The cost of solar energy continues its downward trajectory, but it is still out of reach for many individuals and organizations. Oakland-based Mosaic, however, is doing its part to make solar more accessible and affordable. Its collaborative investment model is leading the way to making the rise of the sharing economy entrench itself within the energy industry.
The way Mosaic works is similar in concept to crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. But, unlike those successful sites, which are generated by donations with occasional promises of incentives, Mosaic provides a rate of return that varies by project. In turn this small startup, which for now has 14 employees, offers the opportunity for investors and true believers to put their money where their mouths are--and for as little as $25 per individual.
The results are opportunities for organizations such as affordable housing communities and nonprofits that seek power from the sun but cannot afford the cost of installing solar energy systems. One of Mosaic’s latest projects is a solar array on top of the Youth Employment Partnership (YEP), Oakland’s largest and oldest youth employment training agency. The 40-year-old nonprofit has trained at least 30,000 youth via various programs and has refurbished 50 homes in east Oakland for low-income families. Last month, YEP held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on its roof after its quest to raise over $40,000 for a 196-panel installation proved successful. Mosaic provided the platform through which over 50 investors could raise enough money to offer YEP a 60-month loan. The project will eventually save the organization a minimum of $55,000 over the next 10 years and, according to the San Jose Mercury News, $160,000 over the life of the project.
Additional projects are on the drawing board, including affordable housing projects in Salinas and San Bruno. The process for investors is seamless. First, Mosaic links investors to solar projects in need of financing. Later, as the solar array generates power, it gains revenue by selling electricity to that solar customer. That project, in turn, uses the revenue to pay yields to those investors. Mosaic so far has received seed money in the form of a grant from the Department of Energy as well as financial backing from San Francisco-based Spring Ventures.
Like any investment fund, pooling money in Mosaic has its risks. Anything could go awry, from bad weather or inverters or other equipment not performing the way the manufacturer had promised; suppliers that go bankrupt or the termination of local government rebate or tax incentives could affect a project’s financial performance as well. Investors have access to prospectuses on Mosaic’s site outlining each project’s risks. Nevertheless, in a world where someone passionate about affordable senior housing, or clean energy--or both--can do his or her part for as little as $25, Mosaic may be onto something that could easily be replicated in other industries. So far, the $1.1 million invested in several projects have benefited from a 100 percent on-time payment rate. So far, this sharing model is working and shining bright.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
Image credit: Mosaic