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Maximizing the Value of Your Solar Investment with Cory Vanderpool, Founder at Spark



Welcome to another episode of The Solar Podcast. Today Dave is talking with Cory Vanderpool, founder of Spark. Join us as they discuss the post-installation challenges facing consumers and how Cory's company, Spark, is creating the tools that help homeowners recapture the value of their solar systems when it's time to sell. It all starts now on The Solar Podcast.


Dave Anderson (00:29):

Well, welcome to The Solar Podcast. I'm Dave Anderson, your host. I'm thrilled to have with us today Cory Vanderpool. Cory is actually an author, entrepreneur, an investor. He's also the host of his own podcast as well called the Solar Broadcast that can be seen on all of the podcasting channels and distributed broadly. And he's also working on another book. So we're going to be thrilled to talk to him today about his existing work on his company called Spark. We'll certainly dive into some of the things that he's talked about in his previous book as well as some of the research that he's doing on his existing and current book. So again, thrilled to have Cory on as well. Cory, I'd love to have you introduce yourself to the audience today as well.


Cory Vanderpool (01:02):

Yeah, thanks for having me on, Dave. Yeah, I've been in the solar industry for about 10 years now. Mostly on the residential side, was in real estate before that. Back in real estate now largely with what I do, but just ran up against a big problem with a lot of the homeowners that we had taken solar with real estate agents. And so about two and a half years ago dove into like why we were getting so much opposition from them and really discovered a lot of challenges there and it's been a really fun journey in not only discovering the challenges but helping to create and pioneer some solutions around that.


Dave Anderson (01:39):

Yeah, that's fantastic. To be honest with you, so I've been in solar for actually 13 years and some of the people that were actually the biggest people that were resisting the movement of helping customers go solar were actually real estate agents. And the reason was is because it complicated, particularly early days of solar, it complicated the transactions. So real estate agents didn't know how to price it, they didn't understand the value of it, they didn't understand the intricacies and the complications associated with some of the financing products. And so it actually, for most real estate agents, they would tell homeowners like, "Look, it's better to not go with solar because going solar is just going to complicate it when you try to go sell this really important investment asset you have, which is your home," and something that we're certainly going to want to dive into. So Cory, obviously, you've spent time as a residential installer. You've done everything in the solar game. Maybe give us a little bit more background specifically on your company, Spark, and what the focus is for the company.


Cory Vanderpool (02:31):

Yeah. With Spark, what our objective was was we went into trying to again understand this challenge, not to find another way to make money in the solar industry, but to really find out why we were getting so much opposition around the real estate transactions involving solar, kind of what you're talking about. And what we discovered is that there just wasn't a lot of the needed tools out there. For example, if you go to buy a car, you can go jump on Kelley Blue Book and you can find a great evaluation that gives you a good market base understanding, but that doesn't... It hasn't existed.

And so we had to create those tools. We wanted to make sure that solar didn't lose the base foundation that we have in terms of value because we just tapped over 3 million solar homes in the United States. And if the average system has got a system on it, a home that's worth $30,000, you look at the economics of that, the resale value. When they go to resale, if they recapture zero of that, and which happens all too often, then that's going to really destroy our ability to have a resale value of... If you were selling a car for $60,000 and you tried to resell that in three years and you got $5,000 for it, there's no way that all you manufacturer would be able to stay in business because no one's going to keep buying their cars. And so that is really challenging.

So Spark, we created really to help facilitate education for homeowners and agents post-install because too many times homeowners after the solar guy's gone, they're pretty clueless about what they've got on their roof, what agreements are tied to it because there's not a lot of financial incentive for installers to really connect with, or salespeople for that matter. But with the homeowner post-installation, there's actually mostly financial disinterest to do that, right? It costs money to do that because there's not a lot of revenue for these organizations post-installation.


Dave Anderson (04:35):

Yeah, so much we talk about there. In fact, I've actually had many conversations with just appraisers who, I mean it's their one job to be able to assess the value of a home. And you can get different appraisers that are assessing the value of solar in so many different ways. So maybe I'd love for you to explain, Cory, what are some of the things that you've seen in terms of how people are both assessing as well as being able to recapture the value of solar for the new home or when they go to sell the house? It's a huge part of solar is is the consideration of what happens after I move or when I move or when I sell my home?


Cory Vanderpool (05:06):

I would say it's the number one question asked in every single transaction involving solar. When a salesperson goes in, it's number one question, what happens when I move? This is not a three-year thing, right? This is solar's going to be on a long time. The biggest factor that we found when we are run into professionals that are dealing with this that don't understand it is they'll compare it against something that they do understand. So an appraiser will say, "Well, I don't know solar, but I know pools. And so we'll give a similar type of valuation what we did with pool." So there is some valuation typically given. I'll tell you for sure there is great data out there that backs up the value and we didn't create the data. There's actually been some significant national studies over the last decade around that. The Berkeley National Institute's done a lot of that research for us to understand what that looks like.

