February 21, 2007 1:51 PM PST

Breaking the mold in solar power

Start-up Citizenre thinks the solar power industry is ready for a radical new way of doing business: rent out panels, rather than sell them.

The company has devised a plan that essentially would allow individual homeowners to lease solar electric panels installed on their roofs. That way, they would avoid hefty up-front costs--a perennial barrier to widespread use of solar power.

But there's a hitch: Citizenre does not yet have a product to sell and has not named financial backers. Next month, though, the company intends to announce its lineup of investors, who are expected to put $650 million into the operation. It will also disclose the location of a planned manufacturing plant.

The absence so far of these crucial details has brought skepticism from solar electric industry incumbents, who fear that Citizenre could set solar power adoption back by promising too much. But even critics admit that one of the big ideas behind Citizenre--letting people rent rather than buy solar power--is compelling.

"Inevitably, somebody is going to figure out how to deliver energy services to customers versus selling solar PV (photovoltaic) systems," said Travis Bradford, author of Solar Revolution and president of the nonprofit Prometheus Institute, which promotes sustainable business.

The energy industry today, like the telecommunications market in the 1990s, is ripe for change, Bradford said. Just as cell phone providers offered an alternative to traditional phone service, new solar energy businesses will arise alongside traditional power suppliers, he predicted.

Right now, homeowners who want to tap solar energy typically pay an installer, who gets the systems from a distributor. The distributor, in turn, gets the different components, including the panels and inverters, from manufacturers.

Bradford predicted that in coming years, an existing utility company, or a solar energy provider serving the commercial market, will devise a way to provide consumers with a wider range of energy services. These could include local power generation through solar panels, financing and ongoing maintenance.

"Solar power is disruptive technology," Bradford said. "Now what we need is new business models."

Buy versus rent
Solar photovoltaic panels for the individual home are expensive, requiring up-front investments of $25,000 or higher. Even after tax rebates, it takes years for that investment to pay itself back to the homeowner in locally generated electricity.

The target customer for Citizenre's products and services is the "average Joe" who, until now, has been shut out of renewable energy by the high price tag, company CEO David Gregg said.

To crack the largely untapped residential market, Citizenre wants to borrow a financing mechanism commonly used by renewable energy companies for commercial customers: a purchase power agreement.

The idea essentially goes like this: A homeowner leases the panels, which would still belong to Citizenre. As part of it, the customer signs a "forward rental" agreement to purchase the electricity generated by the panels from Citizenre at a fixed rate, over five or 25 years.

The advantages to consumers are a fixed electricity rate and a small investment--a $500 fee, which acts like a safety deposit.

"The gamble you make is that your utility power prices will be continuing to go up. Also, you're contributing to a change in the power system, because you're generating power that does not have any (greenhouse gas) emissions," said Erika Morgan, Citizenre's senior vice president of communications, who still works on a part-time basis.

Part of Citizenre's marketing plan calls for it to partner with well-known non-government organizations, such as environmental advocacy groups, to help sign up customers, she said.

Over the past few months, renewable energy blogs have seen a flurry of heated discussions about Citizenre and its approach. Amid criticism, the company's sales associates and others have defended it for trying to break the log-jam in solar power.

"I signed up to get in line for a (Citizenre) Renu system without a request for a security deposit or any money up front, I know these programs take time to work out the kinks. I don't expect to get a unit until sometime in late November or December 2007, or even in 2008," wrote contributor "2renu" in the comments section of a blog that suggested Citizenre's offer was flawed. "Give them a chance to succeed or fail but just give them (a) chance. Who else is taking a risk with a business model like Citizenre?"

CONTINUED: From silicon to rooftop…
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16 comments

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New Solar Model...!
Sign Me Up...!

Looks like Everybody Wins with this.

fmv // Placitas, NM
Posted by fmvigneri (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
c"oming to a roof near you"
Please join me in a discussion about this company CitizenRe. I have been an associate for months now and have communicated with all of the pricipals involved with this company. I feel that they have a great buisiness plan and soon everyone willl see their financial backers and will be registering their homes for solar. Please visit this site for more info or cal me at 630-553-8697
www.jointhesolution.com/yorkville
www.powur.com/yorkville
Posted by yorkvillesolar (9 comments )
Link Flag
Hmmmm...
Selling solar before a factory to manufacture products has been built? Hmmmm.... Hopefully this is not a phishing expedition to attract venture capital money. Hopefully the marketing team has a clean background, with no prior history of shady deals.
Posted by bloated2 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better Business Model
Why can't someone just set up solar panel manufacturing in China and sell it at Walmart?
Posted by eabu (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nothing new about this technology, or ancient either.
In the late 70s & early 80s, there were many plans in the "Green' magazines & books on how to build a passive solar systems for both hot water & heating use which are much cheaper than $10,000. Unfortunately, none of the major media picked up on it. Evidently they were afraid of losing ad revenue from the power & oil industries (& they were correct in that assumption). Some community colleges even offered low cost classes on energy efficient systems like the excellent 6 week course I took. There were also companies that sold pre-fab ones. Some of those designs eliminated the need for commercial traditional furnaces & water heaters. A few were even capable of meeting at least part of air conditioning needs, though they were more expensive because they required undergroud tanks.

