Sunrun Appoints Executive Vice President Mary Powell


Many energy and climate experts believe that the United States urgently needs to increase its use of solar energy to address climate change. Still, power companies and companies that install rooftop solar panels have long been at odds over how that power is generated and who should make money from it.

Now, largest rooftop solar installer in the country He decided to hire his CEO from the utility industry. The Sunrun company said Thursday it has hired Mary Powell, who previously ran Vermont-based Green Mountain Power.

Sunrun said the company had selected Ms. Powell to help expand it further into the types of businesses that had until recently been the domain of regulated electrical services, such as Consolidated Edison in New York and Pacific Gas & Electric in California. Instead of just installing panels in homes, Sunrun is trying to become a new type of energy company that provides solar and storage products to customers while also allowing them to sell power to the utility grid.

The appointment marks the intention of Sunrun and other rooftop solar companies to play a larger role in the transition to renewable energy, which President Biden hopes to accelerate with tens of billions of dollars in new federal spending. bipartisan infrastructure bill What the Senate is considering now. Sunrun and Ms. Powell pressed for more investment in rooftop solar, batteries and other local power sources rather than the approach preferred by major utilities looking to build buildings. thousands of kilometers of new power lines and large wind and solar farms in remote locations.

In an interview leading Green Mountain when it built Vermont’s largest wind farm and began installing batteries in homes, he said he joined Sunrun because rooftop solar and other small energy devices can be installed faster than large electrical projects. takes ten years or more to build. He also said that a large number of people in the energy sector are too dependent on a system that never considers a two-way relationship between utilities and consumers.

“My passion for this company is driven by my passion for climate change,” said Ms. Powell, who ran Green Mountain for more than a decade before leaving at the end of 2019. “I’ve been working on this for 20 years. years. I’m shocked that people hold on so tightly to a 100-year-old system.”

Powell, who has been on Sunrun’s board of directors since 2018, will replace Lynn Jurich, who will become Sunrun’s founding co-chairman.

“This is very motivated by our intense feelings that we need to move faster on climate,” Ms Jurich said. “Climate change does not expect us to build large-scale transmission lines.”

Some energy managers and climate activists have argued that the country needs an “all above” approach to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases responsible for climate change. The country needs energy projects large and small, transmission lines, household and business batteries that can be as small as large televisions and as large as shipping containers. These investments need to be made quickly, activists say, because wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes, winter storms and other extreme weather conditions linked to climate change have paralyzed power grids.

“This is bigger than utilities,” said Pedro J. Pizarro, CEO of Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison, in a recent interview. “This is bigger than an industry.”

Still, utilities and rooftop solar companies fierce political battles in state capitals. Many utilities and their allies are asking regulators and lawmakers in places like California and Florida to lower the rates they pay for electricity produced by rooftop solar panels. Or they are trying to put new charges on the roof panels.

Utilities argue these changes are necessary because as more homeowners buy solar panels, fewer people are left to share the cost of maintaining the grid. But homeowner groups like Sunrun and solar installers say grid-led efforts will reduce the number of people who can afford roof panels, which they advocate for lower emissions and help lower the cost of electricity for everyone by reducing the need for new transmission lines. and power plants.

“To achieve the necessary emissions reductions, solar power will need to grow four times faster than we do today,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement last week.

In addition to utility opposition, the rooftop solar business is facing other hurdles. The cost of installing solar panels is much higher in the United States than in countries like Australia., partly because getting permission from local authorities is more troublesome here. Most rooftop solar companies that spend heavily on sales and marketing not always profitable.

Sunrun said on Thursday it lost $41 million in the second quarter, up from $14 million a year ago. The company last year purchased Vivint, one of its biggest competitors, is expanding its leadership as the largest rooftop solar installer in the country. But the stock price has fallen in recent months, dropping from around $80 in February to about $50 now.

Ms. Powell will have to convince investors that Sunrun’s plans to go beyond panel building will be profitable. (His brother, Michael Powell, is a reporter for The New York Times.)

Vikram Aggarwal, founder and CEO of EnergySage, a rooftop solar comparison shopping service, said Ms. Powell’s experience at Green Mountain could prove beneficial for Sunrun.

“I think Mary Powell is a very respected public service executive,” he said. “Very consumer oriented. He knows about the climate crisis and everything.”

Sunrun recently announced an agreement with Ford Motor to make it easier for people to drive the electric version of its F-150 pickup truck, which will hit the market next year, to power homes for 10 days during power outages. Such approaches are becoming more popular as blackouts and blackouts become more common due to extreme weather conditions and wildfires caused by public equipment.

Sunrun also wants to expand the use of virtual power plants that use power produced by rooftop solar panels stored in home batteries to support the electricity grid in times of high demand. Such systems played an important role in California’s power outages last summer.

“This is how customers and businesses act around the world,” said Ms. Powell. “There’s nothing for me to stop this momentum.”


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