Good News from Solar Mosaic

The crowdsourcing site “Solar Mosaic” just reported in a press release that they successfully raised $313,000 for a couple of rooftop solar projects in less than 24 hours from over 400 investors. I recall having blogged about them earlier.

$313,000 is not ever so big a number. With investment in solar in 2011 at $136.6 billion, why is this important? Why does Bill McKibben write at Grist that this is “kind of a big deal”? Here is one paragraph from his post, citing the German experience:

To me, it’s far more exciting than the news that Warren Buffett just bought a couple of California solar plants. Yes, that’s good confirmation that the solar business is a strong one — that it makes sense to the guys with the green eyeshades, not just the wild-eyed greens. But if we’re going to take this to scale, it’s going to require unleashing even more money than Buffett controls — it’s going to take a society-wide effort. You can see something like it underway in Germany, where the Energiewende drive has put solar panels on top of millions of roofs — most of them paid for and owned not by big utilities but by small cooperatives and churches and the like.

If one wants to know more detail about the “most of them” part, the best place to go is the new comprehensive website on the German energy transition by Craig Morris and and Martin Pehnt, which I have reviewed here. They have a section titled “Energy by the people” which gives lots of detailed facts. I also recommend this Youtube video interview with the German Member of Parliament Ulrich Kelber.

From the website section “Energy by the people” one learns that renewable installed capacity is owned to 51% by private individuals (for example solar on your own roof). 14% is in the hand of project firms, 11% is owned by investment funds and banks, 11% by farmers, 9% by industry (for own consumption), 7% by “other energy suppliers”, and only 6.5% by the “big four” utility companies.

It is somewhat open to debate how Solar Mosaic investments should be classified in the above report, but probably “investment fund” is the closest category. That of course means that  Bill McKibben is wrong if he thinks that “most is owned by small cooperatives and churches”. The biggest chunk is the capacity owned by individuals, by far.

But Germany also has a very vibrant small cooperative investment market. The number of cooperatives has boomed from 66 in 2001 to 586 in 2011. That is certainly enough to provide anyone an opportunity to invest in this kind of project. And since most of the owners are locals in these projects, that has the added value of reducing opposition.

A wind turbine looks much prettier to the eye when you know that it makes you some coin.

Congratulations to Mosaic for this early success. Now the trick would seem to be to develop a similar model for investment in large-scale desert projects.

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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