Distributed solar power, built to scale

Renewable energy is all the rage, but it still tends to be expensive compared with fossil fuel-based juice. So how does four-year-old SunEdison sell commercial-grade solar power at or below the going rate for electricity? By leveraging capital from Goldman Sachs and other investors to cover the upfront cost of acquiring photovoltaic panels and installing them on customers' roofs. It has already built 127 of its distributed generation systems nationwide, for customers including Staples and Whole Foods. "Many institutional investors don't want to do one-off projects," says CEO Jigar Shah, who left BP Solar in 2003 to start the company. "They really want to put together $50 million to $100 million funds, and they can see that we've really been able to achieve that scale." In return, customers sign purchasing contracts that lock in the current price for as long as 20 years, creating a steady revenue stream for SunEdison--and, for themselves, a low-cost, low-risk way to clean up their act. --Andrew Park

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