The peer-to-peer sharing economy is simply a function of the marriage between GPS and smartphone technology. Got a car and are willing to give someone else a ride? Uber will direct you to people nearby who need a ride and are willing to pay for it. Airbnb does something similar. Got a room or house you want to rent? Tell the company about it and it will share that information with anyone who wants to visit your location.
Now solar startup Yeloha thinks it has found a way to apply this new, social media way of doing business to clean energy. Yeloha cofounder and CEO Amit Rosner says the problem is simple: access. “We found that 92% of the households in the country cannot go solar,” Rosner told Energy Business. “No matter their motivations, they just can’t do it. Either they don’t have the right roof or they don’t have the right credit.
“What the solar industry has done is focus on the small, addressable market of the very lucky people — people with homes, sunny roofs that face south, live in the right state, and are wealthy or have excellent credit. That’s a lot of requirements.” In other words, the industry is picking the low hanging fruit.
“From a business perspective, there’s a huge opportunity in making it so everyone can connect to solar,” Rosner says. Understanding what the hurdles were, Rosner set out to develop Yeloha. The company acts as a liaison between people who have solar-friendly roofs and people who want to buy the energy those roofs generate. A homeowner can join Yeloha as a Sun Host. The company will then install solar panels on his or her roof free of charge. The homeowner receives part of the energy the system generates at no cost to help lower the home’s monthly utility bill.
The rest of the electricity generated is then distributed to what Yeloha calls Sun Partners. These people might be living in an apartment building or renting their home. Either way, they have no access to solar power. But through Yeloha, they are able to purchase the remaining energy generated by a Sun Host’s roof and see a monthly reduction in their electricity bill.
The simple idea has already generated intense media buzz and piqued investors’ interests. Earlier this year, Yeloha raised $3.5 million in its Series A fundraising round. Because fundraising remains in progress, Rosner could not divulge specifics on exactly how many homes are currently using Yeloha — although he was willing to say that he’d been overwhelmed by the “tremendous” outpouring of public interest.
For now, the service remains in Beta testing mode and is available exclusively in the company’s home state of Massachusetts. Rosner says New York will likely be next with several more states to follow in the coming months.
“Ultimately we bring people together to do something beautiful that they couldn’t do alone,” Rosner explains. “It’s not a platform that requires you to be a treehugger, because there’s an immediate benefit. We’re trying to be really practical here. We want to see a big change in the world. But if we want to reach millions of people, we need to provide what they need. Ideology is great, but we need to make the technology practical, online, affordable and sticky.”
So what does Rosner have to say about the inevitable comparisons to companies like Uber? He says he has learned a lot from it. Uber allows people to monetize their personal cars, which generally bring in no direct revenue, and has provided job opportunities to those that might be otherwise out of work.
According to Rosner, Yeloha is doing the same thing: “Here, you have your roof. Now, you put it to work for you. You had this asset that was wasted and now it can help you. It also helps the environment and saves you money.”
Another key comparison to Uber that Rosner is quick to point out is that the ridesharing service was able to transform transportation without altering the roads themselves. Rosner says Yeloha is working to change the way people get their electricity without taking on the considerable task of trying to change the grid or the infrastructure itself.
“We’re using the infrastructure, so we need to find a way to work together with the utility companies,” Rosner said, explaining that his company’s plan has naturally raised hackles with some utility companies. “We see ourselves as a digital network on top of the existing infrastructure. We understand why the utilities are concerned about how their business models could be adversely affected. But we’ve also found that utilities are embracing change.”
That may be so, but Rosner is going to find himself with an uphill battle with some states that prohibit third party purchase (TPP) agreements. Those states have laws designed to protect utility monopolies by making it illegal for anyone who is not a utility to generate electricity and sell it to someone other than the utility company.
The convenience factor of the Yeloha model is hard to ignore. For Sun Hosts, there’s no lease agreement, no commitment, and no credit check to sign up and get solar panels installed. For Sun Partners, it’s even simpler. “People should be able to go online and say ‘I want to go solar today.’ Three minutes later, they’re connected to one or two, or three, or 20 solar panels that can start generating cleaner, smarter and cheaper electricity for you. So you’re doing the right thing and you don’t need to go through a whole ordeal,” Rosner says.
Yeloha could be the best idea since sliced bread.