[NEW_PARAGRAPH]But the problem is no one really had made it their objective to provide that validated information. I shouldn't say no one, but very few. So that way universally they have them. And so you get an agent or an appraiser coming in and so they're going to say, "Well, this isn't worth nothing. It's worth something, but I don't know what it's worth. And so if I got to go sit in the court of law, what I could say it's worth 5,000 bucks." And so they might give $5,000 if they have no data to back that. But the Appraisal Institute says if you have the data then you should attribute it, but it really should come from a disinterested third party. And so that's why they look to someone like, again, a Kelley Blue Book to provide some disinterested third party value. But that's just even if you have someone who understands what to do. But the most common practice is it's not worth nothing, so let's give it something. But what we find is that when they're presented with the data, they're really good about utilizing it. It's just they need the data.


Dave Anderson (07:13):

Yeah. I think something, too, that's kind of interesting about this entire process is there's two different kind of use cases that you really need to talk about. We talk about solar fairly generically or fairly generally, but there's really a couple of different ways of going solar obviously. So you have third party owned, which is your lease or your PPA products. PPA meaning power purchase agreements where someone else actually owns the system, puts it on your house and you become the end user of it and essentially you get the benefit of discounted electricity.

And so people want to know, "Hey, this is going to be on the house for the next 20, 25 years. It's going to transfer to the next homeowner. What's the impact in terms of my ability to sell the home? Because there's two things that matter. How much is this going to affect my ability to resell the home? Meaning is it harder or easier to sell my house? The second thing is how much is it going to affect the cost of the house? Is it going to be an increase or a decrease? Is it going to be thought of as a benefit or a liability?"

And so the second use case is when someone owns the solar. And even when they own the solar, almost all instances, homeowners are typically financing the solar either through a loan or through a home equity line of credit. So there's a loan that has to be considered, and generally it has to be the loan will have to be paid off at the time of the transaction. It doesn't carry forward to the next homeowner. And so I don't know. Has Spark done much research or has it done much by way of trying to help homeowners understand the difference between what would be considered a third party-owned system versus an owned system in terms of assessing the value?


Cory Vanderpool (08:42):

What's a solar lease? No, I'm just kidding, Dave.


Dave Anderson (08:46):

Wasn't expecting that question.


Cory Vanderpool (08:48):

Oh, okay. We're starting foundational here. No, yeah, definitely. It's the biggest distinguisher between value and the process, right? So like exactly what you said, when we have to look at a system, there is always a first question, who owns it? And that's really how you understand whether value will be attributed or not. And I'll just tell you the rule of thumb across the board if third party-owned, so your lease, your PPAs. Even some people have their solar system owned by utility companies. It's pretty rare. But there are some utility companies who own distributed power systems on people's roofs. Any of those cases, if you don't own the system, in other words, if you don't own it outright or have a loan like you said, then it's really going to not impact resale value whatsoever. So you're not going to get any kind of contributory value to the value of the home if it's not owned by it.

But the data shows, and we find the same thing that a lease system, third party owned doesn't decrease value. So if you have a lease or a PPA, that shouldn't decrease your value. The challenge that we find in the transaction is relevance. So many buyers come in and see a lease payment as another HOA payment and they're like, "Why would I want another HOA payment? That sucks." And so what we do at Spark is we make it relevant. We're like, "Okay, you've got this big of a system facing this direction. Yes, you have $100 payment on there, but it's offsetting a $250 electricity bill. That's why it's relevant." And so buyer acceptance and buyer valuation, whether they want to do it or not, all depends on information, whether they understand it or not.

But yeah, only 9% of people have solar have it owned outright. But 67% of solar people going solar today are doing it through a loan and very few. It's like the numbers are definitely dropping on the lease side or PPA lease or you just put all third party owned in there. But we found that definitely the transaction will definitely go smoothest if it's owned outright. A little simpler, obviously, with the loan. And depending on what lease company they have will certainly determine the ease of transaction. But all those things all need to be navigated differently and that's where we've really done a lot of work to provide guidance in that. That's probably one of the biggest areas of work that we've put time into is making sure that people understand what to do when to make sure that that transaction goes smoothly.


Dave Anderson (11:24):

Yeah. So some of the appraisers journals will simply state that anytime there's savings in a home that it adds value to the house. In other words, if the operating costs of the home go down, then the value of the house necessarily should be higher than another home...

Cory Vanderpool (11:40):

Totally.

Dave Anderson (11:40):

... all of the things being equal. And so a lot of those appraisers journals will give $80 of annual savings. An attributed increased the appraisal value of anywhere from $10 to $25, $19.47. The Lawrence Livermore Berkeley Lab study that I read is the one that appraisers journals have sort of honed in on in terms of renewable energy savings. So if you've made energy renewable upgrades to your home, you should be able to recoup the cost equal to $19.47 times every dollar of annual savings. And why does that matter? Well, if you take the example of a lease or a PPA for example, and it cuts your bill by 50%, shouldn't that then increase the value of the home relative to other houses? That's one of the arguments you'd make.

