News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Californians Can Promote Solar And Save

Crowdsourcing solar now available for Californian investors | Photo courtesy Mosaic

As of Monday, Californians can invest a bit of their savings in small solar projects with the promise of a rate of return better than many conventional investments. Mosaic, an Oakland startup that funds rooftop solar projects, is now offering Californians and New Yorkers an opportunity to invest in solar projects in a Kickstarter-style crowdfunding arrangement -- except unlike Kickstarter, Mosaic aims to pay its investors back with interest.

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Mosaic is the offshoot of a project called Solar Mosaic, brainchild of climate activist Billy Parish. In the last two years, Solar Mosaic has connected about 400 investors and $1.1 million in capital with 12 rooftop solar facilities, with an emphasis on urban settings. After getting the green light this month from the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mosaic is now offering access to small-scale private investors. And they mean "small-scale" you can invest as little as $25.

"We've been furtively toiling for months to get to this day," Mosaic consultant Erica Etelson said in a blog post this morning on the Mosaic site." the day when the SEC actually allows us to explain what we offer (always a plus for a viable business), the day when we can open our investment platform to New York and California residents."

After the platform was opened to the public at 9 am Monday, within an hour and a half new investors had bought shares totalling a third to half of the three Northern California projects Mosaic had on offer. By mid-afternoon, Mosaic's new investors had fully funded a planned 55 kilowatt installation on an affordable housing project in the Bay Area city of Corte Madera, with new investors continuing to pour in.

At returns Mosaic says will likely be in the 4.5 percent range, investing in crowdfunded solar might well beat out more staid investments such as T-bills (currently offering less than 2 percent return.) The investments aren't risk-free: there's always a chance a project will fail, leaving its backers on the hook. Still, with the Mosaic platform's easy navigation system that allows investors to buy shares of multiple projects, you can minimize the risk of putting all your eggs in one rooftop solar basket.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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