by January 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm 1 Comment

From John Shannon who writes about green energy,sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT] Content from Katie Fehrenbacher/GigaOM — and thanks due to Ernie Sander, Executive Editor, GigaOM

"John Shannon"

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

One of the signs that a new kind of business is maturing — is when investors are banging on the door demanding to invest in that product or service.

The latest trend in the energy marketplace is solar power investment whereby investors are offered a rate of return for a specified number of years (in this case, 4.5% over 9 years) and that investment is used to fund solar installations.

Get ready to start hearing a lot more about this as solar panels have fallen in price over the past 26 months so dramatically that solar financing programs are springing up everywhere. Solar panel prices are still falling due to massive orders and production. Investment returns for solar power investors look set to rise.

Here is one such example:

Solar Mosaic Turns “The Kickstarter of Solar” into a way to Make Money

By Katie Fehrenbacher

Who wants to make money off of solar roofs? Startup Solar Mosaic is making that possible starting Monday morning, when California and New York residents can put money into solar projects and, the company says, earn a 4.5 percent annual return. Kind of like a mutual fund.

Updated: At 9AM (PST) on Monday, the Kickstarter of solar, Solar Mosaic, will officially open its site to residents of California and New York, as well as accredited investors, looking to make money by investing in solar panel roof projects. For months (at least since last summer), Solar Mosaic has been enabling a small amount of investors to experiment with investing in, and earning money from, the returns from solar roofs, but this is the company’s big public launch.

The company was founded back in October 2010, and I wrote one of the first profiles of Solar Mosaic in October 2011. It took the startup a little over two years to test out its beta Kickstarter-style platform and become registered to share securities with the public. Last year, it got a vote of confidence from the crowd funding bill. The company is backed by Spring Ventures.

For potential investors, solar roofs can provide a low-risk return — anywhere between 4 and 12 percent on an investment — kind of like investing in a mutual fund. Building owners lease solar panel systems and enter into a contract for a fixed, low electricity rate, commonly over about two decades. Solar Mosaic organizes the crowd-funding to get the solar rooftop installed, and works with a solar lease provider like Sungevity. Once the project gets crowd-funded, the rooftop solar panel installation process starts.

Solar loans are backed by a revenue-producing asset (electricity) and the building owners pay for the solar electricity monthly in the same way they have been paying their monthly utility bill. The buildings owners aren’t all that likely to default on their electricity payments, and the costs, timelines and returns for solar panels are pretty transparent as the technology has become increasingly commoditized. Another company that has created a site for crowd-funded solar is SunFunder.

Solar Mosaic says its first investments will offer a 4.5 percent annual return, including servicing fees, with a nine-year term. The company says it is offering “a better expected yield than most investment products available to the general public.”

by November 19, 2012 at 11:00 am 1,201 0


Amonix has a 34.5% peak efficiency solar module record; verified by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, May, 2012. (Courtsey of Amonix)

From John Shannon who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

"John Shannon"

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

Most installed solar panels (also known as solar modules) in North America and Europe have an 11% efficiency-rating. That is, of the sunlight falling on them approximately 11% of that sunlight is converted into direct current electricity.

These are the panels with which we are most familiar and for the countries mentioned, they provide a tiny percentage of total electrical production there.

For example, Germany has over one-million solar panels installed with more installed every day. Even so, all of Germany’s solar panels combined supply less than 3% of German electricity needs.

Thanks to our computer-controlled electrical grids, utility companies can switch to the lowest cost minute-by-minute electricity during the day due to something called ‘Merit Order‘ ranking.

When the Sun is shining, every kilowatt of solar energy is spoken-for as it is by far the lowest-priced electricity available to utility companies during the daylight hours. In Germany, electrical rates drop by 15 to 40% during the daytime — due to the lower Merit Order price of solar power.

Solar provides lower cost electricity than the electricity produced by feeding a coal-fired burner with expensive coal ($70 – $155 per ton, plus transportation) with the required small army of personnel to unload coal from rail cars, oversee safety in the power plant, load the coal and otherwise maintain a billion dollar coal-fired power plant for example.

