Going Solar: Understand Your Options

By Isaac Maze-Rothstein, Jonah Bader, Emily Claps, and Danny Tobin

These days, everyone seems to be talking about going solar, but when you start looking into the different options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The terms are confusing, and “one size does not fit all.” Read on for help on navigating the many options available.  

Rooftop solar (putting solar panels on your roof) is still the most common way to go solar, and the main options are:

  • Buying the solar panel system outright with your own savings;
  • Getting a solar loan;
  • Leasing your roof.

Buying the panels outright is the best financial deal, with a yearly return on investment of 40-70%, but it can cost $10,000-$30,000 upfront, even after tax breaks and incentives. Solar loans can make this option more affordable (learn about offers in Massachusetts here), but financial institutions often require a high credit score. For people who are turned off by the high upfront cost or have credit scores under 680, leasing panels can be a great alternative.

If you lease your system, you sign an agreement with the company that owns the solar panels. In exchange for a set monthly payment, they install the panels on your property, and you enjoy the electricity produced by the panels for the length of your contract. They’ll be responsible for all the maintenance and repairs. This can be a great opportunity for anyone who is primarily interested in using renewable energy, rather than maximizing the financial benefits of solar power.

Unfortunately, those three options still leave a lot of people without a path to go solar. For starters, you usually need a credit score above 680 and need to own your own roof, which stymies many renters and condo owners. Even if you do meet these criteria, your roof must be strong enough to support solar panels for the 20+ years of the system’s lifetime. The roof must be large enough to host a significant number of panels. The roof must have southern or western exposure to sunlight without too much shade from nearby trees. The roof cannot be slate. The list of obstacles goes on, and up until recently, about 80% of Americans were precluded from going solar for all these reasons and more.

Community solar has changed that. Community solar is an innovative new solution that enables households to go solar by tapping into an offsite solar garden. These gardens, which are often rows of freestanding solar panels on open fields, are situated in ideal locations to generate electricity that is transmitted to the power grid. Renters, condo owners, and other people that were previously excluded from the market can purchase the electricity from those panels (at a discount compared to normal electricity rates), much like if you were leasing the panels on your roof. The best part is, though, nothing needs to be installed at your house—no panels or wires. There’s no upfront cost, and you’ll save a bit on electricity every single year.

If community solar sounds like the right option for you, or if you want to discuss all these options further, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch soon.

 

Solar Technology Harnesses the Power of the Sun

By Emily Claps, Danny Tobin, and Jonah Bader

Every hour, Earth receives enough energy from the Sun to meet humanity’s entire global energy demand for a year. In 18 days, the sunlight that hits Earth’s surface carries as much energy as all of the coal, oil, and natural gas that remains on the planet. In other words, there is no shortage of solar energy—the challenge is capturing it.

Due to a host of factors, ranging from the Earth’s reflectivity to the limitations of technology, it is unlikely we will ever come close to harnessing all of that energy. Yet the amount of incoming solar radiation is so staggering that we just need to capture a tiny portion of it to bring us well on our way to a carbon-free future.

With advances in solar technology over the last decade, prices have plummeted and people all over the world are tapping into this underutilized power source. But how does the technology work?

Solar panels consist of a set of photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are essentially a sandwich of two oppositely charged slices of a semiconductor (a material whose ability to conduct electricity varies with conditions), such as silicon. An incoming photon (a particle of light) knocks electrons free from the atoms on the negative slice. Since electrons are negatively charged, they are driven to flow towards the positive side. By directing those electrons to flow through a wire, however, we create an electric current that can be used to power any appliance or electronic device.

Basic schematic of a photovoltaic solar panel.

Basic schematic of a photovoltaic solar panel.

As long as the Sun keeps shining, it serves as a virtually unlimited energy source. This is why solar power is considered a form of “renewable energy” or “sustainable energy”. Solar power is also a form of “clean energy” or “green energy” because the panels produce no greenhouse gas emissions, or emissions of any kind, in the process of generating electricity. (The only emissions associated with solar power come during the manufacturing, installation, and disposal phases of the panels’ life cycle.)

The Sun makes life possible for almost every organism on Earth, and with solar power, it’s also our lifeline to a better life and a safer future. Learn more about how you can go solar with Solstice.

The Solstice Team

By Jonah Bader

A company is only as strong as its team members. That’s why today we are highlighting our various team members and explaining a little bit about their background and their role at Solstice.

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STEVE MOILANEN, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT

Steve has spent years working in support of social change at the White House Office Energy and Climate Change, the United Nations Environment Programme, and Obama for America. He manages internal operations.

STEPH SPEIRS, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO

Steph is a social entrepreneur and community builder with years of operational experience at d.light India, Acumen Fund, the White House National Security Council, and the Obama for America field campaign. Her focus is external relationships.

SANDHYA MURALI, CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER

Sandhya began her career in investment banking for Barclays, where she was also deeply involved in Barclays Philanthropy’s volunteer work. More recently, she worked for a social enterprise in Peru called Buen Power Peru. She is Solstice’s financial wizard and also directs the platform development.

