Sungevity founder: Why we went global

Residential solar startup Sungevity has expanded overseas. Founder Danny Kennedy talks about why it went to the Netherlands and where the company might be headed next.

Sungevity, the residential solar installation and financing company, is on a bit of an expansion tear. The Oakland, Calif.-based startup partnered this spring with big box retailer Lowe's. A few months later, it bounded into the Northeast market and opened up in five states simultaneously, a move that nearly tripled its geographic footprint in one fell swoop. On Thursday, Sungevity announced it would expand internationally and take a minority equity stake in Dutch solar company Zonline.

Sungevity originally looked at expanding overseas in either the Netherlands or Italy because of the high electricity rates in those two countries, founder Danny Kennedy told me in an interview. Sungevity ultimately chose the Netherlands because it's a more stable market to launch in.

"The Netherlands already has a competitive electricity market, where we can provide this offering online at existing electricity rates without subsidy," Kennedy said. "We can compete without subsidies. So, it's an incredible time to have an easy, well-loved brand business to roll out into new electricity markets."

Dutch customers will be able to lock in fixed electricity rate under a 20-year pay-as-you-go financing agreement. And since traditional utility rates are expected to go up over time, Kennedy expects it to be a popular offering.

Sungevity's leap overseas isn't just a milestone for the company. It also marks a shift within the residential solar industry, which traditionally favored local installers.

At its core, Sungevity wanted to create the best consumer experience -- regardless of geography. It achieved that by focusing its efforts on developing a suite of software that handles every step of the process including the marketing, design, financing, permits and installation.

Sales are driven by its website, where customers can get a firm price quote (called an iQuote) within 24 hours. A team of engineers sitting in Oakland design the solar systems based on satellite imagery.  When it's time to install, Sungevity subcontracts the work out to smaller, local operators. In short, Sungevity developed a scalable business model that allows it to expand into new markets quickly without compromising the brand or quality of the consumer experience.

But it's recent expansion into the Netherlands isn't just a software licensing deal, Kennedy said. Instead, Sungevity is providing the whole kit n' kaboodle.

"Zonline is taking our model, the whole platform really, including the software tools and some of the brand elements, the brand identity, the look and feel and so on," Kennedy said. "The secret to success here in this huge burgeoning market is to create the most friendly consumer experience, the best brand and the easiest process you can create.

Kennedy wouldn't reveal where Sungevity will expand to next. But it's clear the company plans to keep growing.

"Where it makes sense, domestic or otherwise, we'll go there," Kennedy said. "We've now got feet on the ground, we've done it in the Northeast and now in the Netherlands, so we can repeat it. Repeat and rinse."

Photo: Sungevity

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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