When we think of solar power, we think of panels tilted toward the sun across dozens of uninhabited desert acres in utility scale solar plants, or your eco-friendly neighbor’s new residential ‘green’ roof solar panels. Eleven years ago, Lars Norell (Law ’98) observed an emerging market in Europe that seemed to target something in the middle: efficient power generation at scale on top of large commercial or municipal buildings combined with local use of the electricity produced. Today, his company Altus Power funds and operates solar arrays on the rooftops of large commercial and industrial buildings — everything from high schools to factories to your local department store.
“That department store purchases the electricity from Altus at a discount to what they pay their traditional utility company, and sometimes during peak hours, can even add electricity to the grid,” says Lars.
Of course, installation can be expensive, and creating the organizational capital to drive growth can be a challenge. To meet the demand and help grow business, Lars has formed partnerships with groups such as Blackstone, providing both customers and investors exceptional value.
Lars says, “We have worked hard together with Blackstone to create the first ever investment grade rated and scalable credit facility for large rooftop solar arrays.” This has led to increased customer savings and higher levels of growth for our portfolio.
Since its founding in 2009, Altus has developed or acquired more than 200 distributed generation solar facilities from Vermont to Hawaii totaling more than 265 megawatts. But what does the solar industry’s future look like?
“It’s bright,” says Lars. “Two percent of the nation’s energy produced last year came from solar. Each state’s renewable energy standards are increasing with goals of 30% or more in the next few decades.”
“The required change and the effort required to close that gap is awe-inspiring.”
Lars believes that to meet the metrics of each state, every flat commercial roof that can hold a solar system, should. He also believes UVA can play a big role in the renewable energy space and its link with entrepreneurship. “Altus was started as a value-creating endeavor, both for stakeholders and investors. If you can start entities that create and deliver value in this space, it’s both fun and inspiring.”
“We should be able to take entrepreneurial steps within the Trust to build a renewable energy ecosystem at UVA with a focus on delivering value.”
It’s an ambitious, visionary goal, but we’ve seen time after time that when a challenge is made to the University community, we find a way to rise to it.