And a real practical example of that would be if you take a look at Orange County. So in Orange County you've got this city, Anaheim, who has its own local municipal power, Anaheim Power, and all of the surrounding cities get their energy through Southern California Electric, SCE. SCE happens to be one of the most expensive utility companies in the country and happens to be two to three times more expensive depending on how much electricity that any home uses compared to Anaheim Power. So if you live in Anaheim Power, you might be paying 10 to 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. If you live literally right next door in Orange County, you might be paying 30 to 40 cents per kilowatt-hour on average. And homes in Anaheim actually get an appraisal lift by virtue of the fact that the cost of ownership of that home is lower relative to an equivalent home literally across the street.

So it's a complicated thing. The problem is appraisers don't know the difference between. You ask the question, what's a solar lease? But appraisers don't know if you have a solar lease or loan or a PPA or a third party-owned system or a loan. And so they're just sort of guessing a little bit. And when I had my own home appraised on one of the homes that I was selling that I had it solar, it almost felt like a negotiation with the appraiser to try to get the appraised value to represent what I felt like solar should have been in the system. Have you seen some of that as well and some of the work that you've done where people are having to negotiate with appraisers?


Cory Vanderpool (13:54):

Yeah, a hundred percent. And that's where what we... like a lot of what we do. So a lot of we've done is put together reports and guides to help through this process. And the key always, and this is why you said like a negotiation, when it's a homeowner, when it's a real estate agent who has interest in that transaction where, Dave, you're like, "Dude, this is my equity on the line. I'm going to fight for this." And that's good. You should as a homeowner fight for your equity. But the appraiser sees that as you fighting for your equity, so you're not a disinterested third party and so they don't... It's a negotiation. And that's really where... I mean, you're absolutely right. When you look at cost to operating costs, anytime when it's going to be lower, you should have a higher value.

I mean, taking the income approach of appraisal, this is just the natural thing that makes sense. If you put in more efficient insulation, if you put in better light bulbs, whatever the feature is that you put into the home, that improves the lifestyle, if you will, of the buyer. And therefore they're probably going to be willing to pay better, pay more for the home. And what it comes down to though is does the appraiser know, right? And at the end of the day, you just have a whole bunch of people who don't care nearly as much as you do or probably as much as we do. So getting an appraiser to be like, "Okay, I'm going to sit here and do all the math that I don't even really fully understand," that's the challenge. And so that's what Spark does is we do all that math, we provide all this third party validated... or disinterested third party data to them, whether it's through the homeowners, through their real estate agent, but to make sure that they understand it and they don't have to go through and do that.

The Appraisal Institute has got... We create these appraisal addendums and stuff that show, "Okay, you've got not only solar, but you've got these other 20 features in the home that can appreciate the value of the home. This is what that economic impact is." And then at the end of the day, an appraisal is simply the opinion of that appraiser of the value of that home. And so if you get an individual who wants to contribute that, then they will. And the problem is though, again, liability appraisers, it's like CYA. They're trying to cover their own butts. And so if they have that data and they don't use it, they're now liable. But if they don't have that data and they make it up and they don't know what they're doing, they're liable. And so it's all about having the right data.


Dave Anderson (16:25):

So what steps or what process have you gone through as an organization with Spark to try to get certainly the work that you're doing in terms of the reports that are put out to be accepted? First of all, you have to validate that they're accurate and true. And second of all that they get accepted by appraisers and real estate agents and real estate companies and even home buyers that are looking to purchase homes. What sorts of steps have you gone through there?


Cory Vanderpool (16:49):

Yeah, that has really been why this has been... You may have solar, you may be an installer, maybe you know about Spark, maybe you don't. But the challenge really is market validation. So the things that we've done is we've gone through and we've got the licensure to be able to provide data in the states that we work in. That's key. But at the end of the day, do we use the documentation and the data that they want and the formulas? So what it comes down to usually is does Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, does the FHA, do they accept this in the secondary market? Because the appraiser's job, he's not to represent you as a seller or as a buyer. He represents the bank. He's got to make sure that the bank can sell that in the secondary market. And so those organizations, we make sure that we are compliant with the way that they want to do things. And so we provide our documentation and create... and our algorithms are based off of the acceptable methods that they allow.

And so some of our key tools look really good and they're very consumer friendly. And so we obviously put some nice window dressing so that way a buyer can easily consume that data. But at the end of the day, there's some core backbone data that is largely driven from these studies and the accepted basically principles. And one of the hard things is getting people to agree on accepted appraisal principles because you got 50 different states, you got a million different appraisers out there, and they all want to use their own process and method. And so we try and stay as close to the guidelines that are accepted across the board by the highest authorities, which are these organizations that ultimately buy the paper at the end of the day.