What is new under the Sun, is that many of those old 11% efficiency solar panels are soon to be replaced with 22% to 24% efficiency solar panels. That’s right, technology marches along and not just in regards to video games! The latest production solar panels are a ‘drop in’ replacement for the older panels.

Yes, a 100 megawatt solar power plant can become a 200 megawatt power plant — just by replacing the panels with more efficient ones.

And, unlike doubling the capacity of a coal-fired, natural gas or nuclear power plant, this won’t cost another billion dollars, nor entail yet another lengthy political fight to obtain approval. No, the old, low-efficiency panels will simply be unbolted from their brackets and the new higher-efficiency ones will be bolted into place. All of which should take a few weeks while the rest of the solar power plant continues to operate normally.

It turns out that due to mass production and a competitive marketplace, the per panel price of the new efficient panels is lower than the originally-installed panels.

To oversimplify this equation, Germany will jump from 3% solar electrical power production to 6% — just by replacing their panels with more efficient ones.

Where will it end you ask? Earlier this year, a new solar panel was announced which surpasses the 24% panel by a significant margin.

In only ten years, we have come from panels with an 11% efficiency-rating typically costing around $100. per panel, to 24% efficiency-rating panels costing $20. per panel at utility-scale volumes. Within 24-months, Amonix 33% efficiency (CPV) solar panels will go into full production. At this rate, I can’t wait for 2030!

To watch a YouTube video about the Amonix 33% CPV solar program, click here.

by October 8, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,672 0


On 140 acres of unused land on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, 70,000 solar panels are part of a solar photovoltaic array that will generate 15 megawatts of solar power for the base. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Shannon writes a biweekly column for

From John Shannon  who writes about green energy, sustainable development and economics. Email him at john[AT]

The first solar panels ever installed were photovoltaic solar panels mounted on military satellites and blasted into space from Cape Kennedy, Florida during the 1960s.

Many of those old but reliable photovoltaic solar-powered satellites are still up there sending us information.

Q: What has this to do with the U.S. military now installing solar panels at exponential rates on its bases?

A: Price.

As the production of solar panels have ramped up, prices have dropped dramatically. In fact, prices have dropped so quickly that some solar manufacturers have filed for bankruptcy due to their inability to stay with the market. Lower-priced materials, manufacturing and technology have all conspired to force a huge price drop.

Faced with budget cuts and the need to lower long-term costs, the U.S. Navy has turned to an old, reliable partner – solar power. In October 2010 the Navy set a goal to produce 50% of its onshore energy needs from renewables by 2020.

For one example of this, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) complex in San Diego has installed 1.3 megawatts of solar panels at the Navy’s headquarters for high-tech military command, communications and surveillance.

SPAWAR now has the U.S. Navy’s largest contiguous rooftop solar array with 5,376 high-performance SolarWorld photovoltaic solar panels providing electricity for the site. Any surplus electricity generated on site is to be sold to the San Diego grid.

For another example, U.S. Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWS China Lake), California, is installing an entire photovoltaic solar power plant which is to be financed through a 20-year power purchase agreement between SunPower and the U.S Navy.

Under the terms of the agreement the Navy has no upfront costs. The plant is expected to produce 13.78 megawatts of power and cover 30 percent of NAWS China Lake’s energy needs.

With zero capital investment and giving up only unusable land, the Navy will reduce costs by saving an estimated $13 million over the next 20 years on their NAWS China Lake electricity bill.

President Obama, in his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012, said,

“…the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

Beginning in 1999, the U.S. military has installed solar power systems at many bases, including Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, Pearl Harbor, Fort Dix, Coronado Island, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado — among others.

The vast United States military often sets precedent for the rest of the country and this is the case with solar energy. Cities and utility companies have taken careful note of the power purchase agreement model used between the U.S. military and utility companies. Many more such agreements are pending.

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