At least some libraries will still have copies of those publication for those who wish to investigate further. "The Mother Earth News", "The Whole Earth Catalog", & some of the Rodale publications magazines are a start. More can be found under the subject files.
Posted by Bob H in NPR (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HOPE and a PRAYER SOLAR SYSTEM
Interesting,

So with no confirmed financing, no investors and no factory, makes you wonder how they are taking reservations? For what, a hope and a prayer that they will ever have their act together?

Privacy-Rights-Army.com
Posted by Privacy-Rights-Army.com (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
HOPE and a PRAYER FREE SOLAR SYSTEM
Interesting,

So with no confirmed financing, no investors and no factory, makes you wonder how they are taking reservations? For what, a hope and a prayer that they will ever have their act together?

Privacy-Rights-Army.com
Posted by Privacy-Rights-Army.com (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Citizenre
Citizenre has ZIPPO. It has a great website, 700 poorly trained ecopreneurs and that is it. There is no manufacturing plant, and no details as to who is backing them to the tune of 650 million. There are so many holes in this company. Why does Citizenre do not want to disclose?
Posted by citizenre (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
don't agree
I am an manager at CitizenRe and I am well trained to represent this company. All of the associates have passed an exam that is being re-done as we speak to be even more difficult. For some reason, there is a lot of fear about change in the solar industry. I have two masters degrees related to engineering and many of the other associates have similiar backgrounds. Please join me in a discussion about this company CitizenRe. I have been an associate for months now and have communicated with all of the pricipals involved with this company. I feel that they have a great buisiness plan and soon everyone willl see their financial backers and will be registering their homes for solar. Please visit this site for more info or cal me at 630-553-8697
www.jointhesolution.com/yorkville
www.powur.com/yorkville
Posted by yorkvillesolar (9 comments )
Link Flag
if you ever wanted solar on your roof
I have investigated all he pricipals of this company and I personally believe they are sincere in waht they want to accomplish.Please join me in a discussion about this company CitizenRe. I have been an associate for months now and have communicated with all of the pricipals involved with this company. I feel that they have a great buisiness plan and soon everyone willl see their financial backers and will be registering their homes for solar. Please visit this site for more info or cal me at 630-553-8697
www.jointhesolution.com/yorkville
www.powur.com/yorkville
Posted by yorkvillesolar (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why Can't We Believe?
If this company is willing to help the person who can't afford solar power why not? If people can afford to put the solar power energy in their house do it now... It will help our planet... If you can't sign up for the solar power from this company.... No investment in the system.... Why can't we embrace the idea and get behind a company that has a vision.... It's not about the money it's about the connection of everyone who plans on living on this planet.....

April Moore Central Oregon
1-541-340-9504
Why do we defend something that is different? Why do we not see the value when you don't have an investment? Why not make a choice to be a part of the solution............
Posted by alleybratz (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I would still like to hear why we can;t or havn/t imported the solar panels from china and sell kits.
Posted by aquasundean (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
No way, stop buying from China!

We need to put American back to work manufacturing products, and Solar Panels are just one example.

With our economy in the can, and price adjustments are in play, America should be adjusting pricing on the many costs of doing business so we can bring jobs back to our shores. Why import technology when we have the technology. I believe it all comes down to greed. Charge less and sell more, get on the band wagon.

RLP
Posted by rlwparker (2 comments )
Link Flag
Citizens....... This concept is what I have been looking for from the big power giants supplying our power now. Of course I'm looking for a few differences. For the example lets say the company is Southern California Edison. They enter into an agreement with track home owners, which for a small installation fee of $500, a locked monthly fee of $50, and all right being given to the power company for all electricity generated above and beyond what each household uses. There also has to be no usage limits. This allows the companies to stay in control, which is what they desperately want. It also feeds the power grid with a clean power generation model. Go Green.

Go Green... leave greed behind. Power companies should be serving the citizens needs. A break even is what plus 10% is what the government should mandate.

RLP
Posted by rlwparker (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Citizenre is real and a wonderful example of a renewable energy movement that understands the economic issues that have kept our country from moving into the renewable energy age.
Renting vs Purchasing...Who cares? Clean Energy is the mission and a solar lease program is designed to make the solar conversion to clean energy a simple and affordable way for the masses to participate in a solution to help minimize the environmental destruction, and dependence on fossil fuel driven power plants. In this economy most homeowners are just trying to get by, they want to do something to change our carbon footprint, but the investment of $25,000 and even after all the rebates and write offs they may only pay about $11,000 for the system. Then factor in the maintance and any repair cost of a system, and the purchase option to a new solar customer may seem a bit of a stretch. A new solar customer should have the option to test drive the technology before investing and a solar lease offers just that. Technology changes so fast these days, many of the systems being purchased today may be obsolete in 10 years, remember all of those giant cable satellite dishes, or the block sized cell phones, and I can go on and on, the point is sometimes it is better to find a way to enjoy the technology during its ?evolution stage without having to invest the farm. The main mission is to bring the clean energy of solar to the masses with a program that will work for them now, not wait until they can afford to purchase and who cares if a homeowner buys or leases? What we desire is a clean environment, and the reduction the BP oils spills and the coal mining accidents. Ohhh, by the way there is a solar lease program that you can lease with the option to buy in six years, they have two of the best leasing programs in the nation, you can get a free solar quote and compare before you decide. Read about it: http://www.2rentsolar.com

Either you are part of the problem, or part of the soultion, either buy or lease, but please, please convert ot clean energy.

Gregory
Posted by todayturnstomorrow (2 comments )
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