And so for us, it's about making sure that we do that and then we try and align ourselves with the professional organizations. We have a relationship, a partnership with a national appraisal company that when they do a solar home, they use our reports because it's really the only tool out there available that's provided from a disinterested third party that can actually validate this information. And so it's just universally, they use it on their appraiser's appraisals. But again, this is one of those things that it's like there's a little bit of a grassroots effort to get this up and really get this used universally. But what's important for us to be able to really have the validity in the way that we're doing it is that we do try to align ourselves and make sure that we are sticking to as many of the guidelines that have been set forth by these, largely the governing organizations.


Dave Anderson (19:32):

Yeah. And speaking in mostly general terms, but as specific as you can get, what are the general sort of considerations or what you generally expect the impact to home value to be if you have solar versus if you didn't have solar? And I would think about that in the context of two things. One, speed to install. That matters a lot. When it's time to sell your home, you want it to sell as quickly as possible. And the second is in the context of price.


Cory Vanderpool (20:03):

And price largely does drive it. So again, talking about the Berkeley National Institute, they're an awesome organization. They have fostered a lot of studies. Now there's studies that are sponsored by the Department of Energy, so they're federally sponsored studies. The Berkeley National Institute is not a federal organization. They just get grant money to do what the federal government is looking for data on. And so they've done two studies around the value of solar as it compares to the value of a home in a real estate transaction. And they've presented an equation in that. And then they also do... They provide a report called Tracking the Sun every year that tracks home price, or not home price, but solar average install price across the country. And that's largely where we base our data on. So when we look at this and we're providing contextual information, that's where we're pulling it from. So we look at when the studies were done.

And so the fact of the matter is there is a calculation of a price per watt. Taking a little bit of a discount percentage off of that, usually around 10% is pretty standard for that of the current year installed solar with a depreciation then year-over-year based off of that of the deficiency of the system. And so if Illinois has got a current higher year versus Florida or whatever, you're going to have a variance in that value. But it's largely based off of the current average price. And what's interesting is since 2016, there's a lot of marketing out there that shows the cost of solar decreasing since then. There's actually been a slight rise in the cost of solar since then. And when you look at residential solar, the cost has not gone up a lot. But we're seeing nationally an average install price just over... A nationally installed price per watt of around 4.15 is kind of where we're at currently, where it was at 3.90 back in 2016.

But when you factor in your utility scale solar, yeah, there's definitely a decreased cost and that has definitely come down, but that's not like for like. That's an apples and oranges comparison, right? Now I'm obviously preaching the choir to you, but what the challenge is is the soft cost of putting on a solar system is half of the hard cost or it's about pretty comparable. Your non-equipment based install costs are about comparable for your actual equipment it costs. And so as we see a price of labor going up, the different embargoes that were put on solar panels, all of those impact the price of solar. Not to mention the bond market and the cost of solar lending, we're seeing that increase.

And so we are seeing a small price increase. It's not dramatic, and you could certainly get solar at a cheaper price than that. This is just talking national averages. And some states are higher, some states are lower, but it definitely will depend on market. And so when we're using these equations, we're looking at that, but it does definitely can be equated to system size and really what's happening with the economic situation with the current price of installs.


Dave Anderson (23:32):

No, I think that's absolutely right. In fact, California still remains the most expensive solar in the world. So if you get residential solar installed in California, you're going to pay more in California than you will anywhere else in the world. And I think a lot of people don't fully appreciate that. Usually you think about a technology, generally there's a curve more as laws oftentimes referred to, but there's a curve usually that's downward trending where it says things are going to get less expensive over time. But you're right. So some of the soft costs, some of the tariffs, some of the labor costs, and certainly recently the finance costs have really been holding the cost of solar higher in a lot of these markets on the resi side. That's absolutely been the case.

The benefit, however, has gotten better as well because the utility companies have also been increasing their costs. So while solar has been close to the same price, the utility rates have been increasing their rates. So the value or the benefit to the homeowner actually has gotten better over that same period of time as well. And I actually expect we are going to see some pretty big increase or decreases to cost to the overall costs made possible in part through the Inflation Reduction Act. And it's going to have two impacts, particularly on what you work on with Spark is you are going to see an increased number of third party-owned systems because the tax benefits are better for these third party-owned systems than they are for the residentially.


Cory Vanderpool (24:50):

Yeah, there's definitely a correlation between the two of when the tax credit went down versus the decrease there. So I think you're absolutely right.


Dave Anderson (24:57):

We're already seeing in 2023 an uptick in the number of the third party-owned systems, the leases and PPAs. We expect that will go up even more as additional guidance comes out as it relates to the domestic content. There's an additional tax credit for domestic content. So if you're making systems with domestically sourced materials. And then there's a second one for a handful of low income zip codes in low income areas, which I'm actually thrilled about. My thought for a long time that even though we're only at a 3% market penetration, it's been a product that's been more available to the middle and upper class just because some of the lower class individual or lower income classes haven't been able to take full advantage of some of those tax credits.

