This former SolarCity exec is trying to reinvent 2 parts of the solar business
- GivePower is a nonprofit working to develop projects in underserved areas.
- The organization recently finished a project at the Standing Rock Reservation for the Sioux Nation tribe.
- GivePower was started by for SolarCity executive Hayes Barnard, who is also CEO of Loanpal, a company that facilitates financing for residential solar projects.
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Solar is harder than most people think, even though it's grown in popularity over the past 10 years.
Hayes Barnard wants to make solar easier. Barnard was SolarCity's Chief Revenue Officer, a job he took on when the solar-installer acquired his company, Paramount Solar, in 2013. A few months after the deal, Barnard created a solar nonprofit affiliated with SolarCity. When Tesla and Solar City merged in 2016, Barnard spun off the nonprofit prior to the tie-up and continues to run the organization.
Called GivePower, it facilitates solar projects in places where there currently isn't much energy drawn from the sun. This week, the organization announced that it had assisted the Sioux Nation is developing a 300-kilowatt solar farm in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation, not far from the controversial Dakota Access pipeline and in the heart of fracking country. The solar farm is North Dakota's first.
"It will provide 50% of all solar in the state," Barnard said in an interview with Business Insider. "It's a pretty groundbreaking move in North Dakota."
The power generated by the system, which is owned by the tribe, will go to a Sioux Nation community center and to a veterans center. Of the income flowing in from operating the utility, the tribe will spend half on a scholarship fund to preserve its language.
GivePower has handed off the project at this point, after managing the development, securing the land, overseeing engineering an construction, and even hiring a member of the Sioux tribe - who has now moved on to start his own solar-development business.
When Barnard isn't working on GivePower, he's running Loanpal, a solar-financing company that's trying to address what he thinks is another challenge with the industry.
"The whole idea was I want to say yes more often," he said. "Millions are calling, all we do is say no."
The "no's" came from hangups in the solar-financing process. Customers wanted to own, rather than lease, solar-panel systems, but when they investigated what it took to get panels on their roofs, they encountered potentially thousands in upfront costs - a "litany of upgrades," Barnard said.
Trying to cover the financing through the traditional home-equity routes ended up being too onerous, he said. And many buyers couldn't qualify for the financing that was available.
"We studied this meticulously to understand the disqualification rate," he added.
The solution was a separate loan that didn't require a mortgage refinancing. Homeowners also have the option of doing a home refinancing later, absorbing the cost of the solar loan.
"A key component of what we did was to educate major banks," Barnard said. "It's been well received by the market, and solar contractors say it's great."
LoanPal has organized $27 billion in funding for 125,000 customers, according to the company's data, with 80% of the top 50 solar operations making use of its platform. So if Barnard gets his way, solar should become much easier for homeowners to consider, for banks to finance, and for installers to get onto rooftops.
"I want to be in the ecosystem of the industry where I can help everybody," he said, of Loanpal and GivePower. "You can all get a 'Yes.'"