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Wisconsin Solar Installer Tries Drones To Serve Customers, Calls On Congress For Aid

Sunrun, the nation's largest residential solar and battery storage firm, is using drones for initial site assessments to help avoid spreading the new coronavirus.

COVID-19 and its related economic slowdown have cast a shadow on the solar energy business. So, a company that installs solar panels on the roofs of Wisconsin homes says it's had to become more innovative. But the solar industry is also hoping for more old-fashioned help — from Congress.

A study released last week by the groups Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs showed of the nearly 77,000 clean energy jobs in Wisconsin before COVID-19, about 11,000 have disappeared in the last four months. Other Midwest states also lost many so-called green jobs.  

Some of the cutbacks are at companies that install solar panels. California-based Sunrun is the nation's largest residential solar and battery storage firm, and does business in Wisconsin. Its Milwaukee-based policy director, Amy Heart, says Sunrun has had to reduce employment but is also trying new things to convince potential customers its workers won't spread COVID-19.

Heart says one change has been to send up a drone for the initial site assessment. "Instead of our site tech coming out and getting on someone's home and knocking on the door, they'll come to homes and utilize drones. It's for that additional sense of safety and really to increase to the efficiency of the installation,” Heart told WUWM.

"This has essentially been a lost year for solar development."

But Heart says drones and other physical distancing measures aimed at winning new customers and protecting workers, won't be enough to overcome revenue losses this year. She says the solar industry would like Congress to halt a planned shrinkage in an investment tax credit that encourages people to buy solar.

"This has essentially been a lost year for solar development, whether it's a large utility-scale project, or these rooftop solar projects that homeowners don't have the confidence or the means to invest in right now,” Heart said.

Instead of the credit reduction starting in January, Heart says solar companies are asking for a five-year extension of the credit at its current value. She hopes for action by Congress this summer. 

Various national media are reporting that Washington's appetite for additional help for businesses and the unemployed will depend on upcoming jobless reports like one to be released later this week. And on the ongoing size and strength of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Support for Innovation reporting is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman.


Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.


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