But they're now going to be able to take advantage of those with the transferability of those tax credits as well as additional tax credits that are further going to reduce the cost of solar in many zip codes across the country, which is I'm thrilled about. I think it's fantastic that more people will have access to renewable energy generally speaking, and that the cost of solar is going to be coming down for those people as well. So those are all good things. It does, however, complicate the equation in terms of how do you assess the value of solar to the end user and at the time of a real estate transaction.


Cory Vanderpool (26:15):

What's interesting and what I love about solar, and to me my drive has really... Because to be honest with you, I would make a lot more money had I just stuck on the solar sales side. There's a lot of money in that industry and that's a great industry. Probably I'd be a lot better off financially if I had just stuck with that. But I love solar. I think it's an incredible thing. But one of the great things about solar is the maintained value. You look at the long-term reduction in production and the studies behind it and the systems that are of age. So you look at systems that were installed in early 1980s, still producing in 2018, 92% of original production. And so we're seeing a much higher retention in value than what's estimated in terms of production.

So when we look at the depreciated value, solar's not dropping like this in value. It's actually retaining its value very well. And so the cost increasing going up, it's not necessarily a bad thing for the industry because all costs are going up, for one. But we're seeing that the reciprocation in that the solar retaining its value and not dropping in the way that it's producing, allows for a product that for 50 years is very likely going to be sitting on the roof producing and doing very well for the home. And so we're looking at a product that in the long term will serve homeowners for decades to come, and so it will retain its value because it has so much economic value over the long term.


Dave Anderson (27:52):

Yeah. I think that there's an admission by most people that we're expecting more and more homeowners to go solar. In fact, one of the things that I think has been fantastic or fascinating is Zillow, obviously the site well known for appraising home values and has given homeowners access to be able to go and take a look and track kind of what the neighborhood values are, it's been a really fantastic resource for many homeowners that are considering or looking into selling their home. And obviously there's a little bit of variability or a little bit of noise in that data at times. And so it's not a perfect assessment of the value.

But one thing that Zillow has started to do recently, and I'm sure you've seen this as well, is they've started to say, "Hey, the sun is a resource and the way that your home is built and the amount of access that you have to that resource, the sun, you deserve value for that." And so the ability for that home to go solar is assessed on Zillow. And they're actually giving a value, a monetary value to homes that don't have solar in terms of if this home were to go solar, the sun is a resource and you should be able to get the value of that. So your home is really well situated, it's got a great roof for solar, and we're going to give your home increased value just by virtue of the fact that when you go solar, which for most people or many people is in inevitability, you're going to be able to benefit from solar more than other people would.

And so there's actually a blip or an increase to the appraised value of homes just by virtue of the fact of that they have better solar access or sun access than other homes do. And so something that... Even people that don't have solar in the real estate transaction now are actually starting to, and that hasn't showed up at the appraiser level, but certainly at Zillow it's started to show up as well. What are some of your thoughts on that? Or is that something that you've seen? And has Spark talk about that much or at all?


Cory Vanderpool (29:43):

In any value situation, value is perceived, right? So if a home buyer perceives that home as more valuable, that's why we see a swing in the market. Any time there's a change in the market value, it's based off of a buyer's willingness and ability to buy at a certain price point. And so, yeah, as we look at these areas and we see, like you were talking about, utility costs are going up significantly across the board. We've seen actually the last couple years some of the biggest increases in utility costs across the country. Anyways, any opportunity to do that to save is a huge benefit.

So anyways, I consider myself more of an economic environmentalist. So I look at things in terms of, really, I want to see the environment do better, but I also want to make sure that it's not going to be at the cost of the individual. But that's why I love solar is you've got something that is a perfect marriage between the two. But what I like is organizations like Zillow, organizations like Freddie [inaudible 00:30:53], the FHA. There are a lot of these big organizations that are really working to find ways to get behind the sustainability movement and work toward providing resources and validity to the direction that we're moving in the green industry.

And so yes, there is certainly an attribution to that. And so the reason I bring that up is because we're seeing now there are significant loan products out there available to homeowners. When you go to buy if your home doesn't have solar, FHA has got a really cool program, but it's like, I think they call it the all-in-one loan. But basically you can finance up to... I think it's 10% of the home in energy improvements on the home. So solar batteries, other energy improvements on the home. And again, I'm trying to remember what the percentage off the top of my head is, so don't quote me on that. But most of these organizations have loan products though, that are built for, like what you're talking about, a home that's positioned for this because they understand that buyers are looking for ways to improve the home, and there's almost no better way to do that than finding a way to get that home more efficient and save more money over the long term. So there's definitely increased value.

When we look at that, again, we have to look at in terms of resale and with the appraiser. So we don't necessarily attribute that value, but there is a huge demand for this. We actually have, you would think like with Spark that are ordering our reports. We have almost as many home buyers asking for this data as sellers. And so as often as a seller comes to us and says, "Hey, I need this report so I can get this value back," we have a buyer that says, "I like this home, but I need to understand it." So we are seeing a huge move from buyers wanting a greener, better, more efficient, sustainable home. And that certainly shows up in organizations like Zillow, organizations like these lending institutions. But really what it comes down to at the end of the day, buyers want it.


