Earth Notes: Solar Power, Thanks to the Crowd

May 2, 2012

Flagstaff’s Southside Murdoch Community Center is about to get solar panels installed on its roof. That’s not innovative—but the way the panels are being paid for is. Thanks to 87 small-scale investors and a company named Solar Mosaic, the center will enjoy long-term energy savings without big upfront costs.

Solar Mosaic focuses on financing clean energy projects with help from what it calls the “power of the crowd.” So far the company has funded five solar projects in California and Arizona. 

The company uses both solar leasing and crowdfunding for these projects. Solar leasing means that the building owner doesn’t buy the solar power equipment, but leases it. That way the owner avoids initial costs and sees energy savings right away.

Crowdfunding secures small amounts of money from a large community of investors. With that funding, Solar Mosaic investors can help a non-profit realize savings while promoting a practical, local use of alternative energy. For the Murdoch center, which was once an all-black school, they invested in “tiles” at $100 apiece. Collectively, they raised over $20,000, and over time, they will recoup their initial investments.
The community center, meanwhile, is expected to retain more than $70,000 in energy costs over the next 20 years—a savings that will allow it to commit that money to other, pressing community needs. 

A local company is installing 36 solar panels on Murdoch Community Center this spring. Once online, they’ll provide 75 percent of the center’s electricity—and give a new meaning to the term “community center.”