MARK HOFF, HEAD OF OUTREACH

Mark brings over 20 years of experience in the energy field at companies like HomeServe, Energy Intelligence, and Cambridge Energy Research Associates. He is overseeing Solstice's outreach strategy as we ramp up our efforts in Massachusetts and expand to New York.

ISAAC MAZE-ROTHSTEIN, COMMUNITY OUTREACH COORDINATOR

Isaac has organized environmental and political campaigns across the country for MassPIRG, Environment America, and the Campaign to Elect Elizabeth Warren. Later, he supported cleantech startups at Greentown Labs. At any given moment, he can be found calling a potential customer, going door-to-door, or speaking at a community outreach event.  

SEAN HUTTON, COMMUNITY OUTREACH COORDINATOR

Sean is a community outreach specialist who has worked with the Mass Energy Consumers Alliance, the Worcester Roots Project, and the Connecticut Rivers Alliance. Sean loves talking to residents and local organizations about the benefits of community solar, and he also loves sharing animal facts with his co-workers.

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KELLY ROACHE, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CONSULTANT

Kelly has years of experience working as a diplomat at the US State Department and as an activist in the US fighting for human rights and social justice. Now at Solstice, she is handling our outreach efforts in New York as we expand to our second state.

MADELINE IFFERT, COMMUNITY OUTREACH ASSOCIATE

Madeline is an industrial engineer by training, but she is working with Solstice this year to spread awareness about community solar and further our mission of taking clean energy mainstream. Besides solar, her passions are Spanish and ballroom dancing.

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EMILY CLAPS, COMMUNITY OUTREACH ASSOCIATE

After studying computer science and theology in college, Emily joined Solstice to share her enthusiasm for the environment with Massachusetts residents. Motivated by her interest in technology and her faith, she believes universal access to clean energy in America can and should become a reality.

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DEEKSHA JUNEJA, SOFTWARE ENGINEER

Deeksha is Solstice’s developer, having studied computer engineering in college. She wants to use her skills to help solve social and environmental issues, and she believes her work on Solstice’s software platform is an excellent way to tackle both in one fell swoop.

JONAH BADER, COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT FELLOW

Jonah is a history buff who enjoys writing and storytelling. He gained previous environmental work experience at the Yale Sustainability Office and Ceres, as well as experience in poverty alleviation as a volunteer tax preparer. In his dual marketing and fundraising roles, he spends his time crafting Solstice’s external communications.

DANNY TOBIN, COMMUNITY OUTREACH FELLOW

Danny studied international affairs and environmental policy in college. Prior to joining Solstice, he conducted research for the Council for Watershed Health in Los Angeles. He brings valuable expertise in data analysis to Solstice’s outreach team, where he works part-time.

The Five Solstice Values

By Madeline Iffert and Jonah Bader

Solstice is more than just a renewable energy company. We are a mission-driven organization, guided in our daily work by the following five values.

Equity | Expand the benefits of the green economy to all.

Solar is booming, and the technology is cheaper than ever. In fact, more American households installed solar in the past three years than in the previous fifty years combined. Yet 80% of Americans are effectively locked out of the solar market. Furthermore, low- to moderate-income Americans are most in need of solar savings and suffer the greatest impacts of fossil fuel pollution. We believe it is crucial to bring solar to these consumers because for us, energy equity is not just an environmental issue but also a human right. All people deserve access to clean energy regardless of their income or roof.

Integrity | Do what’s right, not what’s easy.

At Solstice, we believe in acting with integrity, and that means not cutting corners. It means playing the role of the honest broker, finding partners who genuinely share our mission, and offering the best product possible to our customers. It means being transparent with our customers about what they are signing up for so there are no surprises. It means not taking advantage of the vulnerable. It means complying with the law. It means doing the right thing and treating people with respect.

Hard Work | Opportunity favors sweat and execution.

Solstice knows that no matter how good an idea is, success must be earned. That is why the team works day in and day out to further our mission of bringing affordable, renewable energy to every American. We put in a staggering number of hours of research, strategy, phone calls, and outreach. We are constantly coding, Tweeting, and talking to someone new about our product. Weekends and evenings are never off-limits when there is an important opportunity, and no opportunity is too small. There is simply no substitute for hard work.

Curiosity | Stay humble and hungry to learn.

Although the Solstice team brings deep experience to our efforts to expand community solar,  we recognize that there is much we do not know. We are never afraid to seek out mentors and ask for advice when we encounter an issue beyond our expertise. We diligently monitor the latest developments in energy policy and compare notes with major players in the field. We are always thinking of new ways to improve our offering so that anyone who wants to switch to solar is able to do so. We learn from each other, our partners, and most of all, we learn from our customers.

Gratitude | Acknowledge others first for successes.

Solstice would not be what it is today without the help of countless people and organizations who have lent us their time, expertise, networks, and financial support. We receive so much generous assistance, and we always strive to acknowledge those who help us. In fact, we have built appreciation into our weekly routine by having each member of the team send a handwritten letter of gratitude at the beginning of each week to a member of the community. We write to people who helped us in all sorts of ways, big or small, to make sure that no one feels we take their generosity for granted.