Estimated reading time: 5 minutes ‘
CEO of Midday Tech, Sophia Westwood, believes there are many ways to use our dollar to cut carbon emissions. In this fireside chat, Sophia discusses how she is helping to build solar panels where it matters the most through her years of experience in product and software.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
As she discusses how Midday Tech is helping to put solar panels on rooftops each month, Sophia highlights the importance of leveraging individual action to scale climate solutions.
(Plus, we also have some great news at the end. 😉)
What was the inspiration behind creating Midday Tech?
My background is in computer science, software engineering, and product management. During that time, I met Jon McAlister, the Midday Tech co-founder, and we decided that we really wanted to try to figure out how to use our skills toward climate.
We joined all the climate Slack groups and started reading as much as we could about climate. One point that we always felt a little bit stuck on was learning all the different ways that people are spending money to fight climate change—like carbon offsets, climate donations, or philanthropy in general. When we started looking at specific things, we felt really frustrated that it seemed really hard to know the impact of our spending. For example, if I send $100 off to an organization, what’s really the impact that I’m having?
We kept reading about solar energy because the science is completely proven. Solar panels go up pretty fast and we need a lot more of them. As we learned more about the electricity grid, and how much local and state incentives affect the adoption of solar across different areas, I felt this huge opportunity where solar can make such a huge difference in so many states that run off of coal. It’s just a financial difference of a few thousand dollars that makes a family in Missouri, for example, less likely to adopt solar than a family in California just because of the local policies.
We created Midday to try and connect those two things to see that maybe there are more people like us that want to invest in these ways of fighting climate change that feel really concrete, believable, direct, and scientifically valid. If we could at least help bridge that gap, that’s the starting point of decarbonizing the grid and electrifying everything. Coming from an engineering background, it felt really refreshing to be able to make an impact on something that is completely certain versus something that maybe seems a little more abstract.
How does Midday work?
We put panels on rooftops each month and we’re creating this funnel for families to receive a direct upfront discount to install solar in coal-heavy places. You can sign up for a monthly subscription, which goes directly towards helping us put up new rooftops with solar for coal-heavy houses.
Each month, you can track your panel installation progress and we’ve graded the levels based on how much emissions are being emitted. It’s not strictly a net-zero model like offsets, but if you want to think about it in those terms, you can say that it costs $15 a month to go net zero.
We ask questions like: What’s the carbon intensity of the grid? How much carbon is emitted to generate a certain amount of electricity in Missouri? It turns out it’s a lot, because you’re burning coal in order to create that electricity. So, how much would be emitted if we replace that with solar? What’s the difference in the lifetime of the panels? You can also see on our website a projection about how the grid might change over time based on some extremely lightweight requirements for the utilities to gently decarbonize over a long period of time.
You can choose a plan of how much you want to donate and you can see before signing up where the solar panels will be built. You can read quotes from participating families, see the impact on carbon emissions, and see what that area would be like without panels.
We learned based on our calculations that a solar panel that we help put up in Missouri is actually 7 times more impactful than the same exact solar panel going up in a place like Washington. That’s because the State of Washington is driven by hydropower and other clean sources. Our panels are going up because of the members that made it happen!
How do you find eligible families to participate?
Finding eligible families is something we take a lot of care doing. We’re finding families that are actually on record for not going solar and that have talked to an installer already. They’ve explored the process and decided that this doesn’t really make sense to them because it’s too expensive. We come back to these families and provide them with a monetary incentive based on the size of the installation. A really big focus is not just sending money to families who are already going to do it regardless but focusing on places where there’s already solar. Then, we can track the project progress with the installer.
We’re trying to give households as much autonomy as necessary because the solar world can be so complicated. When families are first trying it out, we don’t want to come in with our complex financing. We want to say that here’s this upfront, straightforward incentive. We’ll say that the family is responsible for paying their share, but our incentive can help defray the costs.
This is similar to if you lived in California. For example, there are certain states like California that will give you money to put up solar, but there are also states like Missouri where those incentives don’t exist. We’re here to provide a structure where these families can have the exact same types of incentives as in California.
Our goal is to go into some of those areas that don’t have a lot of those benefits, but have a lot of coal power. There’s this overlap between places without very good incentives, and places that are really carbon-intensive and the ways they generate energy.
How has Midday grown since you started the company?
We’re still growing our program. Right now, we’ve been partnering with this solar company in Missouri. They’re a public benefit company that is also an installer, so they do a lot in trying to promote diversity and solar, and so on. We’ve worked with them to find people who might be good candidates for Midday. We’re also working with a nonprofit in the Midwest to find lower-income homes that might be interested in adopting solar.
What is currently Midday Tech’s major focus?
A big focus so far has been getting as many partnerships started with people who know a lot about Midwest solar and have worked there for 20+ years. We want to get the software up and running, so more people can become members and we can have a steady stream of installations happening.
Getting the first installation was huge and exciting, but right now we’re still very eager to try and continue growing the member base. The more people who sign up, the faster we can put up solar. We’re not quite at one panel per month yet. We can install one every 6 to 8 weeks, but we’d like to try to get more regular monthly installments.
We’re also trying to find more ways to find households where this can make a difference. We’ve done the research to know that there are a lot of houses that would go solar. We just need to find families, and interview and vet them. We’ve been trying to have at least 50% of the incentives go to low-income families.
We’ve been doing a lot of work, even though it’s slower to try and build those partnerships as well because it’s a pretty different set of groups that are working with low-income homes around solar. We strongly believe in building relationships with these groups instead of just parachuting in with another potential solution. We want our solution to come from somebody that people can trust.
How do you see your work at Midday Tech tie into policy, even if it may conflict with your business model?
If Missouri passed incredible solar-friendly laws, we’ll decide to go elsewhere. I think of this as a joint effort. We can make progress on this together instead of just sitting back and waiting for policies to pass. It helps us prompt discussion with our neighbors and builds more excitement around solar. I celebrate any policy wins, but I feel like there’s still quite a bit of work to do. I remind myself frequently that there’s so much room for opportunity in our community to make an impact and I’m feeling optimistic!
Fireside chat speakers like Sofia help us identify where to make the greatest contributions as a community. To end with some GREAT news—we made the decision to pay $15/month to fund solar for houses in coal-heavy cities. The image below features the Cuivre River House. Our project will replace 116 tons of CO2 and will replace burning 128,280 pounds of coal over its lifetime.
The house is just a 45-minute drive from the Labadie Power Plant, the second-highest-emitting coal plant in the USA. The coal plant currently plans to stay open until 2042, belching out pollution and CO2 as it burns coal to generate electricity.
This would not be possible without ALL of you and with the help of our friends at Midday Tech!
Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!