Gas2 Exclusive Interview: SunEdison & NASCAR Launch Hi-Tech Solar Partnership

NASCAR is awash in tradition when it comes to pushing the limits of stock car performance, but that hasn’t stopped the US auto racing organization from latching on to emerging cleantech hand over fist. In the latest move, NASCAR has just announced its first official Solar Energy Partner. That would be the world’s largest solar energy developer, SunEdison, which is now tasked with engaging fans, racing teams, suppliers, and track owners in solar energy.

The official announcement of the new solar energy partnership was thin on details, but last Friday SunEdison Senior VP Vikas Desai graciously made some time with Gas2.org on the phone to fill in some of the blanks.

SunEdison NASCAR solar energy

The SunEdison/NASCAR Solar Partnership

According to Desai, the new partnership builds on the success of an earlier endeavor, in which SunEdison made itself a presence at the Sonoma Raceway NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) venue in California.

SunEdison gave fans the opportunity to sign up for solar energy right at the racetrack, and the response was strong enough to warrant bumping it to the next level.

For the new partnership, SunEdison will expand its outreach to fans at NASCAR tracks. The company will also work with track owners to build new relationships for its cutting-edge solar technology.

The ripple effect really kicks in regarding another element of the arrangement, in which SunEdison anticipates working with other NASCAR partners.

That will bring the solar energy message deep into the NASCAR supply chain, enabling the solar message to spread into new territory.

“Trying to have a big impact is the idea,” says Desai.

Working with NASCAR could also lead to new initiatives with NASCAR partners that are already involved in sustainability action.

Coca-Cola, for example, is the official soft drink of NASCAR, and among its other activities, the Coca-Cola Company is involved in watershed and habitat preservation in the US and elsewhere. That could result in some interesting interplay with SunEdison’s solar water pump solution for farmers in underdeveloped communities.

Another example is NASCAR’s partnership with ACORE, the American Council on Renewable Energy. Sponsored by Lockheed-Martin, the partnership aims at training the up-and-coming workforce for skilled jobs in the clean energy sector.

Why NASCAR?

Most major US sports organizations have been engaging fans in sustainability issues to one degree or another, but NASCAR appears to have the most comprehensive program in the form of its “NASCAR Green” initiative.

“First of all, we were really impressed with the NASCAR Green approach,” says Desai. “It’s a combination of renewable energy, recycling, and clean air.”

In addition to providing an umbrella for more than 60 “green” suppliers and other partners, NASCAR Green provides a platform for far-ranging fan outreach programs that could dovetail with solar energy. Some examples are highlighting electric vehicles through the Obama Administration’s Workplace Charging Challenge, and recruiting alternative fuel vehicles — Ford’s Focus EV and Toyotai’s Mirai hydrogen fuel cell EV — to serve as pace cars.

Also favoring the new partnership, NASCAR venue owners have already begun installing solar. Our sister site CleanTechnica took note when the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania gave its parking lot a solar makeover. Several other tracks are now sporting solar panels, giving fans an up-close look at the technology.

According to Desai, that kind of first-hand experience can have a significant effect on a homeowner’s willingness to try solar. To sweeten the pot, new financing instruments enable individuals to get rooftop installations with no out-of-pocket expenses, paying only for the energy they use:

If an employer has rooftop solar, it has quite an impact on solar penetration among employees. The validation is having solar at the racetrack. The individual homeowner can see that someone else has gone ahead and done the research. They can see how easy it is for the customer. Now, there is no risk.

NASCAR’s own fan research backs this up, as Desai notes:

The research shows that four out of five NASCAR fans see climate change as an issue, and two out of three want to do something about it, such as recycling or installing solar. These are amazing numbers.

The Message From SunEdison

With the NASCAR partnership, SunEdison hopes that the coast-to-coast, broad appeal of stock car racing will hammer home the message that everyone is affected by climate change, that Americans have to rally together to take action as a nation, and that ordinary individuals can also act for themselves, and transition to using safer and more sustainable forms of energy.

We’re betting that, as the 2016 presidential race heats up, candidates (such as this guy) will be aiming to pump up their “ordinary” appeal by visiting NASCAR venues.

Given the SunEdison partnership on top of all the many other NASCAR green initiatives, it looks like the presidential hopefuls will be pumping up their renewable energy image as well — whether they like it or not.

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Photo via SunEdison.

 

Tina Casey

Tina writes frequently for CleanTechnica and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.