Cleantech investments aren’t as popular now as they have been in recent years, owing at least in part to widely-publicized failed companies like Solyndra. The problem—as it is with so many important technologies—is that cleantech investments are capital intensive and have a long life cycle. Hence the rush to invest in tech companies that use little more than code and don’t need to deal with factories and materials.
But there’s a certain kind of cleantech—dubbed "cleanweb" by venture capitalist Sunil Paul—that makes more sense in today’s economy. According to Solar Mosaic President and Co-Founder Billy Parish, "Cleanweb combines the disruptive potential of cleantech with less capital intensive business models and with growth trajectories more like IT."
Solar Mosaic, a startup that just raised $2.5 million for a solar project crowdfunding platform, exemplifies the power of cleanweb. "The basic idea was, how do we bring Web 2.0 mass-movement building strategies to accelerate the deployment of clean technologies?" explains Parish.
The company recently finished a beta-testing phase, where over 400 people invested more than $350,000 to finance finance five rooftop solar installations in California and Arizona—at zero-interest for the lucky building owners (other solar lease offerings have varying interest rates).
Solar Mosaic bills itself as a "Kickstarter for Solar," but in the beta period, at least, it operated more like a Kiva for solar. People could select the projects they were interested in and invest as little as $25, to be paid back over a period of six to eight years. The building owners are now leasing their solar systems and making monthly payments that go towards repaying investors.
"The biggest barrier to growth of the industry is a lack of financing. We want to introduce a new source of financing, get people involved in the process of identifying sites that they want to go solar, and … solve the biggest constraint in the growth of solar and get millions of people tangibly invested," says Parish.
Funded projects include the People’s Grocery, a food justice organization in Oakland, California, and the Murdoch Community Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. The solar installations will save the organizations $30,000 and $70,000, respectively.
Parish wouldn’t tell us too much about Solar Mosaic’s future—it’s in an SEC-mandated quiet period. The website offers this bit of information: "On April 24th we filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and several states to offer Solar Power Notes to the public, with proceeds going to fund solar power projects. While we work with regulatory authorities on the details of our offering we are very limited in what we can say about the offering." Stay tuned.