The ‘Sunny’ Side of Life Joe Cunningham

The ‘Sunny’ Side of Life Joe Cunningham

By Alison Bailin Batz

Statistics show there are 299 sunny days each year in Scottsdale. Joe Cunningham knows better.

As the co-founder of Sunny Energy, Cunningham sees 365 days of sun.

Cunningham’s journey to the Valley of the Sun – and Sunny – actually starts in Buffalo, New York. For those keeping score, Buffalo has 150 days of sun and averages 92 inches of snow each year.

“I was an avid road cyclist in my teens in Buffalo, and then I studied Civil Engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York,” says Cunningham, who also rowed on the crew team while there, lettering all four years. “Solar energy was a topic of study, and immediately fascinating. Given it was the 1970s, however, the concept was still in its infancy.”

It was so new that Cunningham, who moved to the Valley in 1985, spent the next 20 years leading the charge for other technologies, including computers, cable television and wireless internet.

During this time, he helped develop advanced wireless technology and services, as well as industry standards, government regulations, hardware and software to increase wireless spectrum use efficiencies and performance. That may sound like Greek, but essentially he helped shape the wireless world as we know it today. So much so, in fact, Cunningham has been recognized by the Wireless Communications Association International as a “Wireless Pioneer” for outstanding contributions.

“By the mid-2000s, solar technology was finally gaining steam. Inspired, I pivoted and started selling and installing solar systems, then connected with one of the largest producers of solar technology, Centrosolar, whose complete U.S. operations were based in Scottsdale,” Cunningham says.

Over the next several years, he managed operations for the North American markets from Scottsdale, overseeing logistics, system design, sourcing and purchasing, private label manufacturing and outsourcing, order fulfillment, a nationwide technical services network and online systems.  

By 2014, Cunningham and Centrosolar colleague Chris Wood – similarly dedicated to propelling solar technology forward – began developing their venture. They partnered with long-time solar contractors, Terry Rials and Jacob Stainbrook to form Sunny Energy.

Their mission is to provide homeowners with the best option to produce their own clean and inexpensive energy.

“The business didn’t happen overnight, even given Arizona is a top option for solar in the country for obvious reasons. In fact, it wasn’t until 2016 that I fully left Centrosolar,” says Cunningham, who notes business has picked up because 2019 is the last year to take advantage of the federal 30% solar tax credit.

According to Cunningham, the state of Arizona also provides a 10% tax credit, up to a $1,000, to offset the installation cost.

And as if helping those who want to lower their carbon footprint doesn’t keep him busy enough, Cunningham recently is expanding the company to Northern California.

Cunningham is also focused on ensuring a new generation of engineers is prepared to continue the charge of creating sustainable solar solutions worldwide.

“For the past two years, I’ve been working with students in ASU’s professional science master’s degree program in solar energy engineering and commercialization, taking them beyond the classroom and into the real world to develop hands-on master’s degree projects that will drive our industry forward,” Cunningham says.

So, how does someone so busy unwind?

“In the sun, of course,” says Cunningham, who’s kept up with road cycling since his teens back in Buffalo.

In fact, he not only still averages 5,000 miles on his bike each year, but is a past Arizona State Road Racing champion for his age group.


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