I know a lot of passionate people in the solar industry who don’t actually own a solar system, and I’m one of them. On the surface, that may appear hypocritical when you make a living telling people how affordable solar is. “If it’s so affordable, why don’t you own it?” they ask.
When you explain that it’s (currently) not physically possible to own or lease solar when you rent a house or live in an apartment, then they get it. Nevertheless, I do feel a tinge of longing to be able to promote solar while personally benefiting from it.
There are several solutions for that longing, but until community solar with off-site virtual net metering becomes widely available, the most practical solution for me is to become a co-investor in a Solar Mosaic project.
For those not aware of Solar Mosaic, it’s a new company that signs up small individual investors to fund large commercial solar projects. With this crowdfunding investment model, there’s no virtual net metering or utility directly involved with the transaction. It’s more akin to investing in a bond, in which my fellow investors and I receive a return on our investment over a set number of years. You can invest as little as $25 per project or many thousands of dollars, depending on your net worth and state laws. Solar Mosaic points out that this is an investment, not a savings account, so there is some risk.
The projects are first set up as a solar PPA, lease, or loan, and contracted with a host. Then Solar Mosaic gets the word out about funding the project. In my case, I’ve invested in a 487-kW system on the Wildwoods Convention Center in Wildwood, NJ. Once it’s fully funded by individual investors, I’ll earn 4.5 percent interest for 111 months and be paid regularly as Solar Mosaic collects payments from the Wildwoods.
Like an individual solar lease or PPA, it’s a package deal. So, there are no extra monetary benefits; any SRECs or tax credits are rolled into the investor’s 4.5 percent yield. Similarly, there’s no direct operations and maintenance charges, such as sharing the costs of replacing the inverter. Solar Mosaic takes care of all of that, and also captures a 1 percent fee from the investors, as well as receives a loan origination fee from the borrower, in this case, the Wildwoods Convention Center.
In terms of executing this model, from my side, it’s been pretty seamless. Solar Mosaic’s website is easy to use and understand, and with a few clicks, you can set up an account that feeds funds electronically to or from your bank account.
While this investment is not the same feeling (or ROI) as owning my own solar system, being a Solar Mosaic investor does allow me to feel like I’m putting my money where my solar career and advocacy is. If you're a solar industry person who also can't own solar for various reasons (trees, rent, condo, apartment dweller, HOA troubles?), then this may be a solution for you too.
Now, when I’m making a pitch about solar and a person asks me if I have solar, I can say that I do — as a solar investor. And one day when either I own my own home or virtual net metering becomes common, then I can truly feel that the energy I use to cool my beers and power my laptop really is offset by solar. Until then, there’s Solar Mosaic, and perhaps there will be similar entities in the future, as well.
Crowdfunding solar projects is definitely a way… to UnThink Solar.
Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” advises solar companies on marketing, communications, and branding. Want more solar marketing info? Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact Solar Fred through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.
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