Dave Anderson (33:04):

Yeah. So give us a sense if a buyer... So obviously Spark we've already identified focuses on the homeowner post solar or the impact to a home post solar. So if a homeowner wanted to work with you, what would be the use case or how would that look?


Cory Vanderpool (33:20):

Yeah. So with us, one of the things that we do is... So an energy audit or an energy evaluation is the key. That's something that we've been worked really hard in simplifying. You used to have to have an auditor come out to the home and measure the thickness of your walls and seal up the home. And you could certainly do that and there's still validity to that. I don't want to downplay the value of an energy audit, but what we've done is we've really tried to simplify the data-gathering process. Because we used to send someone out to do it in person and then we would do a video call. We've actually simplified it quite a bit now to where someone can answer a few questions, take a few pictures for us on our platform, and be able to submit that and we can from that quantify the data to be able to provide that.

And so that's something that if somebody wants to jump in and really understand like, "How much solar do I need? Or if I'm going to drive an EV, how much is it going to save me?" They can just go to our site at spark.inc and request one of our home energy reports and we'll give them that data, something we've provide for free. And so that way they can see what that looks like and they can know, "Okay, my solar's worth this now, anyways," or "I might need this much solar." So this is not something with the intent to sell them solar, but again, to provide quantifiable data behind their ability to understand what's going on with their home.

Because that same data is what it's utilized to do the valuations because they're synonymous. And so there's a reason why Spark doesn't sell solar. There's a reason why we take care of... Our focus on is really understanding and providing context to that. But yeah, basically going to our site and jumping in and really looking at the ability to just understand your home before you're going into the transaction. That's really the key is knowing that information beforehand.


Dave Anderson (35:18):

So it sounds like you're looking at more than just solar in terms of the impact or energy efficiency of the house as well. What are some of the other big drivers? Obviously for most homeowners, the way, the biggest thing that they can do to reduce their energy costs as well as to reduce their carbon footprint is by in fact going solar. The home is the biggest consumer of energy and emitter of carbon compared to all other things. Cars being second. Transportation being second. But what are the other things that you look at? If a homeowner was really trying to figure out how to reduce their carbon footprint, but also increase the sustainability of their home and the efficiency of their home, what's the kind of second and third things that you think have the biggest impact?


Cory Vanderpool (36:03):

I think that there is a priority for energy efficiency and looking at the pricing of solar and whatnot, and it actually kind of falls a little bit further down the list. It can wipe everything else out the need for it, like you said. So the term I like is green assets. So green assets are anything that can reduce your consumption without decreasing lifestyle. So you can replace an air conditioner. You can replace a low 10 SEER air conditioner with a 16 SEER air conditioner and you can drop your bill by 40 bucks a month per se. But there's some cost to that, right? And so we don't typically recommend that unless there's a need. And if there's a need, then certainly it's worth a little bit more because of the long-term benefit of that.

But we look at about 20 different things. So from the simplest things as ceiling fans, you can drop the feel of a room by two degrees by running a ceiling fan versus not because... And you don't want to run a ceiling fan when you're not in a room because the room doesn't care how it feels, but you care how it feels. And so you can raise your temperature a little bit and get the same net impact. But for sure your simple things, [inaudible 00:37:15] light bulbs, smart thermostats, some other window treatments.

But number one thing that I always recommend that is usually deficient, some of the newer homes have this, but is attic insulation. If you're going to do anything to your house and make a biggest impact, attic insulation is one of those things that, especially if you're in Orange County, maybe not as much. I live in Arizona. So if you're in a more colder or a warmer climate, either way you're going to see quite a big impact because you've got a significant temperature difference between your attic and your home. And your air conditioner's job is to regulate that temperature and if you have this much insulation between you and that temperature difference.

In Arizona, it'll get up to 160 degrees in the attic and you're trying to cool down to 75, 80 in the house, that's a significant delta. And so your air conditioners are going to work overtime. But if you just put in the recommended level, and when I say recommended, I'm just talking about the Department of Energy. Instead of [inaudible 00:38:16] of insulation, you got 18. Now you've got a significant barrier between you and that heat barrier. Anyway, so that's probably across the board when we find the number one thing is attic insulation and people are oblivious to it because they don't go up in their attic, they don't know.

But most people are totally deficient in attic insulation and it's a really low cost to beef up your attic insulation for the return on that investment. But there are about 20 of those things. And when someone does one of our home energy reports, we kind of give what that is and what the net impact of that is financially for them so that way they can see like, "Oh yeah, I can see the benefit of putting its attic insulation. It's going to drop my bill by $27. Let's do that," or whatever it might be. But there are certainly a priority of that. But certainly solar is the apex of all of them. It's going to top them all because it can wipe out everything else as long as you've got either batteries or good net metering plan.


