For those who want to get started investing in solar energy, either as a way to bring in a steady stream of income or to help boost the impact of solar electricity in places where it can literally change people’s lives, a South African startup is helping to make it easy.
The Sun Exchange, which initially saw the light of day as an Indiegogo project in 2015 and has since gone on to raise $1.6 million in seed money, is now fully functioning as “a marketplace where you can purchase solar cells and have them power businesses and communities in the sunniest locations on earth.”
However, unlike other solar investment opportunities, which are generally larger in scale, The Sun Exchange offers the ability to buy in to solar projects at probably the smallest possible level, by purchasing individual solar cells in small projects, after which the owners can reap their share of the revenue generated by the sale of electricity from those cells.
The program is built around a crowdfunding-like model (“a crowd-sale”) that seeks to cover all of the installation and leasing costs for each project before it gets installed. Once a project is successfully funded, each investor receives a unique reference number for each solar cell that allows them to locate their solar cells both geographically and “specifically on each solar project,” and to even physically visit their cells if desired.
The Sun Exchange assures participants that they actually own the solar cells, and could choose to opt out of the lease agreement and even “take physical delivery of them, provided that you pay the collection and delivery costs,” although one assumes that the company wouldn’t physically dismantle a panel to part out the individual cells. Currently, The Sun Exchange is offering solar cells in projects located primarily in southern Africa, but plans to expand its business into other locations both in Africa and on other continents, with the aim of developing a diverse solar portfolio.
The sale of solar cells in Sun Exchange projects is possible with either South African Rand (ZAR) or in Bitcoin, although the cryptocurrency seems to be the preferred method, which is meant to facilitate low-cost transfer of funds between countries. The payouts from the solar cell leases are then periodically made to the buyers in the currency they originally used to buy in to the project, either ZAR or Bitcoin. According to the company, using Bitcoin allows buyers to send currency for solar cell purchases, and to receive lease payments, “wherever you are in the world quickly, securely and at a very low cost.”
Why would people choose to invest in something as small as a single solar cell? Most likely, buyers wouldn’t choose to purchase a single cell, but would buy in to a project at a larger amount depending on their finances, and would do so for a number of reasons. According to The Sun Exchange, it it could be for a number of reasons, as stated below:
- You are looking for a reliable income stream not reliant on traditional banking systems and fossil fuels;
- You may not own or have access to a roof space for installing solar panels onto;
- You may live in a place with less than ideal conditions for generating solar energy;
- You may be unable to afford the cost of installing a whole solar system;
- You may like the idea of owning solar panels powering the developing world;
- Lease rental payments earned through your ownership of solar cells purchased through The Sun Exchange are not reliant on government subsidies and policy and therefore potentially more sustainable;
- You may already have solar panels on your roof and are looking to extend your solar assets.
It appears as if the company has been so successful as to have fully completed the sale of solar cells for the projects listed on its site, although there is one open project, for a 100kW solar microgrid that will “electrify an entire rural village in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.” More information is available at The Sun Exchange.
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