With the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) being passed, we decided to sit down with Namaste Solar’s Jason Sharpe, CEO and co-owner, and Eliot Abel, senior director of commercial business development and co-owner, to talk about what this means for the future of clean energy and our company.
Jason is an industry veteran with nearly two decades of experience leading colleagues on the development, design, and installation of commercial and residential solar systems. He has served on technical advisory boards for the DOE, NREL, Colorado's Governor's Energy Office, and IECRM, where he instructs. Jason holds an Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Vermont and is a Colorado Master Electrician and NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installation Professional.
Eliot has over 15 years of business development experience in the renewable energy industry. In his role, he is responsible for leading sales, strategic partnerships, and policy efforts for our commercial business. Eliot currently serves on the Board of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association (COSSA), holds a BA from Stanford University, and holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management.
There have been a lot of ups and downs on the solar coaster – does the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 provide the stability that the solar industry has been hoping for?
Jason: I’d say it provides more long-term visibility and hopefully more stability than any other time in our history. This is the longest extension of financial incentives in the history of the solar industry so from that perspective, yes, it provides more stability than we’ve ever had before.
Eliot: I totally agree, and I think what Jason is alluding to there is that there are details that still need to be worked out with the rulemaking, but the tax credit clarity for the next ten years is fantastic and something we haven’t had.
Jason: Yes, and the only reason I hesitate to say stability for example is that there’s a net metering fight occurring in California right now, so just because the federal government is on board doesn’t mean that everybody is on board with the rapid deployment of renewables that this bill is trying to accomplish.
What do you think it would take to get everyone on board with this?
Eliot: That’s going to be the biggest struggle; how utilities are incentivized still isn’t aligned with the large-scale deployment of distributed generation. (Distributed generation refers to electricity that is generated at or near where it will be used – solar panels on a home for example. Compare this to conventional generation where large-scale power stations send electricity across long distances to the end user.)
Jason: That’s a great way to say it. It’ll take financial alignment to get everybody on the same page and unfortunately, not everybody wants financial alignment. If certain stakeholders like the power, control, and profit that they’ve built into the system over the last century, then changing a century of momentum will be challenging. I think there’s the other possibility that climate change might get us all aligned, and that’s honestly what I think passed the IRA because it’s hard to argue with the negative impacts of climate change over the last two years.
“There’s the other possibility that climate change might get us all aligned and that’s honestly what I think passed this IRA because it’s hard to argue with the negative impacts of climate change over the last two years.”
What does Namaste Solar need to do to get the most out of the momentum from the IRA?
Jason: We can accelerate the delivery of distributed resources that will help the resiliency of the grid. We’ve learned that resiliency is going to be an important part of the climate future and distributed resources are the ones that are going to help solve that problem. We need to leverage this moment that the IRA created.
Eliot: That’s right, and I think at the end of the day we need to continue to do what we do - be the best solar company in Colorado and offer the highest quality systems to residential and commercial customers. And, we need to continue to be responsible about where and how we deploy solar. So really the biggest thing we need to do is to continue to stay true to our mission and stay true to our customers.
“At the end of the day we need to continue to do what we do – be the best solar company in Colorado and offer the highest quality systems to residential and commercial customers.”
Jason: One interesting thing is that Colorado was the first state to have a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). That was a voter lead initiative, and we sort of pulled the utility industry into renewables as a solution for our future. Once again, it’s going to take the power of the people to lead the way because it’s not in the interest of the existing power structure to create resiliency at the homeowner level. So, we have to create the market momentum and demonstrate the technology for the lawmakers, utilities, and the people with power. And we can do that from a grassroots perspective.
Eliot: I love that point. It’s super important to note that Colorado was once the leader in the deployment of distributed generation and now we have been surpassed by other states, which shows that while federal policy matters, local policy, and the local regulatory environment matters just as much in amplifying the benefits of distributed generation. We have a responsibility to be the voice of our customers, current and future, to make sure that we have a good environment for those projects here in Colorado.
"We have a responsibility to be the voice of our customers, current and future, to make sure that we have a good environment for those projects here in Colorado."
You’ve both mentioned the power of the people, but I feel like a lot of language around how individuals can impact climate change is very minimal (for example, use reusable straws/cups and remember to recycle). We don’t often hear a lot of language around distributed generation and what that means for us. How do we play a part in shifting the message?
Jason: We live in a democratic and capitalist culture. Our political system is a democracy, and our monetary system is capitalism. So how do we use the theory of democracy and capitalism? I’d say that one of the more impactful things you can do in our democracy is exercise the vote of your dollar. Consumer choices drive change in capitalism as much as or more than anything else. Climate change is sort of at an intersection of democracy and capitalism. The IRA is very interesting because it’s helping to use politics to incentivize consumer choice that harnesses the power of capitalism to cause change for the climate.
Eliot: Customers are using their dollars to make a difference. The next step is to push their local government officials to be faster in addressing climate change and streamlining the process to deploy more distributed generation.
Jason: An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. The most expensive thing we can do for our world is to not spend money on trying to mitigate climate change. Last year Colorado experienced the most expensive fire in history, and it cost our local communities maybe a billion dollars. So what is the cost of not acting against climate change?
“An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. The most expensive thing we can do for our world is to not spend money on trying to mitigate climate change.”
Can you summarize what you see the future of clean energy looking like?
Eliot: Can we say the future is bright?
Jason: The future is sunny! I see a lot of increased volume in the industry and a lot of growth with ten years of stability. I think electrification is also going to increase electrical demand and distributed resources will help solve for the impacts on the distribution infrastructure that increased electrical demand is going to create.
It’s also going to increase the demand for electrical workers, which companies like ours are trying to invest in, recruit, and create a skilled labor workforce, which is another important value proposition that distributed generation brings to the renewable energy industry. Distributed generation creates 80% of the jobs in the solar industry. So, we are the creators of jobs and the trainers of people that work in this industry.
Eliot: I think it’s safe to say that we have more confidence to continue to invest in solar, our people, and in responsible growth.
Can you summarize what renewable energy means for homeowners, business owners, and society as a whole?
Jason: Owning solar assets on your home or business creates an opportunity to directly participate in climate mitigation. It’s a powerful way to directly contribute to a solution for your future and our children’s future. There’s another powerful piece of American culture, which is a sense of independence so messaging this as stabilizing your future and your energy costs and creating resiliency for your home creates a powerful independence component to convincing people to play a role in this.
Eliot: I’ve made the same argument, and I struggle with the idea that we’re all independent raising ourselves up by our bootstraps because there’s so much more interdependence than most people are willing to recognize. We have to find a way to talk about energy independence while also celebrating the benefits it has to our society at large.
Jason: This is an interesting opportunity to try to frame it where your self-interest is also altruistic.
Eliot: Yeah, you get both. Individually, it makes financial sense, you get to feel good that you’re contributing to the solution, and it reduces your stress by allowing you to move from a mindset of energy scarcity to one of abundance. More importantly, you are helping to address this broader existential threat that we are facing as a community.