For the last several years, innovative new financing models have been as important to solar energy development in the United States as technological advances.
There are only seven banks in the country that fund solar projects, said Billy Parish, co-founder and president of Mosaic. Mosaic is a crowd-funding start-up based in California that’s mission is to make financing for solar energy and other clean technology easier and cheaper to access.
“For too long, energy investing in America has been a bank only game,” Parish said. “Banks are interested in underwriting a $25M loan for a coal-fired power plant, but for a $100,000 rooftop solar plant, the transaction costs are too high.”
Innovations in financing solar installations have led to significant growth in the industry. When solar leasing companies like SolarCity and Sunrun started offering 0-down payment power purchase agreements for rooftop solar, the residential market took off. Nearly 80 percent of residential solar installations are now financed through power purchase agreements, according to Sunrun. That has opened the solar market to lower and middle-income families.
Mosaic leaders believe their innovation will lead to some of the same game-changing developments in the way small to large-scale solar projects are financed.
“Our mission is to create abundant clean energy for and by the people,” Parish said. “Today, hundreds of individuals from all walks of life will become clean energy investors.”
The company launched crowd-funding investment opportunities Monday that will allow average American investors in New York and California to invest a minimum of $25 in several pre-selected solar projects valued at $603,000. The investments will be paid back within nine years at 4.5 percent annual interest, according to Mosaic.
“Like any investment, there are some risks,” said Greg Rosen, chief investment officer for Mosaic, “all of which are detailed in each project’s prospectus.”
When Barack Obama signed the JOBS Act in April, it set the Securities Exchange Commission in motion to develop guidelines for crowd-funding that offers investors returns. While those regulations aren’t ready yet, Mosaic has worked with state regulators in California and New York and is working with other states to be able to open the opportunity to investors nation wide. Until that happens, the Mosaic opportunities are on available to investors in New York and California and nationally to accredited investors with high income and net worth.
“As a nimble online marketplace specializing in clean energy lending we are able to source capital from the crowd and lend that capital to clean energy developers at lower interest rates than they would get from banks, while still passing along an attractive return to our investors,” Parish said.
Parish said there was demonstrated interest in this type of model before Mosaic launched this for-profit investment opportunity Monday. The company has successfully funded five solar projects through crowd-funding, but with no additional return to investors. If they put $3,000 into a project, they would get $3,000 back. This is something many people want to support anyway. Now, it can also make economic sense for investors, Parish said.
“With Mosaic, we are appealing to people’s enlightened self interest,” he said. “Make money, do good, invest in your community, create jobs, create prosperity, make money. We can have all those things together.”