Solar Energy

Focus

Sillicon valley know-how aims to conquer EU solar market

11.09.12 @ 12:39

  1. By Philip Ebels

BRUSSELS - The long list of California cool making its way into European homes got a little longer this year, when a solar company from Amsterdam acquired the license to a new technology to calculate a building’s propensity to generate power from the sun.

  • "It used to be that people would go up on the roof to take measurements." (Photo: VELUX / ESTIF)

The technology, its developers say at Oakland-based Sungevity, allows the company to make a faster and more accurate estimate of the costs and benefits of installing solar panels on your roof.

“It used to be that people would go up on the roof [to take measurements],” Danny Kennedy, founder of and president at Sungevity, told EUobserver.

Instead, he said, his team of engineers are using satellite images, aerial photographs and specially designed software to do in less than 24 hours what used to take weeks. He calls it “remote solar design."

“It is what we pioneered. It is where we are leveraging,” he said.

Building on success in the US, the company late last year announced it was expanding abroad by taking an equity stake in a solar start-up in the Netherlands, Zonline, and giving it access to the new technology.

The new service went live in April this year. During the first three months of operation, Zonline director Roebyem Anders said, the company received more than 3000 estimate requests and sold close to 150 solar panel installations.

“We have been very successful. It has exceeded expectations,” she said. Next year, she wants to sell 1,000 installations.

The reason for choosing the Netherlands, Kennedy said, was not that orange is both the company’s and the country’s national colour, but, among other things, that electricity prices are high enough for solar to be competitive.

“We are at a tipping point,” he said. “Electricity prices across the continent dictate that solar makes sense.”

Electricity prices have been rising for years, while those for solar panels have been falling. Neither trend is expected to come to a halt anytime soon, and to a growing number of home-owners the relatively big investment in a solar panel installation is looking less and less frightening.

According to a typical Zonline estimate, a €6,600 system of 12 solar panels on an average house in the Netherlands somewhere would save the owner almost €30,000 in electricity bills over the course of 25 years. It would provide almost three quarters of the household’s total electricity consumption.

Sungevity’s foray into the Netherlands is “something of a test”, Kennedy said, to see if it could survive in a highly competitive European market. If so, he plans to expand even further.

“We are very interested in Europe. We are looking further afield,” he said.