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This Startup Lets People Without Roofs Get In On The Solar Power Boom

Your landlord won’t install solar panels? No problem. You can still make $70 a year from other people’s solar energy.

This Startup Lets People Without Roofs Get In On The Solar Power Boom
[Photos: via NASA]

Most apartment dwellers who want to use solar power probably won’t find it easy to convince their landlord to install panels on the roof. But there’s another option: A new startup will let anyone invest in solar panels remotely–and then get paid quarterly checks for the energy they produce.

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“We’ve found in research that about 80% of people who want to get involved in solar don’t have the ability to do so,” says Cory Absi, co-founder of CloudSolar, which he launched with fellow students from MIT last year. “Whether that’s the initial prohibitive cost, or they don’t have the correct roof angle, or they live in an apartment building. We want to offer a new way of getting involved in solar energy.”


For $750, anyone can purchase a solar panel, which will be installed at a remote solar farm. Over the course of 25 years, the company estimates that the panel will generate about three times that value, from a combination of government incentives and money paid for the electricity. CloudSolar will take a 20% cut, and owners can expect to pull in about $70 a year.

The solar farm will be built in a location chosen for maximum sunlight, high electricity prices that can quickly pay back investors, and the most beneficial state incentives. For now, the startup won’t say exactly where this is, to avoid tipping off competitors who also want scarce land.

For consumers, the net benefit to the environment could be the same as installing panels on a rooftop, as long as the panels are both replacing the same type of power. After all, even if you have panels on your roof, you’re probably sending that power back into the grid. It’s not directly offsetting your own power use, so does it matter if the panels are on your roof or a few hundred miles away?

The model is similar to Mosaic, an Oakland-based startup that crowdfunds solar installations for neighbors, and then pays back investors over time. But CloudSolar offers ownership of the panels, rather than just an investment, and it seems that it might give a better financial return: Instead of installation on a rooftop, the panels will be optimally located to get the most sun, and the best electricity rates.

The startup hopes to quickly grow. “We expect this will be a scalable business model,” says Absi. “We really just want to reduce the entry barriers–specifically costs–to people, so that we can utilize the power of the masses to drive that shift in the solar industry.”

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CloudSolar launched a new crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo on March 5.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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