Sleek, shiny solar panels decorate only the most elite roofs. While the solar industry has been experiencing an upswing in installations, the qualifications required to get a solar system on your roof are surprisingly capricious. Most suppliers offering subsidized systems require that you have owned your home for the past two years, the house faces south, and the roof gets ample sun exposure, among other things.
For those locked out of solar, say hello to Yeloha, a Boston startup that wants to make solar sharable. Company cofounder Amit Rosner went through the solar system checklist, but found out his Boston home is part of the 49 percent of solar-ineligible households in the United States [pdf]. His cofounders, Idan Ofrat and Paolo Tedone, can’t host solar systems either. “This is crazy,” Rosner says. “None of us can go solar. Most of our friends or family can’t go solar. No matter how much we want it or need it, we cannot go solar.”
The company’s business model was inspired by successful sharing-economy platforms, such as Uber and Airbnb. Yeloha matches “sun partners” with “sun hosts.” Hosts offer up their prime sunlit roofs for free panel installations. They share the energy the panels create with sun partners, and get credits off their bills for 20 to 30 percent of the energy produced with no need to switch from their usual utility providers. All the solar electricity the sun hosts generate is fed to the electric grid. Yeloha works with utilities so that sun hosts and sun partners are credited with their share. To evaluate a sun host, Yeloha’s in-house software first analyzes the host’s building location to make sure there is adequate space available and sun exposure. If the software gives a green light, one of Yeloha’s installation partners does an on-site check.
The sun partners—those who don’t have solar-friendly roofs—pay a subscription fee and save about 5 to 10 percent on their electricity bills. However, partners can save more depending on how many panels they subscribe to. Yeloha’s subscriptions start at one panel per year for US $65, promising to generate 336 kilowatt-hours annually.
Yeloha began in 2012 after Rosner worked at a photovoltaic development company called SolarEdge Technologies, headquartered in Hod Hasharon, Israel. He studied data analytics as a computer science major at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. These skills came in handy when the Yeloha team created algorithms to simulate solar on roofs.
The computer system they built processed live solar-power performance data. For two years, they collected data from thousands of actual solar arrays of homeowners who signed up on Yeloha’s first platform. The analysis of the data helped forecast solar potential on nearby roofs and identify candidates that could generate enough electricity to offset their bills and have extra to share.
Since its official launch in April, Yeloha has connected thousands of people in hundreds of cities with solar. “It sounds crazy, but we really want to have solar panels everywhere,” he says. “There is no excuse today for not going solar.”
David Feldman, a senior financial analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Washington, D.C., office, says that while shared solar is a small part of the total solar market, the business model is becoming more popular. “A lot more programs are being set up across the United States,” Feldman says. “States are passing laws that support shared solar, and utilities are becoming more interested in this business model.”
Feldman’s 2015 report [pdf] estimates that shared solar could make up 32 to 49 percent of the solar market in 2020, producing up to 11 gigawatts of electricity in the United States.
Yeloha continues to expand beyond sunny household roofs to all kinds of properties, such as theaters and places of worship. Rosner says shared solar can give everyone an opportunity to be a part of a community while doing the right thing for the environment. “We all live under the same sun,” he says.
This article originally appeared in print as “Yeloha.”