Geostellar discovers solar market on rooftops
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Geostellar debuted late last year as a way to speed up solar and wind-power energy projects, and Chief Executive David Levine was pounding the pavement from coast to coast giving demos mostly to engineers and developers.
The company’s Web-based modeling tool offers new and dramatically faster ways to measure solar resources on a given plot of land, and he was sure the development community would be all over it. But he was so focused that he almost missed his real audience.
About a month ago, he started listening: Yes, Geostellar was a development tool. But it was an even better marketing tool.
“Duh, listen to the customer,” laughed Levine in an interview last week. He had just come out of a meeting with a major Southern California utility that had asked him to pitch Geostellar as a way to identify and target homes and commercial buildings that are suitable for rooftop solar installation in a ZIP Code, and thus potentially saving tons of marketing money.
“We had been hearing this for months, but we were so thick about it,” adds Levine. “Now we understand that this could be the first use that pulls the technology forward. All the other things, we’re still going to do, but it’ll be pulled by the market need, rather than trying to push, push, push.”
In April, Geostellar received its first round of financing with a $2 million investment from Flash Forward Ventures.
A West Virginia-based serial entrepreneur with experience in gaming platforms, geomatics and energy data management, Levine pulled together a team to develop Geostellar. It would crunch huge quantities of data on sun power, shadows, topography, vegetation cover, tax parcel data, critical habitat distinctions and other factors that might affect a specific building site -- with an unprecedented degree of accuracy -- and then give detailed reports at a touch of a button. It was squarely aimed at helping renewable developers choose the best sites, faster. Several other long-established companies provide detailed site studies, and even online modeling tools, such as 3TIER, AWS Truepower and Clean Power Research. But the Geostellar team capitalized on its gaming expertise to create innovative modeling techniques that allow for instant access to highly detailed information, such as the amount of average solar energy on a one-meter-square piece of every single rooftop in a given area. No one else could do this.
Companies like Solar City, however, saw another use. Instead of blanketing whole neighborhoods with marketing materials, they could instantly identify the top 200 rooftops best suited for producing electricity, and focus their efforts on those instead.
Griffith Harrison, vice president of sales for Geostellar, said the big breakthrough came about two weeks ago.
“I was meeting with the U.S. Department of Energy in downtown Washington, and after we went through the overview, basically the response was, ‘You guys could just put these results into batches or packages, that could be based on ZIP Codes or counties, and be delivered to these companies that really need to know who these premium rooftops are.’ ”
Meanwhile, Levine was at a meeting with Mountain View Solar, a West Virginia-based company that serves the mid-Atlantic states, and they were telling him exactly the same thing.
On the day before this interview, Geostellar’s leaders gathered in a big huddle and changed their entire business model. “Yesterday, what we did was: We have to pivot. We have to make it formal. We have to get everybody in a room and say, ‘This is the way we’re going,’ so we’re not fragmented,” Levine said.
Armed with new pricing models and a new pitch, they headed west.
Levine sees that this use of the technology could aid the adoption of renewables. When developing rooftop solar, he says, “a huge part of the cost is marketing and efficient marketing. And if you could take that out, then you get to grid parity a lot quicker. Because there’s no marketing costs for coal. So we could totally collapse that, and suddenly the whole industry gets cost competitive.”
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-- Dean Kuipers