Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Join the Sol-lution

Is the Sun finally rising on Solar Power?

In 1931, Thomas Edison had a conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey
Firestone. He said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy.
What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and
coal run out before we tackle that."

We have waited 76 years, but an innovative company may have finally
found a solution. The sun supplies enough energy to earth in one
hour to supply all of our energy needs for an entire year. But
currently solar power produces less than ½ of 1% of our residential
energy needs. Why?

In the past, solar power has been too expensive and too complicated.
To switch to solar, people had to invest their children's college
fund or sell their second car. The average consumer pays $40,000 to
convert their home to solar—plus you are responsible for the
installation, maintaining the equipment, getting permits—who has the
time (or the money)?

A company called Citizenre has a bold plan to remove all of the
traditional barriers to solar power. They offer: No system purchase.
No installation cost. No maintenance. No permit hassles. No
performance worries. No rate increases. No way!?

When we first heard about this from one of our readers, we were so
intrigued that we contacted the company. It seemed almost too good
to be true. Like most innovations, their model is so simple it makes
you wonder why no one thought of it before.

You simply pay Citizenre the same rate per kilowatt for power that
you used to pay your utility company—but it gets even better.
Citizenre will guarantee that your rate per kilowatt will not go up
for 25 years. With ever increasing electricity rates, this gives
consumers peace of mind and can add up to significant savings. They
even have a solar calculator on their website that shows exactly how
much you will save over 1, 5, and 25 years. I saved over $13,000 and
by using clean energy, it was the equivalent of taking 24 cars off
the road or planting 400 trees. Nice.

In the past, "going green" usually implied sacrifice. You get to
feel good about saving the planet but most "green" products are more
expensive than their "dirty" counterparts. With Citizenre, going
green can actually save you money.

This is all made possible by net metering laws that require the
utility companies to allow renewable energy to flow into the grid
and then allow the consumer to pull that same amount of energy off
of the grid at no cost to the consumer. Basically the grid becomes a
huge battery. The meter spins backwards during the day when the sun
is shining and forwards at night when the consumer pulls that power
back off the grid.

These laws were passed because residential energy production was the
number one cause of pollution in the US last year, but there are
still 9 states that have not joined the party. If you live in
Alaska, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri,
Kansas, Nebraska, or South Dakota, the Citizenre Solution is not an
option for you yet.

We were still a little skeptical, so we asked Rob Styler, the
president of their marketing division, some hard questions.

Q. How can Citizenre afford to install this complete solar system
with no upfront cost to the consumer?
A. Because we handle everything ourselves from the solar grade
silicon to the final installation, we create savings at each stage
of the production. Plus we are building the largest plant for solar
power in the world. When you combine our vertical integration with
our economies of scale, we are able to produce the final product at
half the cost of our competitors.

Q. This sounds like Citizenre required a large amount of money to
make all this happen?
A. $650 million.

Q. Now I know why no one did this before you guys. So the customer
does not have to give any money to have this complete solar system
installed on their house?
A. We require a security deposit, typically only $500, at the time
of installation. They get this deposit back, with interest, at the
end of the contract. If they don't pay their bill and walk away from
the contract, they lose their deposit and we come take the system
off their roof. They are also required to pay a monthly rental for
the solar energy system.

Q. And how is that rent calculated?
A. By the amount of energy that the system produces.

Q. But they are paying the same rate they were paying before, right?
A. Often it is actually less. We base our rates on the yearly
average for their utility. So we have to base our rates on the prior
year. Since rates tend to go up each year, many customers will save
money on their first bill, and this will only increase as the years
pass. We provide a calculator on our website that will tell
specifically what they will save with their particular utility and
their monthly usage. Many customers save over $10,000 just by
switching to the sun. Our whole mission is to help people join the
solution and stop being part of the problem.

Q. I like that. How long of a contract do they have to sign?
A. One year, five years, or 25 years. Over 70% of our customers sign
the 25-year contract because that locks in their rate for the entire
term of the contract. If they sign a shorter contract, their rate is
recalculated according to current energy rates at the end of their

Q. What happens if I sign a 25-year contract and I want to sell my
house in 10 years?
A. You have three options. First, you can ask us to move the system
to your new house. We do that one time for free. Second, you can
transfer the contract to the new owner. This can potentially add
value to your house because if energy rates keep going up like they
are and they are 60% higher in 10 years, then your buyer would get a
60% decrease on their energy bill because of your foresight. The
final option is that you can contact us, tell us that you just want
to end the contract and we will remove the unit. With this third
option you do lose your security deposit.

Q. So is my security deposit the most I can lose?
A. Obviously if you don't pay your bill there will be late fees or
if one of our franchisees comes out to your house to remove the unit
and you greet him with a shot gun and pit bull, we will have to take
legal steps to recover our property. But if the customer is
cooperative they should have no worries.

Q. Say I want a system on my house. How does it work? What is the
A. One of our Independent Ecopreneurs will help you each step of the
way. There are some simple questions to answer about your amount of
shade, the direction of your roofline, etc. After you sign the
contract, a solar engineer will come to the house to design your

Q. What if I don't like the design? Am I still obligated to the
A. No. You can back out of the contract with no penalty. You don't
even pay the deposit until after you approve the design.

Q. Okay. I like the design. I want the system. What's next?
A. The installation usually takes about half a day. The permit
process can take as much as 90 days depending on how cooperative the
local utility is, but we handle everything. All you do is sit back
and feel good knowing you are using clean energy to power your home.

Q. What happens if something breaks or goes wrong?
A. We have a complete worry free performance guarantee. If the unit
ever stops working, one of our franchisees will rush out to fix it
for free. The customer has no rental charges until the system is
working again so we are motivated to get it fixed fast.

Q. What if my kid hits a baseball through one of the panels?
A. It is just like renting a car or a TV. You are responsible for
returning it in good condition. We recommend that customers contact
their homeowners insurance to double check that the unit will be
covered under their policy. Usually there is not a problem.

Q. Wouldn't I save money in the long run if I just bought the system?
A. Actually, no. Renting can save you a significant amount of money,
and it protects you from a large investment risk. We can help the
consumer evaluate their options so they can make a solid decision.
Our goal is to have solar power producing 25% of our residential
energy supply in the year 2025. To make that happen, we removed
every barrier we could find to solar entry. We make solar simple.

Q. I understand that your manufacturing plant is not completed yet,
is that right?
A. Correct. The first systems will be ready to install in September
of 2007.

Q. So why would someone sign up now?
A. First because they lock in their rate as soon as they sign up.
Second, they get in line so they can get their system sooner once
the plant is producing. Third, it also helps us show the market how
many people will go green if we provide an offer that makes sense on
every level, including economically. To quote Ghandi, "Be the change
that you want to see in the world."

Q. So how does someone sign up?
A. You just go to and you can
sign up for free right now.


  1. From what I understand, you are charged for the energy you generate, not the energy you use. So if the system sends more electricity to the grid than you use, you pay for that electricity as well. This part of it leaves me a little unenthusiatic. What do others think of this??

  2. Jill, I understand your concern. However, when the engineer comes to assess your potential installation they design the output to match your previous levels of use. Before you sign a contract you can choose to require that they undersize it a bit. If your use exceeds what is generated you end up buying it from the power company. Also if you plan to conserve by, for example, getting rid of that old energy hog fridge in the basement, they can factor that into the design. In other words, they are willing to work with you to avoid the situation you fear.