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Solar firm taps social-media expert to spur a 'rooftop revolution'

Patrick Crane was impressed by his solar roof. Now the former LinkedIn executive expects solar power to become a 'social phenomenon.'

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The initiative kicked off in July in conjunction with Sungevity's expansion into Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. The idea is to transform the company into a household name, but also to raise awareness about the relative ease with which homeowners can now go solar – thanks largely to the advent of the solar lease.

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Sungevity installed more than 250 solar arrays between 2008 and 2009. Since offering its no-money-down lease in 2010, installations have grown tenfold to more than 2,000 arrays today, the majority of which are in its existing markets of Arizona, California, and Colorado. And, the solar provider plans to double its headcount to 200 new employees by the end of this year.

Still, the firm accounts for less than 5 percent of the US market for residential installations, while its main competitors, San Francisco’s SunRun and San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity, have market shares of 26 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Sungevity hopes its key hires will give it an edge among its peers, who also expanded to the East Coast in recent months.

Along with Crane, the company has recently hired Mac Irvin, formerly a managing director at San Jose-based panel maker SunPower Corp., as chief financial officer, and Paul Stroube, once the general manager of online gaming community Xfire, is the chief information officer.

This summer, Sungevity staffers are making their rounds in East Coast cities in a popsicle truck fueled by solar panels and biodiesel. The team is also hosting neighborhood block parties for its new customers to show off their panels.

At the truck's recent stop in New York City's Times Square, Crane donned a bright orange shirt – the company's signature color – and chatted with passersbys about the solar-leasing program, though some remained wary of a hidden catch, Crane said.

"You say it's zero down and they say, 'Ok, but how much does it cost?' " he said. "It is so deeply ingrained that [residential solar] is a $30,000 outlay, and those days are gone. We're breaking it down to say that it is not about panels on a roof anymore, it is about switching to a cleaner energy source for no extra money at all," he said.

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