Disruptive technologies like Uber have made car pooling the new norm for transportation, changing the way we travel and the way we think about our vehicles. Crowd sourcing companies like Uber also raise the question: what other existing resources can we ration and distribute amongst ourselves?
Enter Yeloha, Boston’s innovative solar sharing company.
We spoke with Joel Gamoran, Regional Director at Yeloha, about their model, their team, Sun Partnerships, Solar Sharing benefits, existing grid and utility considerations and much, much more.
Tell us a bit of background about Yeloha. How did it get started? What’s your team like?
Yeloha was started by co-founders Amit Rosner, Idan Ofrat, and Paolo Tedone. The mission is simple – we want to open access to solar to everyone! Through many years of experience in solar, the founding team understood that this amazing clean energy technology is the future, to the point of being a “no brainer” for the lucky people who have the right roof and economic status. But a creative new solution was needed for the rest of us, who happen to be the vast majority (about 92% according to Greentech Media Research).
Importantly, we believe that it should be simple for people to take part in this rapidly growing solar economy. So with inspiration from the “sharing economy” – where different people can come together to make better use of existing resources – we developed the Solar Sharing Network. The company had to solve many complexities behind the scenes, but makes it as easy as a few clicks to start a solar subscription online. Our team is full of energy and we are all driven toward our goals to make solar accessible and provide an excellent experience for our customers. We have a wide range of expertise- everything from marketing, to coding, to energy policy, with diverse backgrounds – from the west coast, Midwest, east coast and even international.
At this point, how many roofs does Yeloha have panels on? How many Sun Partners are you currently working with?
So far we have customers sharing solar on rooftops throughout Massachusetts. We’ve also recently formed a partnership with Green Mountain Power in Vermont to offer solar sharing to all of GMP’s customers. And we recently announced that Yeloha is coming to New York! We’re planning to open up our solar sharing network throughout New York this spring, and are already taking reservations, where people can sign up (they’ll get priority access once subscriptions become available). Here’s a video about it.
What are the benefits of becoming a solar host? What does this process look like?
Sun Hosts get to put their previously unused roof space to work generating clean electricity. So Sun Hosts can feel good about their environmental contribution, plus they receive compensation (either in the form of a free share of the energy production, or a lease payment for their roof). For businesses and non-profits who become Sun Hosts there’s the added benefit of being able to offer their roof for sharing solar with customers or members.
As to the process, Yeloha is an open platform where any solar installer or developer, or even an independent system owner, can list their solar system as a Host. Yeloha then takes care of everything, from signing up Sun Partners who subscribe to the solar production, to managing all the billing and credits, customer questions, and providing our app that lets Sun Partners track the performance of their panels online.
How do you split the electricity produced from the solar panels Yeloha installs?
When Sun Host systems generate solar electricity, it is fed into the existing grid. From there, that clean solar energy helps to meet the local demand where it is being produced. The amount of solar electricity being produced is tracked, and by working with utilities or state or local policy, we are able to allocate credit for the value of that solar electricity directly to the electric bills of our Sun Partners.
In the past, people who didn’t own the right roof for solar were stuck, they simply couldn’t benefit from this amazing technology. But now, it is simple for anyone to support solar and reduce their bills by subscribing to solar electricity produced on someone else’s roof. We realized there’s no technical reason why the person on whose roof the panels are installed is the only one allowed to benefit. We just needed to create the platform that allows people to share, and so that’s what we did!
Your idea for “solar sharing” mimics companies like Uber, Airbnb, etc. that operate on already existing infrastructures. What role do you see Yeloha playing in urban communities where solar isn’t always feasible/possible?
Just like Uber and Airbnb are enabling us to put underutilized resources to better use, solar sharing taps unused roof space to produce clean energy from sunlight. This is especially important for people in urban environments, such as renters or condo owners, who may have always wanted to switch their energy bills to solar, but in the past had no way to do so. Now, thanks to the sharing economy we all have a way to join the solar economy.
Regardless of the ITC, there is an extremely bright future for solar. For one thing, the cost of solar will continue to decline, and the alternative – that is, old fashioned fossil fuel based electricity – will increase in cost over time as it has for decades.
The 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for residential and commercial solar systems is set to expire on December 31, 2016. Will this affect the Yeloha business? If so, how?
The decline/expiration of the ITC is something that will affect everyone in the industry. (By the way, note that for third-party owned systems the ITC will decline to 10% rather than disappearing completely).
Regardless of the ITC, there is an extremely bright future for solar. For one thing, the cost of solar will continue to decline (for example, Deutsche Bank predicts another 40% drop in solar costs in the next few years), and the alternative – that is, old fashioned fossil fuel based electricity – will increase in cost over time as it has for decades.
What we are seeing is that there is significant demand for solar by consumers, and the economics will continue to work beyond 2016. So we see a lot of growth ahead! The US Department of Energy agrees: they forecast that shared solar will increase by about 10x in the next 5 years, becoming 30-50% of the entire distributed solar market.
What factors do you think are contributing to the rise of community solar?
Community Solar (also called Shared Solar) has widespread appeal. Policy makers and community leaders like how it opens up solar to more types of customers, and enables new ways to increase the amount of clean energy being generated or used in their areas. Consumers like the new access it provides (especially if they could not put solar on their own roof), as well as the flexibility to be able to benefit from solar energy without having to go through the complexity of a construction project, or make a long term commitment. We are even starting to see support for shared solar from utilities, and our partnership with Green Mountain Power is a great example of that.
How does Yeloha work with existing utility providers?
Utilities are an important part of the Solar Sharing Network, too. For one thing, the clean solar energy being produced is distributed via the existing utility grid. In about a dozen states, there are state policies in place that set standards for how utilities will administer shared solar credits onto the bills of their customers. For example, in Massachusetts the policy is called “Virtual Net Metering” while in New York the policy is called “Community Distributed Generation”.
Utilities can also leverage the Yeloha platform to deploy shared solar for their customers more efficiently, and in a way that also benefits their distribution system. As one example, Yeloha has partnered with Green Mountain Power to offer solar sharing to all of GMP’s customers in Vermont. By managing the customer experience, as well as the complex allocations of solar credits between utility accounts, Yeloha is making it very simple for GMP to provide new energy choices to its customers. Furthermore, by working in partnership with Yeloha, GMP can help to identify locations where shared solar systems will also provide benefits to the grid – such as reducing transmission congestion and peak load.
In your experience, why are people with perfectly solar-ready roofs hesitant to make the switch?
Even though there are tons of solar-ready roofs out there, the number of people who are able to “go solar” in the traditional way – by having the panels on their own roof – is limited to only about 8% of the population (according to Greentech Media Research). That’s because, beyond the need for the right roof, there are other complexities. For example, financing or credit prevent some people from participating, as well as questions about what happens when homeowners want to sell their house (although, research indicates that solar homes sell faster and increase in value). Simply the challenge of selecting a solar installer and dealing with permitting and other bureaucracy can also turn people away. So that’s another reason why shared solar can simplify things: in our case, Yeloha and our partners deal with everything to get the system up and running, and consumers simply subscribe, and are able to track the performance of their panels online.
What does the future of this company look like?
We wake up every morning focused on providing an excellent experience for our customers, and striving to open access to solar to as many people as possible. These are the goals that drive us. We have been thrilled with the overwhelming interest in our offering and we will continue growing rapidly to meet this great demand. The US Dept. of Energy predicts shared solar will become 30-50% of the entire distributed solar market by 2020, and we believe Yeloha will play a major role in turning that prediction into a reality!