Q&A: Billy Parish
Ten years ago, environmentalist Billy Parish cofounded the Energy Action Coalition, which became the world’s largest youth organization focused on climate issues. In 2010, he launched Mosaic, a for-profit website linking investors to solar energy projects. Backed by $3.4 million in venture capital and a $2 million government grant, Mosaic opened to investors in January 2013.
Q: WHAT IS MOSAIC?
A: Mosaic is an online marketplace that gives individual and institutional investors direct access to high-quality clean energy investments.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
We connect people who want to invest in solar with property owners who have ideal space for solar projects. Investors sign up on the homepage, link their Mosaic account to a bank account and then just scroll through the available projects.
WHAT HAS MOSAIC CHANGED ABOUT INVESTING IN SOLAR?
Prior to Mosaic, nonaccredited individual investors didn’t have access to solar projects. You could only invest in solar stocks, which have risks tied to the company’s performance.
HOW DO YOU SELECT WHICH PROJECTS TO INCLUDE ON THE SITE?
We work with attorneys, engineering specialists and insurance professionals to review and evaluate each project. Our investment committee rejects over 99 percent of projects.
WHAT TYPE OF INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE TO INVESTORS?
We include all risks in a detailed prospectus; the primary risks are credit, technology, operational and weather. But our job is to mitigate those risks. So, for example, to protect against the risk of a solar project being damaged in a storm, we might require sufficient insurance to cover the cost of repairing the project.
WHERE DID THE IDEA COME FROM?
In 2010, my cofounder, Dan Rosen, and I were working with my wife, Wahleah Johns, to shut down coal plants in Arizona. That’s where we first envisioned a Kickstarter for solar, to finance community owned solar for the Native American community that Wahleah is from.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE IT?
We quickly learned that the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy represented the largest wealth creation opportunity of the century. The investment required to build out the infrastructure to power the world with clean energy is estimated to be between $65 trillion and $100 trillion dollars. If structured correctly, these are real assets with strong risk-weighted returns. There was enormous demand for investments like these, but no real platform to make investing in them easy.
WHY JUST SOLAR PROJECTS AND NOT OTHER ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES, LIKE WIND OR HYDROPOWER?
The growth of solar presents tremendous financial opportunity. The cost of solar has dropped nearly 99 percent, from $75 a watt to 74 cents per watt, in the past 36 years. Warren Buffett recently invested more than $6 billion into solar.
SO WILL YOU EXPAND BEYOND SOLAR IN THE FUTURE?
Yes, but we’re focused on solar now.
WHAT FEES DO YOU CHARGE?
We charge each investor a small annual platform fee, 1 percent of the assets in their account.
WHAT TYPES OF RETURNS CAN INVESTORS EXPECT?
We have expected yields of between 4 and 6 percent, which compares favorably to many fixed income products on the market.
MOSAIC CELEBRATES ITS FIRST BIRTHDAY IN JANUARY. HOW HAS THE PAST YEAR BEEN?
Since last January, we’ve financed over $5 million of solar projects with thousands of investors. We get about 20 requests for financing per week and we fully fund 75 percent of our projects within a week of posting them.
For more information, contact Billy Parish, firstname.lastname@example.org, joinmosaic.com.