Sungevity Spying on Celebrities with Solar Technology

As part of the PR for the launch of its LA Solar Lease Program, solar power company Sungevity has used satellite imaging — and a Hollywood Star Map — to estimate how much money various celebrities would save with a solar power system on their roofs.

Oakland, CA-based Sungevity’s proprietary software algorithm uses satellite photos to closely estimate the size, slope, and shading of a roof, and thus determine a home’s solar potential — all without actually visiting the house, in most cases.

Applying this system to the gated mansions of LA celebrities, Sungevity estimated that Jennifer Alba could save $100 a month with a solar system, and Ashton Kutcher $75.

The Sungevity LA Solar Lease Program is designed specifically for customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which has its own, somewhat idiosyncratic solar rebate program.

Like Sungevity’s (and other installer’s) lease programs elsewhere in California, the installer owns the panels and basically rents the customer’s roof. The customers gets a guaranteed discount on their electricity bill for 20 years, and Sungevity will also pay for all maintenance of the panels.

The best way to save money with solar panels is still to pay for them yourself (which Sungevity also offers). But the high cost of a solar system has scared many people away from this option. Leasing a system, on the other hand, accords the buyer all the green bragging rights of buying one — with no money down.

Such leasing programs have proven a powerful incentive to green-wannabes. According to CEO Danny Kennedy, Sungevity installed as many systems in March and April as in all of last year — and 90 percent of those sales were leases.

If the guaranteed savings and maintenance sounds too good to be true, it’s not. But some people may find that the savings involved are not worth the hassle (I have a feeling Jennifer Alba doesn’t need the extra $100).

Sungevity is unique among solar installers in that it has tried to put as much of the process of buying solar panels online as possible, thereby reducing transaction costs. “Probably 10 percent of the end price is pencil pushing, filling out forms,” said Kennedy. “We’ve done as much as we can, legally, to digitize that.”

After determining the type of system appropriate, Sungevity use a network of local contractors to actually install it.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.