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Solar Mosaic uses the power of crowds to fund big solar projects

on July 20, 2011

There are a number of incentive programs for Oakland residents who go solar—such as the California Solar Initiative, Energy Upgrade California, or Sungevity—but they only work if you own your rooftop. But what if you don’t?

Now you can buy solar panels to install on someone else’s property while getting paid back for your investment through a new program called Solar Mosaic. The Berkeley-based company is trying to raise funds from Oakland residents for five to seven solar projects for small businesses, schools and non-profits in Oakland. People can support the projects by contributing $100 for what the company calls a piece of “tile” which will be installed atop one of these buildings. Supporters can choose to either donate their tiles, or have their money paid back over several years.

Once a project site is fully funded, a solar array will be installed on the host site’s roof and start to generate electricity. The host organization, which signs a 20-year lease agreement with Solar Mosaic, has to pay for the power it gets from the solar system but at a lower rate than what a utility company would otherwise charge. In addition, according to the company’s website, while the cost of electricity sourced from the traditional grid is projected to increase five to eight percent a year, the cost of the solar energy will only increase by 3.5 percent, making the savings margin bigger as time goes by.

The seven potential projects in Oakland are expected to save the host organizations more than $350,000 in total, said Billy Parish, co-founder of Solar Mosaic. Parish said the company is in discussions with about ten potential host sites in the city, including the Asian Resource Center, Youth Uprising, and the East Oakland Boxing Association. The selection hasn’t been finalized, and “We’re eager to hear from more potential site hosts,” Parish said.

The total capacity of the seven planned solar systems will be 140 kilowatt hours and the average cost of one system will run around $50,000. Parish said his company has secured half of the project funding from private donors, which means only about $25,000 needs to be raised from the community in order to support each solar array.

Solar Mosaic is currently partnering with solar company Sungevity to install the solar hardware and will look for more installers to carry out its projects in Oakland.

Parish believes the program will benefit Oakland community groups that don’t have the upfront capital to pay for solar installations. “Oakland has the potential to be the leading solar city in the world,” Parish said. “There’s a really strong network of community-based organizations—there’s a lot of Oakland pride.”

Solar Mosaic, in partnership with non-profit Solar for All, is also going to launch identical project in Richmond. Visit Solar Mosaic’s website for more information.

Image: Solar panels on a roof in Oakland. Photo by Solares via Flickr. 


  1. Jim on July 25, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Solar Mosaic seems to have great idea. But you mention “private donors” for half the project costs.

    Does this mean SM can not recover its costs?

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