On October 12, 2011, Oakland's Asian Resource Center went solar, helped by an innovative financing program: a first-of-its-kind community solar project.

It's based on a crowdfunding model formed as a collaboration between solar finance company Solar Mosaic and Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. The project connects people who want to invest in solar with community centers, which can benefit from solar power. This project not only enables low-income communities to get cheaper energy -- it also creates jobs. 

Miya Yoshitani, associate director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network, stressed the importance of acknowledging that in times of economic crisis and climate change, poor people and low-income communities will be hardest hit when it comes to paying water and electricity bills. “Our communities are hurting already, but we are not waiting for the worst. We’re looking to build a solution-rich community. There’s no better time to bring low-income communities together and green our community.” Yoshitani was speaking at the opening ceremony in Oakland. The 140-kilowatt solar installation is located on the roof of the Asian Resource Center and will generate enough electricity to power 35 homes.

The Center, home to organizations working in the heart of Oakland’s Chinatown on a  wide range of social issues such as affordable housing, health care and environmental justice, went solar by raising money on the Solar Mosaic platform. “We are courageous. We created something new. This is not an ordinary solar project. It represents the power of the crowd, the surplus of power that people employed to make it happen," said Dan Rosen, CEO of Solar Mosaic.

Peer-to-peer lending system

How does the funding program work? The team of innovators came up with a simple idea: a person invests in the community by buying a tile for $100 through Mosaic. The tiles, which are not physical tiles but a symbol representing a 100-dollar share, are installed on a building that serves the community. When the project reaches a target number of tiles -- in this case, enough for 120 panels -- solar-panel installation begins. The community, which receives the solar project, signs a 20-year lease with Solar Mosaic for use of the panels and agrees to pay the company for the power from the panels at a much lower rate than a utility company charges. The investors are paid back for the investment as the solar creates the energy.

“Solar Mosaic is doing what banks do (but without them), while creating jobs and a sustainable future,” said Jeremy Liu, executive director of EBALDC (East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation). Danny Kennedy, founder of Sungevity, added that “You save $112,000 over 20 years that would otherwise go to PG&E. It’s a way for the community to get jobs, power and be part of the solar revolution.” This solar revolution created 100 more jobs for Sungevity in the last quarter alone, for example, and Kennedy is pleased to see that the rooftop revolution is happening despite the Solyndra controversy.  Solar panels are now cheaper and with clever pay-as-you-go [options], it’s a strong opportunity,” he stressed.

Solar Mosaic’s projects, using its peer-to-peer lending system, puts the financing for renewable energy into the hands of the people, making solar accessible not just to the wealthy but also to the less wealthy. “I think this is definitely the way to unleash solar to everyone. We are creating a virtual product that lets anyone go solar on someone else’s roof. More than anything else, it’s a desire to make the world a better place and see solar developed. We invest in the community, create jobs and solarize the world,” said Dan Rosen.