Tuesday, April 7, 2015

PosiGen Brings Solar to the Working Class With a Unique Twist on a Lease

By pairing solar with energy efficiency, CEO says PosiGen can save customers 80% more than a typical PPA.
Julia Pyper
April 6, 2015
Going solar isn’t something that should be reserved for the wealthy, according to the founders of PosiGen, a four-year-old solar company out of New Orleans.
“We call it 'blue-collar green' -- bringing renewable energy and savings to those who can benefit from it the most,” said CEO Thomas Neyhart, who launched PosiGen in 2011 along with co-founder Aaron Dirks.
Neyhart and Dirks built their business on a unique model of low-cost solar leases combined with energy-efficiency upgrades, targeted at middle- and low-income homeowners. And, so far, it seems to have been a success.
When the two businessmen got into the renewable energy market, they immediately noticed a disconnect: Many people in the working class are paying taxes to fund state renewable energy programs, but seeing none of the cost savings from going solar. In PosiGen's home state of Louisiana, an estimated 85 percent of the population has essentially been blocked from going solar because they don't have the credit score to participate in conventional third-party leasing or the income to buy a system outright.
Today, more than 80 percent of PosiGen’s customers reside in low-income census tracts. And while he didn’t offer any specifics, Neyhart said the company’s portfolio is operating like any other solar company’s. “We’re very comfortable with it,” he said.
By tapping into an underserved market, PosiGen has quietly become one of the fastest-growing solar companies in the United States, out of the heart of oil and gas country.
PosiGen has installed 29 megawatts of solar on more than 6,000 houses in the last three years, and continues to install projects at a rapid clip of between 80 and 100 systems per week, according to Neyhart. The company also recently expanded operations outside of Louisiana, with new offices in the largely blue-collar towns of Albany, New York and Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The solar-plus-efficiency model
Today, PosiGen does a blower door test on each house it puts solar panels on, then makes up to 30 energy efficiency upgrades, including swapping out incandescent light bulbs, adding insulation and installing smart thermostats. According to Neyhart, doing solar and energy efficiency together saves customers 40 percent to 80 percent more than a typical solar PPA, which typically save customers $10 to $20 a month.
Another key component of PosiGen’s business model is that it offers a uniform solar array to all of its customers. PosiGen installs the same 6-kilowatt system on every roof for a flat rate of $50 per month for a 10-year lease (there’s also a 20-year option), plus a $10 monthly charge for energy efficiency upgrades. In exchange, the customers get a guaranteed percentage of energy savings. No money down and no credit check required. No PPA and no escalator.
In Louisiana, where electricity prices are around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, PosiGen’s last 2,000 customers averaged $125 in monthly savings, said Neyhart. After paying PosiGen a fixed flat lease rate of $60 per month, the average customer nets about $65.