficiently.
I decided that this was what I wanted to dedicate my business skills to. I’m good at creating value from really messy problems. We came up with the idea of solar-as-a-service to provide households clean, affordable solar power from their roof without any upfront cost or maintenance concerns. That idea changed the way Americans are able to participate in a clean energy future. Since founding Sunrun in 2009, our business model has evolved, but the underlying vision is still there.
How do we get to 100% renewable energy?
The world knows we need to move to 100% renewables as fast as we can. My view this is what society wants and it can be huge economic and social opportunity.
Rooftop solar and home batteries will get us to 100% renewables faster. If we were to use all the available rooftop solar panels in the U.S., we could serve 40% of the energy needs of this country. Adding the battery to the solar equation, we see two value opportunities:
1. Consumers want control and are will- ing to pay for it: Home batteries can help solve the issues with power outages and extreme weather conditions. The value has shifted from purely, “I like that it’s environmentally-friendly”, or “I can save money”, to “I can also now protect my family with increased resiliency”.
2. We can now solve the intermittence issue: Home batteries can help with replacing traditional infrastructure by better balancing the grid. Creating energy where it is used is more efficient, resilient and affordable, and partnerships between grid operators, private companies and households can help us get to a fully renewable energy future. Distributed assets have real advantages and are at the core of the renewable future.
Behind-the-meter storage has come with the advantages that many customers can and are willing to pay for backup to control their energy supply. It also allows us to aggregate individual systems when there is energy congestion on the larger electricity grid.
To me, there’s never been a more exciting time for clean energy. The rooftop solar market is very much underpenetrated. We are a sizable and cash-flow-positive business, yet we are still not even scratching the surface. Home batteries are what really is going to help the renewable energy revolution.
What role do utilities play in this 100% renewable transition?
At over 100 years old, our traditional energy infrastructure is dated and rates are rising. It would cost trillions to upgrade our existing infrastructure. Rather than doing that, we should work to evolve the utility business model and deliver what people want.
Let’s not do it the old way where we rely solely on a centralized model. Let’s plan the system and create opportunities for distributed energy assets to exist at the edges, which will deliver a better, more balanced grid. A strong, resilient grid is one where distributed energy assets can respond in real time to the needs of the overall electricity grid. This gives us more optionality, which leads to a more flexible, responsive system. Distributed and centralized power can work hand-in-hand when done right. This will allow for utilities to get involved, work with customers, and through technology advancements make the infrastructure system more efficient overall.
Utilities know how the grid operates and where the congestion is, so they’re important in this transition. At Sunrun, we are currently evaluating the right business model to interface with utilities as a consumer-centered company, and have partnered with National Grid to explore this. We need the utility business model to evolve with consumers.
Where are we in the maturity of energy storage, and what will it take to deploy it at scale?
I don’t think there’s a lot more required for energy storage to be deployed at scale; the technology is there. We will continue to march down the cost curve, as with solar 10 years ago – batteries are seeing similar cost improvements. During the past decade, the cost of installed solar panels came down 65% and the cost of batteries came down 84%, and market research predicts that these trends will continue. Many predict batteries will become at least 50-60% cheaper over the next few years, but are already cost-effective in many markets. And when you add the benefits of backup power, they’ll become competitive in almost all markets within a short time.
What about new technologies, like blockchain?
Technology over-delivers even on our positive expectations. It would be very helpful if information related to grid operations was more publicly available (e.g. about congestion and areas of anticipated load growth). That would allow innovative solutions to be developed where they’re needed the most. Everyone recognizes the energy industry as it stands is hugely inefficient, and transactive technologies like blockchain will help make it more efficient.
How long do you think California will need to become 100% renewable?
That’s a difficult question to answer, but I’ll go with 2045. With more and more advancements in renewable energy like battery storage, we can speed this transition even further.
Who is your sustainable hero and why?
Dr. Paul Romer, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. I’m fortunate to have had him as a professor in business school. He speaks about the importance of optimism as a motivating force for people in the face of great challenges. Accord- ing to his theory of endogenous behavior, protecting the environment is one of those big challenges that’s so daunting it can have a dispiriting effect – people want to ignore it or deny its existence. We need to tackle the great challenges of our time head-on, and I’m often reminded of the importance of optimism that Dr. Romer speaks of.
I believe we can solve the problems facing our environment with clean, renewable energy. We have the solutions today, with home solar and batteries that can get us to 100% clean energy faster and for everyone. This optimism has motivated me personally and helped Sun- run grow to the leading home solar, storage and energy services company in the U.S. We can create a planet run by the sun, and we’re already doing it.
About Sustainable Heroes
Join us on a journey into the hearts and minds of some of today’s greatest heroes, who have dedicated themselves to positively impact tomorrow’s world. We invite you to explore with us what makes these heroes tick, what drives them to overcome arduous trials and immense challenges, known and unknown.
In this issue, we pay homage to a leaders in renewable energy, a transportation and mobility expert, a sustainable nonprofit director and an open seas explorer – all of whom share the goal of creating a sustainable world that is more resilient as well as financially stable.
We encourage you on your own quest for ways to innovate, embrace sustainability and do the right thing. Become a heroine or hero to others and help us together solve the problems threatening our very survival. To each of you heroes and heroines, there is a brighter, more sustainable future that we can build together for future generations.
We welcome nominations for people you’d like to see featured in future editions. Please send your nominations and other comments to anikolausson@ greentechcapital.com.