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Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Energy Is Putting Power Back in the Hands of the People

Sungevity founder Danny Kennedy talks about his book and how solar power is transforming communities and creating jobs.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Mana Photo/ Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

Rarely do we switch on an appliance or flick on the lights and consider the source of energy. Yet, in the past few years, we have become more conscious about the mountains being blown up in Appalachia to extract coal or the massive onslaught of gas drilling and fracking on new shale formations. Danny Kennedy’s new book, Rooftop Revolution: How Solar Power Can Save Our Economy -- and Our Planet, turns our endless search to keep looking down for future energy sources and simply asks us to look up for it. The sun, he argues, is waiting to be tapped for clean, cheap energy if we can get our heads out of the sand.

Danny Kennedy, Greenpeace activist, Project Underground founder and long-time campaigner, decided to apply his organizing skills to harness the sun’s energy. Choosing to do something about our energy crisis and climate change, he founded Sungevity with a small group of trusted friends in 2007. Now, Sungevity is one the world’s leading residential solar-energy companies and is the exclusive residential solar partner for Lowe’s.

I sat down with Kennedy to learn more about his vision and reasons for writing this book.

Heeten Kalan: Your book is titled Rooftop Revolution. Why do you think solar power is a revolution in the making?

Danny Kennedy: Solar power represents a change in electricity that has a potentially disruptive impact on power in both the literal sense (meaning how we get electricity) and in the figurative sense of how we distribute wealth and power in our society. Fossil fuels have led to the concentration of power whereas solar’s potential is really to give power over to the hands of people. This shift has huge community benefits while releasing our dependency on the centralized, monopolized capital of the fossil fuel industry. So it’s revolutionary in the technological and political sense.

Sungevity’s mission is to build power based on sunshine as well as build a great business. Each time a solar panel is installed we gain supporters and voters. A family or business that uses solar panels ends up lending their voice to demonstrate solar’s potential for new energy, new jobs and a healthier economy. This is a revolution – using our rooftops, we can make the difference.

HK: In your book you talk about solar power being local and decentralized. This is almost the antithesis of what we currently have. While that is an appealing concept, what do you think gets in the way of realizing solar’s potential?

DK: What gets in the way is all the wealth and politics that benefit from "King CONG." I identify the collective interests of coal, oil, nukes, and gas as the major obstacles to alternative energy sources and have dubbed those interests King CONG. We have regulated monopolies in the U.S. that basically amount to the government saying to the fossil fuel industry/big energy that if you keep the lights on in Chicago and New York we’ll give you control over that market and let you grow your business by certain regulated standards.

Yet there’s been no innovation in that industry and no motivation to innovate. They’re using the same turbines for a century now. We’re suffering because the big energy companies are motivated by self-interests. Just like cell phones threatened landlines in the telephone business, solar power is seen as threatening big fossil fuel-derived energy. What we need is a social will and political pressure to break down that monopoly and we need entrepreneurs who will deliver a more modular, flexible and affordable solution.

 
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