By: Erin Vaughan, Modernize.com
Solar power is disruption at its finest. The rush to increase access, raise cellular efficiencies, and streamline the installation process all present just the kinds of challenges startup entrepreneurs and investors love. Indeed, solar stands to benefit residents—particularly those in developing, sun-drenched areas—so enormously that it’s only a matter of time until it goes mainstream. To help us get there, a number of innovative startups have launched, each of them with their own solution to one of the technology’s pain points. The following are just a few of these progressive new organizations, marking a pivotal shift in energy distribution.
The Sun Exchange
One of the great obstacles facing those who want to invest in solar power is the high startup costs associated with equipment and setup. Additionally, traditional lending organizations are limited by remittance regulations and fees that make it difficult to send money internationally. The Sun Exchange hopes to solve both of these problems by launching a peer-to-peer lending program powered by BitCoin. The South African organization hosts a variety of solar installations worldwide, allowing users to access and invest in solar easily and affordably, making it poised to alter both energy distribution and digital currency.
Solar power’s rise to prominence isn’t happening in a vacuum—it’s largely due to increased awareness of a number of environmental concerns, water security among them. That’s where SunToWater comes in. Their water generator harvests potable fresh water from thin air, literally—solar-powered fans in the system blow cooled air over a layer of salt. The salty material absorbs water molecules in the air, where it can be extracted for use in landscaping, to fill swimming pools, or even for drinking. The system understandably has generated a lot of attention amongst the Silicon Valley set, winning the Silicon Valley Founder Showcase and the Singularity University Impact Challenge, a competition launched to locate solutions to California’s water shortage.
Solar panel manufacturing costs may have plummeted in recent years, making equipment more affordable, but “soft costs,” like financing, installation overhead, permitting and inspections still make residential installations pricey, keeping solar power less competitive compared to traditional fuel sources. In fact, NREL estimates that these baked-in expenses now encompass about 50% of startup costs. One of the issues is that solar installers, providers and manufacturers are currently fragmented, each working off their own cobbled-together spreadsheets of industry data. Sighten’s goal is to reduce overhead and streamline the installation process by offering a collective asset database to standardize information across organizations. At the end of 2015, Sighten had closed a $3.5 million round of Series A financing, making this startup a serious contender in the solar market.
(Read an interview with Sighten’s CEO here)
The rising interest in solar power offers a real window of opportunity for citizens in remote areas of developing nations, where grid connections may be few and far between. Seizing on that trend, Solarkiosk provides a platform for these residents to launch their own solar-powered business hubs, or for communities to construct health centers, schools, and marketplaces, all powered by the sun. Designed by the renowned GRAFT architecture firm in Berlin, Solarkiosk’s modular E-HUBB storefronts can be erected even in very challenging terrain, and they’re powered by 1 to 4 kilowatt solar panels and a battery pack to keep businesses open 24/7—even in inclimate weather. The group also leverages feedback from smart meters to improve kiosk efficiency and load balancing.
When homeowners first get interested in solar, they often find themselves at odds with the installation process, searching futilely through incentive databases and outdated websites for accurate information. In short, they need someone to guide them through the process of selecting equipment, finding an installer, and financing their purchase. Modernize, which was recently named to Austin Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Hottest Startups A-list, connects residents to solar installers and contractors, giving them the tools and information they need to make an educated decision about their home energy. In 2015, we were the starting point for approximately seven percent of all residential solar installations, which has had an environmental impact equal to planting 165 square miles of trees. In fact, for every second Modernize operates as a business, we offset the the negative impact of 44 pounds of coal—for us, solar power is not just a distant dream for the future, it’s a change we see every day in real-time.
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize.com, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.