Dave Anderson (39:12):

Yeah. Traditionally you have solar companies, you have insulation companies, you have HVAC companies. There's going to be a movement and made forced in part by this Inflation Reduction Act because now heat pumps have huge rebates on them. There's insulation big rebates on them. And so doing a full energy audit for a homeowner is actually becoming increasingly the responsible thing to do for homeowners. So a lot of people will say reduce before you replace. So you want make sure that you're reducing your consumption before you start just replacing a bunch of consumption. And I think that there's a place for that.

But when you're looking at it from a pure financial perspective, we talked about doing an air conditioner, going from something that's a 10 SEER to something that's far more efficient like a heat pump or a better air conditioner. Those things are going to cost thousands and at times even tens of thousands of dollars. Insulation you can usually do for, with some of the rebates that are available out there at times, as low as in the hundreds of dollars, and it can pay for itself just in an energy efficiency in just a one or two short years.

There's oftentimes local rebates through the utilities as well that certainly need to be explored. And certainly we don't have the time to go through each of those on this call. But for sure, there are lots of energy efficiency things and we should expect to see, particularly with solar customer or with solar companies that have a 25-year relationship with the homeowner that they're going to be considering things like, "Hey, you're going to need an EV charger. We're electricians. We can help you out with that. We're going to need to figure out how to change or modify the way that you consume electricity. A heat pump probably might make sense. Insulation is a great way or a fantastic way to make your heat pump or your air conditioner be far more efficient."

And so I'm expecting you're going to see a lot more solar companies, a lot more energy companies thinking about things outside of just the solar. And it's really a better service to the customer as well and should make your job in assessing the energy value a lot better as we get more efficient because there's not really a standardized energy audit that happens. Everyone has different versions of an energy audit [inaudible 00:41:12].


Cory Vanderpool (41:12):

That's right. Yep.


Dave Anderson (41:13):

Now have you worked with, in the past, any companies that provides certifications and trying to assess the value of getting these different platinum, diamond level certifications with some of these different energy efficiency companies?


Cory Vanderpool (41:30):

We have a little bit. What it comes down to is what that data is showing is that the home has got some improvements on that. I actually personally don't love the platinum, diamond level because it's too vague. It's like, "What does platinum mean?" I don't know. It's a cool color. That's a cool metal. But what does that mean for my house? What does the term net zero mean? What does that stuff even mean? So what we've tried to do is put everything into context in terms of dollars and cents. If it doesn't have a context to it, then it's really...

Probably, I'm sure you've heard the term greenwashing. But it's really easy to greenwashed stuff based off of, "Hey, this is green." But if something is out of context, if you're like, "Oh, I've got this," and it's like, "Hey, what does that mean?" Like, "I don't know, but I have that. I've got a net zero home, or I've got [inaudible 00:42:23] score of this," which I don't. I'm not bagging on those at all. I think that those are great because it builds consumer confidence in this industry and this product, and it's important.

But I think that we've actually... We initially looked at that. Should we have a score? Should we provide some sort of a rating system? And we quickly got away from that because the feedback was always, "What does your score mean? Can you put that to me in dollars and cents?" And so literally that was the question. "This is great, but what does that mean?" And so we're like, "Okay, let's stop doing..." Anyway, so we've worked on that, but we do definitely appreciate the work that they're doing because it validates that. And so again, [inaudible 00:43:05]. There's other great companies out there that provide context around those upgrades. I think they're important.

You mentioned something, too, I think one of the biggest challenges that we're going to face around energy are EVs and really where that's going. I think that they're... You look at the average home, the amount of miles that they drive, what the energy demand for that is compared to what the home is, that it's actually pretty similar. So to power your home and drive an EV, they're about the same cost. And so with that move toward EV, solar, that's why I say it's the apex because it has the ability to help someone move toward energy independence in a way that nothing else can. And so a higher production level is really important.

And a more distributed energy is going to be even more important because we're already seeing like in Texas last summer, they outlawed or the governor banned all public EV charging because their grid was too strained. And you look at their market penetration with EVs, it's very little. And so we're going to see by more and more, EVs are causing a problem, but they have an opportunity to fix that problem because they're driving the cost of batteries down. And the more people that have solar and batteries on their home, the less strain we have on the grid. And so it's one of those things that there's challenges there, but there's a lot of benefits that are going to come with that as well. And so I love Tesla, I love EVs, and what they're doing, but I also know that's a lot of the challenges that we're facing are largely driven because of the increased usage that we're seeing in electricity across the board.


Dave Anderson (44:37):

Yeah. But I think the key points there are, one, there is an opportunity for homeowners to become energy independent. And there's nothing that you can do that's more impactful in terms of reducing your carbon footprint than first, going solar for your home, and secondarily, driving EV but charging and powering it with the solar that you have on your house.

