In the last six years, the price of solar power has fallen by at least 50%. And yet, for most Americans, that fact hardly matters, because they're not able to take advantage. Either their roof is facing the wrong way, there's too much shading from trees or other buildings, or they're renters rather than owners, so the decision isn't for them to make.
In the future, though, you may not need your own panel to participate in the solar boom. Instead, you might work out a relationship with someone else who has solar, using a sharing platform like Yeloha. A new site matching people with solar and people without solar, Yeloha is like Airbnb, except the excess capacity on offer isn't a room in someone's house, but spare cells on their roof.
"We're creating a separate network on top of the old utility infrastructure that allows us to share the value of the electricity between more [people]," says CEO and co-founder Amit Rosner.
To get the ball rolling, Yeloha is installing its own panels at homes, small businesses, and other places, starting with 100 buildings in Massachusetts. Consumers (called "solar partners") can say how much of that capacity they want to buy and for how long. For example, you can buy three panels for three years, which Yeloha says will lead to savings totaling $636 a year.
Rosner says the startup is installing its own panels to start because most systems out there are sized just to meet the demand of the people inside. There isn't enough excess capacity to transact on a network like Yeloha. But its long term plan is to be more like Uber, where people contribute their assets, selling on the power they don't need for themselves.
For the lucky first 100, the installations will be completely free and owners will be able to get enough power to meet their needs (again for free). Yeloha makes money by taking a commission on the transaction, again just like Airbnb or Uber.
Rosner says the startup chose Massachusetts for its favorable solar regulations, talent pool, and sense of community. It's currently exploring another state in New England and plans to expand across the Sun Belt. At the moment, the two peers in the transaction have to be customers of the same utility—which allows bill credits to be shared easily. But in the future, Rosner hopes that relationships will form across companies and across state lines, so a homeowner on the East Coast will be able to do business with someone out West.
There are other examples of peer-to-peer energy trading, including Vandebron in the Netherlands and Gridmates in Texas. But Yeloha seems to be the best funded effort to date. It could be an early glimpse of all kinds of cooperative arrangements in the power sector as the traditional top-down model of distribution is replaced by something less hierarchical.