14 October 2011

Is It Time for Clean Energy Investing to Go Online?

Longtime readers of The Green Skeptic will recall that back in 2008, I was working on a start-up venture that became the unfortunate victim of the market collapse coupled with, as Andy Swan kept reminding me every time it dipped, the plummeting price of oil after an all-time high of $147 per barrel in the summer of '08.

The idea, which was called "Seat 28B" for a time and VerdeInvesting towards the end, was to build a web marketplace to reduce the barriers to entry for retail investors wanting to help fund green energy projects and companies.

It was an idea that in the fall of 2008 was "too soon to start."

Luckily, we were also too small to fail, to use StockTwits co-founder Howard Lindzon's phrase, and I finally laid the idea to rest about a year after we started.

From its ashes, however, emerged VerdeStrategy, a consulting and advisory firm that has helped dozens of companies articulate their value proposition, prepare for investor pitches and capital raises, and better market their products and services.

But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking my original idea was still valid; it's just that the timing sucked.

So when Spring Ventures's Nick Allen, speaking at SXSW ECO, mentioned Solar Mosaic, I was delighted to see someone implementing one component of what we were thinking -- community-based solar projects with financing provided, in part, by peers and neighbors.

Solar Mosaic is creating what they call "a revolutionary new way for communities to come together and create solar projects on the roofs of local community centers, schools and places of worship."

They hope to "democratize" solar energy development and reduce projects costs through their online peer-to-peer lending system that allows individuals to invest in solar projects in their communities at as little as $100.

I think of them as a Kiva for solar projects.

This week, Solar Mosaic held a groundbreaking ceremony for its first big project: the Asian Resource Center (ARC), in the heart of Oakland's Chinatown, is the first site in Oakland to go solar by raising money on the Solar Mosaic platform. ARC, a non-profit business center, is building a 28.8 kW solar installation that will save the building an estimated $112,684 over the lifetime of the lease.

If Solar Mosaic is the Kiva for community solar projects, OnGreen, is the KickStarter or AngelList for a wider variety of cleantech deals.  OnGreen lists deals of varying sizes and persuasions in its Marketplace section and hopes to become "the world's largest clean-tech social marketplace - brokering deals all across the globe."

Other online marketplaces for social, green, and sustainable goods and services have been popping up as well, including Mission Markets, Microplace, as well as personal peer-to-peer lending sites like Prosper.com.

It remains to be seen whether clean energy investors will flock to crowdfunding opportunities or whether the projects and capital needs can actually be met through such vehicles, but I'm delighted to watch and see whether my "too soon to start" idea for a cleantech focused web marketplace finally has some legs.

Then again, perhaps it's time to dust off the old VerdeInvesting business plan and get back in the game.

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