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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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In the mid-1990s, he tried to stop an oil pipeline from being built in a Papua New Guinea community that was promised cheap diesel for its electricity generators in exchange for the go-ahead on construction. Kennedy promoted solar systems there as an electricity alternative, though, at the time, solar power was not economically viable.

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After the San Francisco campaign, Kennedy moved to Sydney in 2002 as Greenpeace's campaign manager in Australia, the world's biggest exporter of coal. All the while, solar panel prices continued to drop as Europe, Japan, and parts of the United States drove up demand.

"Cost curves were changing so fundamentally that the opportunity to bring on that transition has really come to bear," Kennedy said. "I wanted to help hasten that."

So, he assumed the role of "an entrepreneur to affect positive change" and returned to California to start Sungevity in 2007 with Andrew Birch, the CEO and once a business development manager at BP Solar Australia.

For now, the company plans to saturate its eight-state market and leverage social networking among its customers to attract new demand.

Eventually, however, Sungevity wants to bring its "fundamental revolution of access and affordability" to markets around the world, Kennedy said. "Our online model allows us to expand fairly easily … and we are replicable and scalable unlike any other business.

"We have to make it easy and affordable for people in California and Germany so that it becomes cheap enough for Papua New Guineans to get it," he said. "That turnkey piece that we need in the rich developed world is the awareness that [solar] is an option."

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that Patrick Crane was directly responsible for LinkedIn's 700 percent rise in membership in recent years while he was the company's VP of marketing. This has been corrected.

This article originally appeared at SolveClimate News.

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• The original version of this story misidentified Patrick Crane in the headline.

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