And so the typical home, let's just say a California home, might use 10,000 annual kilowatt-hours. A typical car that drives 10,000 miles is going to use somewhere around 2,500 to 3,000 kilowatt-hours to drive those 10,000 miles. And so if you have a household that's driving 20,000 or 30,000 miles, obviously you need to have a lot more solar for that. But we can size these systems. There's more than enough roof space. Solar is more than powerful enough to power your vehicles. And I tell you, there's nothing more liberating for a homeowner than being completely energy independent. Cutting off all need to go to the gas station by being able to charge your car at home with the solar that's on your roof, being able to power your home with the solar that's on your roof and not having to ship it.

A lot of people that listen to this podcast know that I grew up in a coal mining town in Eastern Montana. So I watched coal get dug from the ground, put into a mine, and then it promptly shipped a thousand miles to Seattle to power Seattle. And now I'm still surrounded by power, but the difference is I have solar panels on my own home that power my home. And I'm self-sufficient and have a level of energy independence that certainly the people in Seattle didn't have when they were relying on coal coming out of the ground in Montana to be able to turn their lights on. And so those are two huge steps homeowners can take outside of the complexities of selling your home, outside of some of the things associated that we're dealing with now, just a better way.


Cory Vanderpool (46:25):

I'm a huge proponent of it. And to me, so we put on the [inaudible 00:46:29]. I've got an EV. We're completely energy independent where I'm at. And that's probably one of my biggest initiatives outside of just helping the real estate transaction is helping facilitate that, helping people move toward. It's really important, like you said. But what's amazing though is the savings that can be generated from coupling...


Dave Anderson (46:47):

Totally.


Cory Vanderpool (46:48):

... your EV with your solar can really... The savings add up so quickly that in some cases it pays for the EV. It's pretty amazing.


Dave Anderson (46:56):

It's thousands of dollars of savings. Thousands. Yeah.


Cory Vanderpool (46:59):

That's one of the things when they do our report is we give them how many solar panels they would need when they drive an EV and what the savings are. And I mean, it's not uncommon to see over a 10-year time period someone save 30, 40, $50,000 when they power their EV with their solar. It's amazing.


Dave Anderson (47:17):

Yeah. In fact, I would say it's uncommon to see a homeowner not save 10s, 20s, $30,000 by power.


Cory Vanderpool (47:25):

Your cost per mile is so much lower with the sun versus pulling it out of the ground. It's ridiculous.


Dave Anderson (47:25):

100%.


Cory Vanderpool (47:31):

It's no-brainer when you actually see the data.


Dave Anderson (47:33):

Yeah. Well, Cory, I'd love to get, as a long-term veteran in the solar industry, what are your big and bold claims and big, bold predictions for the solar industry over the next handful of years?


Cory Vanderpool (47:42):

I think that we're still looking at significant growth. I think that we're going to see the predictions of us going from... We're coming up on 3.5 million solar homes. Hitting 12 million by 2030. I think we're a hundred percent on track for that. I think that there is going to be... Again, with the increasing utility costs, it's like there, it's better than ever to go solar. And so for sure, I think we're going to see a much larger market penetration. And we're now getting out of that early [inaudible 00:48:14] and it's becoming more mainstream, and especially in markets that... Again, nationally, electricity a few years ago was 12 cents a kilowatt-hour nationally. Obviously you said California is higher. But nationally, we're at 16 cents now. We've seen the biggest jump over the last few years than we've ever seen. And what that means is the price equality to save on, say, solar is far more readily available across the board.

And so yeah, universally, we're going to see, I think just a greater and greater level of adoption because simply the economics are there. And again, environmental awareness and sustainability I think is such an important topic that everybody's trying to address. So I think we're going to see really great adoption at least over the next decade. And I think that they're like rooftop solar. I like utility-scale solar, but I think rooftop solar is the most important technology that we're trying to adopt on any home. I think the home is a very important piece of technology and there's no better way to upgrade that home by putting solar on it.


Dave Anderson (49:13):

Yeah. Well, Cory, thank you so much for coming on. I tell you, it's a pleasure to speak to someone that's an industry veteran as you are. I'm looking forward to, as are many of our listeners going to be looking forward to your newest book that's still forthcoming and coming out. You're already a published author. Obviously any of the listeners that want to check out Spark can go to spark.inc. They can get their own free report as a homeowner. I'm certainly going to be doing that to get my own free report and then figure out ways that I can actually work with Spark.

Additionally, outside of that, as a professional [inaudible 00:49:46] as well, you can, of course, check out your podcast as well, the Solar Broadcast as well. And I would strongly encourage listeners to do that. I would love to talk about a lot of the charity work and a lot of the work that you do outside on a personal level as well. So Cory, it's been just absolutely fantastic having you come on and be an expert talking to us about this really important component of solar that a lot of people don't think about. They only think about the savings piece. What happens in the future when I have to go sell my home? It's great to know that the industry has a resource like Spark and like you to help navigate that. Thank you so much, Cory.


Cory Vanderpool (50:21):

Yeah, thanks for having me on, Dave. I appreciate it. It's awesome talking to you.


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