| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Dec 2 In a first on Monday, an
online marketplace will allow U.S. homeowners to weigh options
for going solar as easily as they can compare prices for airline
Geostellar, a startup backed by power producer NRG Energy
Inc, is seeking to become the Expedia or Orbitz of the
solar industry -- a one-stop shop where consumers can not only
compare the benefits of leasing solar panels versus buying them
outright, but ultimately sign up to install a system.
Solar players including NRG, No. 1 U.S. installer SolarCity
Corp, Boston-based solar loan provider Admirals Bank,
manufacturer and financier Conergy, East Coast
installer Roof Diagnostics and Connecticut's Clean Energy
Finance and Investment Authority will feature their products on
the site, www.geostellar.com.
Geostellar hopes its platform will allow installers and
financiers to lower the cost of acquiring new customers -- a
major goal in the fiercely competitive rooftop solar industry.
Solar companies are laser focused on slashing costs so that they
can deliver on their promise to save customers money on power
bills by going solar.
Geostellar will make money by claiming a portion of a
system's total installed price - between 10 and 20 percent,
Chief Executive David Levine said.
Geostellar, which was founded in 2010, got its start by
selling data to solar companies that showed the solar energy
potential of individual rooftops. Its early customers included
solar financing companies SunRun, Sungevity and others,
according to Levine.
In May 2012, it raised $14 million from NRG, Flash Forward
Ventures, satellite imagery company GeoEye (now owned by
DigitalGlobe Inc ), and the state of Maryland's venture
Levine, who had tried to convince his customers to use
Washington-based Geostellar's data to build a website where
consumers can comparison shop for solar, resolved to use those
funds to build it himself.
"We went back to those customers and said instead of us
giving you data and you doing the marketing, we want to be your
customer acquisition engine," Levine said in an interview.
Geostellar uses satellite data to build 3D representations
of neighborhoods and their rooftops. A simulation that moves the
sun across the sky then helps the company calculate how much sun
a rooftop gets at any particular time of the year - a key factor
in determining whether going solar makes financial sense. The
website then layers on the value of government incentives as
well as local utility rates to give customers a detailed view of
what it would cost to sign up for a solar installation.
Depending on the market, visitors to Geostellar's website,
or its mobile app called Solar Mojo, can then compare and
contrast the costs and benefits of a solar lease, a lending plan
or a cash purchase. Finally, they can sign up
A solar lease allows customers to pay a monthly fee to go
solar with no money down, but the homeowner does not own the
panels. A loan allows for payments to be spread out over many
years, but the homeowner does own the panels, providing
eligibility to a federal tax credit worth 30 percent of the
value of the solar system but also meaning the homeowner must
monitor and maintain the panels.
Upfront cash purchases typically run between $20,000 and
$30,000 for the average home.