The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in August 2022, with its consumer tax credits and rebates for clean-energy-related purchases and projects, bodes exceptionally well for all things related to renewable energy. And it may well generate synergies; for example, owners of electric vehicles (EVs) are far more likely to have solar systems on the roofs of their homes and garage, such as in California, where between 30 and 40 percent of EV owners have rooftop solar.
This is not lost on SunPower, a leading residential solar and energy services provider in North America. The company has been in business since 1985, and with advancing technologies, investments, acquisitions, and favorable legislation in pro-renewable states, it reports annual revenues in excess of $1.3 billion.
With 528 megawatt of solar systems installed in 2021—removing 14 million metric tons of carbon from atmosphere—the company is going further, building its own EV fleet to reduce the carbon impact of delivering its products to customers.
The anticipated growth in EVs with the passing of the IRA, in addition to other incentives for residential solar in the bill, strongly suggest continued and accelerated growth. SunPower is positioned to pass these benefits on to its customers.
As customers explore EVs, solar and storage, Attorney Brian Scaccia is tasked with protecting the company’s intellectual property. “Our team is fast-moving and creative,” he says. “They have to be in order to stay on the cutting edge. My challenge is to ensure their work is protected and valued. We harness the talent of our engineers and inventors to create new, innovative solutions for our customers that let them take control of their energy usage.”
Innovation is a core value at SunPower, and it doesn’t stop with its products. In addition to overseeing legal support for the company’s supply chain, intellectual property, and operations, Scaccia supports the company’s ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives—key tools in ensuring that the benefits of innovation reach all the communities that SunPower serves.
Scaccia says that these joint responsibilities dovetail nicely, as having a robust DEI program also helps achieve ESG objectives. For example, solar systems on homeowner roofs require a significant upfront investment, typically ranging from $20,000 to $50,000—which is out of reach for most lower-income households.
“The challenge is affordability, which is why our team is working to extend new low- and no-upfront cost financing for those who qualify,” he says. Enabling people in this sector to amortize the solar system purchase over time while they save money on electricity and qualify for tax credit incentives puts solar power within reach for them.
This is a key goal and strategy in the company’s “25×25” initiative: they strive to have 25 percent of their customers in historically marginalized communities by the year 2025. The program also sets measurable goals to increase SunPower’s workforce diversity by at least 25 percent and to send at least 25 percent of its solar installation business to women and minority owned businesses.
One tactic for achieving this is the 2022 introduction of SunPower Financial, a financial services institution providing SunPower more control and flexibility in providing solutions to its customers. Terms include no down payment, low monthly payments, higher credit limits, and other expanded eligibility options that support the company’s goals.
The 25×25 initiative also strives to achieve equity among women and people of color in its employment and distribution networks. That’s an admirable goal by itself, but diversity will likely also yield greater success in SunPower’s plan to reach underserved communities if the people doing the work reflect the values of the people they serve.
“We are working to deepen our partnerships with women and minority-owned businesses that support our solar mission,” Scaccia says. “These are good-paying jobs with a good benefits package. And right now, there is a shortage of qualified labor.”
He explains that a large portion of the jobs are in the installation phase, which requires a skill set that can be gained in high schools, trade schools, and community colleges. SunPower supports that by helping some of those institutions with curriculum development and other job training assistance.
The tone for these kinds of initiatives is set at the top of the organization, of course. It’s important to note that SunPower leadership is already ahead of its 25 percent goal: 27 percent of its board of directors are women, and 36 percent identify as diverse in terms of race, gender, or ethnicity.
One criticism of the industry is that, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 99 percent of photovoltaic cells used in solar systems are made outside the US, where abusive labor practices and poor environmental manufacturing practices have been seen in places like China.
To address the labor side of this issue, in 2021 the US Congress signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which forbids the import of products, including solar panels, from regions in China suspected of using forced labor.
“SunPower demands transparency and accountability in our supply chain,” Scaccia says. The company conducts risk assessments of its supply chain and retains the right to audit suppliers for suspected violations of company standards. “We’re committed to ensuring our products are made ethically and sustainably, and we have pledged along with others in the industry to help ensure that the solar supply chain is free of forced labor.”
Congratulations to Brian Scaccia and SunPower for your well-deserved recognition as leaders in the solar power industry. Duane Morris LLP is proud of its longstanding relationship with SunPower and looks forward to continuing to provide valuable, efficient legal services through our four Texas offices, five California offices and fourteen additional offices. duanemorris.com