The vast majority of California’s rooftop solar has been installed on single-family, owner-occupied homes. But Dover Janis, CEO of San Diego, Calif.-based startup Ivy Energy, sees apartment buildings as the state’s rooftop-solar future — if the right combination of technology, policy and business models can align to make it happen. The prospects depend in part on how California utility regulators decide to reform the state’s net-metering system for rooftop solar.
“There are over 1 million homes with solar in California,” Janis said in an interview. But “less than 1 percent of apartments or even single-family rental homes have solar energy.”
That’s largely because the interests of renters and property owners are not traditionally aligned when it comes to rooftop solar, a situation known as the split-incentive problem. Tenants pay electricity bills in most rental housing, so they benefit from on-site solar production that helps reduce those bills. But property owners, who must pay to install the solar systems, stand to see little benefit beyond cutting electricity bills for common facilities like lobbies and elevators. This has led to low solar uptake on rental housing across the country.
Ivy Energy has spent the past four years building a software platform meant to solve that split-incentive problem. Last fall it partnered with Bright Power, a New York-based multifamily-building energy-management provider with projects across the country, to “help renting communities have access to on-site clean energy — hopefully with storage — at large scale,” Janis said.
Much of Bright Power’s work on building energy upgrades is around electrification, Ulmer said. “There are heat pumps for space and water heating, there are EV chargers,” he said. “On-site solar, and more and more the ability to store that energy with batteries, creates this path toward electrification, and toward cleaner buildings.”
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