As we prepare to introduce the 2017 Global Good Fund Fellows we are taking time highlight the amazing work of our 2016 class. Below is an interview with Steph Speirs, CEO & Co-Founder of Solstice.
Fellow: Steph Speirs
Problem to solve: Solar For Every American
Why was 2016 a special year?
In the last year, our team has expanded from a team of three to 11 full-time employees with the generous support of our partners. We have begun enrolling customers in community solar gardens and in the last three months we have more than doubled the amount of solar capacity for which households have signed up. Personally, it has been fun to build a team culture around the five values our staff chose for the organization: integrity, equity, curiosity, hard work, and gratitude.
You’re trying to solve a very big problem. What motivates you to keep going?
First and foremost, the amazing team at Solstice is the best motivator to go to work everyday, including my cofounder Steve Moilanen. Secondly, the issue of energy equity is deeply personal for me. I was raised in America by a single immigrant mother who raised three kids on a salary below the poverty line, and I watched her struggle to pay the bills her whole life. For the first time, solar is cheap enough that it can help people like my mother, but the people in this country that need solar savings the most are currently the least likely to get it. Energy equity is what drives Solstice, and we believe clean energy is both a natural environment issue and a human right.
What was the biggest road block you faced this year?
The main issue we face is lack of awareness. Few households are aware that they can benefit from community solar, though once they understand it, 20 percent are excited to sign up. The challenge is to gather initial momentum in a community and establish trust. We hired teammates to oversee community outreach and target early adopters like churches and small businesses. Building out our digital platform will help us harness the power of networks.
How did you leverage technology to solve this problem?
Through our digital platform, we incentivize local “Solstice Leaders” to earn extra income by enrolling their friends in our program, leveraging the insight from a recent Yale study that the primary reason customers switch to solar is that a friend or neighbor went solar. The platform also helps our solar project developer partners by managing and engaging customers for them.
What is your long-term vision?
There are 90 million households that are locked out of the solar market in America and we do not intend to stop until we make a dent on that problem. For example, if we enroll just 50,000 customers in community solar in the next few years, we will provide a total annual savings of over $12 million to mostly low to moderate-income Americans. By stimulating market demand, we will also increase the overall community solar supply, avoiding about 285,000 tons of CO2 a year, equivalent to 274 million pounds of coal not burned. Ultimately, we hope to expand to every state and even internationally, saving people money and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions at every step of the way.
How will you know when “you’ve made it”?
We will know when we have made it when “community solar” is a household word and we have become a national company. We aspire to eventually enroll a million customers in our projects, all of whom were previously ineligible to get rooftop solar. In doing so, we will be democratizing access to clean energy and accelerating the decarbonization of the economy.