Solar Mosaic aims to raise crowdsourced funding for solar panels on military base

A new project allows individuals to participate in the financing of a big renewable energy project on a U.S. defense installation

08.24.13 8:45 AM ET

It sounds like the ultimate in left meets right. Organization holds a crowdsourced funding program to put up solar panels – on a military base.

That’s the goal of one of the latest projects from Solar Mosaic, which is sort of a ‘Kickstarter for green energy.’ The California-based company comes up with projects to finance or build – an array atop an affordable housing development, or on top of a school –then allows individuals to invest in amounts as little as $25. The investments are structured like loans. As the projects generate electricity, and hence revenue, Solar Mosaic repays the investments—with interest.

Solar Mosaic says currently investors have pitched in over $3 million to fund more than a dozen projects, and return payments have been 100 percent. on time to date. Now it is marrying the model to another goal: the efforts of the U.S. military to save money and resources by becoming green.

Mosaic has a project on its site that offers to fund solar energy for U.S. Military Housing in Fort Dix, NJ. The project, which calls for 12,270 kW, is significantly more substantial than the others currently listed. Most projects range from 1.5 kW to 662 kW. Solar Mosaic is seeking to raise $500,000 to invest in this large project, which is being financed in partnership with CIT. In effect, Solar Mosaic and its investors will be funding a small portion of the $35 million project.

According to Mosaic’s website : “The project will be installed across 547 homes, providing approximately 30% of the electricity needs to military service members and their families.” It will include 55,189 panels.

Of course, such projects are part of a much larger effort by the military to go green. The Department of Defense is the largest consumer of energy in the world, with an annual energy budget of $20 billion. And whether it is experimenting with renewable fuel for jets, or powering bases with solar energy, the military is making headway in its effort to reduce fossil fuel use.

SolarCity, the solar company founded by Elon Musk of Tesla Fame, in Novemer 2011 kicked off a project called SolarStrong, through which is hopes to supply solar power to some 120,000 military homes.  Earlier this summer, SolarCity announced plans to put solar panels on 7,500 military homes in Hawaii.

By participating in such efforts, the military is in effect helping to build a market for solar power. In a May report the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) called the U.S. Department of Defense “the world’s largest energy consumer and one of the greatest catalysts of technological innovation.” The trade association went on to note the efficiency of renewable energy for the military: “In most cases, the military can sign long-term contracts for solar energy that are below local retail rates for electricity...Long term solar contracts allow the DOD to hedge against rising and volatile energy costs. Solar will save the military millions of dollars, which in turn can be reinvested to ensure more ready and able armed forces.”

A lot of institutional money – from banks, venture capitalists, and big companies -- is clearly flowing into military solar projects. Solar Mosaic is offering individuals an opportunity to participate. And this project may allow it to expand its potential audience. While environmentalism typically receives funding from the left more than anywhere else, the military tends to be one of the right’s main concerns. Unifying them makes the project attractive. One could easily imagine MSNBC and Fox viewers getting involved.

The dangers associated with these sorts of investments are certainly still a concern. Panels can break, and the returns can be slow to roll in. This isn’t an investment to make if you want big returns, quickly. Solar Mosaic is offering investors a return of LIBOR (the London Interbank Overnight Rate) plus 2.25-2.5 percent over an 87-month term. Thus far, 215 investors have committed $268,975 (for an average of $1,251 each), meaning the project is 46 percent funded.