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Solar Firm Taps Social Networking Expert to Spur 'Rooftop Revolution'

A former LinkedIn social media expert is helping Sungevity connect solar users, online and off, to generate buzz and new buyers for its panels

Aug 10, 2011
Patrick Crane, chief marketing officer for Sungevity

Includes correction

Social media expert Patrick Crane had just stepped down for a "career break" after four years with networking giant LinkedIn when Sungevity came knocking late last year with a job offer.

Still far from decided but intrigued, Crane agreed to sign up with the Oakland, Calif.-based solar leasing firm — but just as a customer.

He filled out a free online Sungevity iQuote, punching in his roof specifics, electricity usage and other household details. In less than 24 hours, the company calculated the roof's pitch and orientation to the sun and emailed Crane a design of his solar array without ever stepping foot in his San Francisco Bay Area home.

The quote tallied how much money the panels would save on electricity bills. And it stated that, at no cost to Crane, he could lease an installation from Sungevity, skipping out on tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs.

Looking over the proposal led to an "aha" moment for Crane.

Going solar seemed like a transformative choice, he told SolveClimate News in an interview, and he wanted to talk about it far and wide. For a social networking guy, that was huge. "I felt in my bones that solar is a social phenomenon," Crane said. "What I saw very quickly through my own experience was that families are making a very big emotional decision.

"Solar is not a bunch of black panels on a roof," he continued. "Solar is a lifestyle."

That was in January. One month later Crane signed on to be Sungevity's chief marketing officer, and in that same week in February his real-life rooftop array was first connected to the grid.

"Being that wowed ... by the customer experience was the impetus to say, 'This is what I want to do with my life for the next few years,'" Crane said.

He said he hopes to bring to Sungevity and the fledgling solar industry the same skills he brought to one of the biggest social networks in the world. (Paragraph includes correction added on 08/10/2011)

LinkedIn's membership rose by 700 percent in recent years to more than 120 million users in 200-plus countries and territories. The goal of Crane's new position is to connect residential solar users — online and off — to generate buzz and new buyers for installations nationwide. 

A 'Rooftop Revolution'

As a first step Crane is heading up Sungevity's aggressive marketing campaign, dubbed the "Rooftop Revolution," which aims to position the firm as the top residential solar provider in the nation. 

The initiative kicked off in July in conjunction with Sungevity's expansion into Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. The idea is to transform the company into a household name, but also to raise awareness about the relative ease with which homeowners can now go solar — thanks largely to the advent of the solar lease.

Sungevity installed more than 250 solar arrays between 2008 and 2009. Since offering its no-money-down lease in 2010, installations have grown tenfold to more than 2,000 arrays today, the majority of which are in its existing markets of Arizona, California and Colorado. And, the solar provider plans to double its headcount to 200 new employees by the end of this year.

Still, the firm accounts for less than 5 percent of the U.S. market for residential installations, while its main competitors, San Francisco’s SunRun and San Mateo-based SolarCity, have market shares of 26 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Sungevity hopes its key hires will give it an edge among its peers, who also expanded to the East Coast in recent months.

Along with Crane, the company has recently hired Mac Irvin, formerly a managing director at San Jose-based panel maker SunPower Corp., as chief financial officer, and Paul Stroube, once the general manager of online gaming community Xfire, is the chief information officer.

This summer, Sungevity staffers are making their rounds in East Coast cities in a popsicle truck fueled by solar panels and biodiesel. The team is also hosting neighborhood block parties for its new customers to show off their panels.

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