NRG Sees Path to More California Solar Rooftops Starting on Lawn

NRG Energy, the largest U.S. independent power producer, wants to sell more rooftop solar systems by helping homeowners take better care of their lawns in drought-stricken California.

NRG will begin offering Wednesday a sprinkler-control system that’s linked to a home’s wi-fi network and checks the weather before watering the lawn. Giving consumers the ability to better manage water usage may cut consumption significantly.

The company is pushing into the U.S. rooftop solar market as its traditional fossil-fuel generation business is threated by low commodity prices. Chief Executive Officer David Crane said in January that he’s seeking to become the second-biggest U.S. solar installer next to SolarCity Corp. Incorporating sprinkler controls with home energy systems will give the company a bigger role in customers’ homes.

“We know that from both our own research and from just being on the ground that a lot of Californians are thinking deeply about how they can more efficiently manage their water resources,” said Steve McBee, president of NRG Home, a unit of NRG.

The device, made by Denver, Colorado-based Rachio Inc., can be programmed to water the lawn on a set schedule, and won’t turn on the sprinklers if the weather forecast calls for rain. They will be offered initially to existing and potential home solar customers in Fresno and San Diego and in other markets in the state later this year, McBee said. NRG will also offer turf replacement rebates as part of its home solar installations.

Water Reductions

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory 25 reduction in water use and called for 50 million square feet of lawns to be replaced with drought-friendly landscaping amid a record four-year drought.

Declining solar panel costs and leasing programs that offer installation with no upfront customer payment have led to a boom in U.S. rooftop systems, which have climbed more than 50 percent annually during the past three years. California is the largest solar market in the U.S., according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

As home solar becomes more popular, installers are seeking to distinguish themselves from competitors by offering additional services from home energy management devices to battery storage. On Monday, SolarCity said it is working with Google Inc. to deploy smart thermostats and home monitoring software in California.

NRG’s McBee said the company wants to be a one-stop shop for solar and resource-conservation products. Along with solar panels, the company’s Home division offers electric car charging units, portable solar-powered devices such as phone chargers and home repair services.

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