Ecosummit Berlin: Dutch startup to crowdfund solar in the European market


Two young Dutch entrepreneurs are hoping to introduce the crowdfunding of solar PV installations to the continental European market. We Share Solar is part of the Rockstart Smart Energy Startups accelerator and hopes to launch its online crowdfunding portal next month.

Matthijs Olieman and Sven Pluut are the co-founders of We Share Solar (Zonne Panelen Delen) and they appear to be demonstrating the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. In the face of a commercial rooftop financing environment in the Netherlands, largely due to a lack of subsidy programs or net metering provisions, the two entrepreneurs are pursuing the crowdfunding model to bring down the cost of capital for larger-scale PV.

"If you look at solar energy systems themselves and the business model, the payback time for large scale solar energy systems is pretty long, up to 20 years — large scale being more than 50 kW," said Olieman. "Anything more than 50 kW, you just get the wholesale price for your PV electricity."

Olieman's background is as a solar project developer, having founded a company to develop and install projects in 2009. With We Share Solar, he and partner Pluut have now funded the first rooftop PV installation at a Dutch football ground. Earlier this year, the two crowdfunded the two-stage 295 kW project at FC Groningen (pictured). Olieman said that was proof of concept for We Share Solar's business model. ZnShine provided the modules for the project and Kaco the inverters.

"We created a new entity called Foundation One Million Watt, which is the project owner itself, which issued bonds to the investors," said Olieman. "The return on the bond is based on two things, the production of the solar installation and the average electricity price on the market. If the average price goes up, then your return goes up, because your produced electricity is sold for more."

The Dutch version of We Share Solar's web platform is set be delivered in one month's time and the Amsterdam-based team is developing functionality that will allow a large number of small investors to compare the production of their share of the solar installation against their domestic electricity production — a kind of virtual net metering.

"We first want to get people into our system to provide a platform to buy a solar panel on another roof, but we also hope that once they are in there that they will participate in other projects and maybe even in the future they can participate in other kinds of renewable energy projects."

Crowdfunded PV arrays are certainly not new — U.S. company Mosaic has been in the space for some time. We Share Solar claims that its offering is differentiated from Mosaic in the floating return for investors and unique investor platform.

The We Share Solar team hopes to roll out its platform in the Netherlands, then the U.K. and Germany. Olieman and Pluut pitched the startup at the recent Ecosummit in Berlin and generated some interest from German investors looking to roll out the model in the German market sooner rather than later.

"There are people in Germany excited by the concept, so we may even move into the German market sooner than we thought we would," said Olieman. We Share Solar is currently looking for an investment of €300,000 ($408,511) to develop its platform and to invest in marketing.

Certainly Holland is a difficult market for any downstream solar provider or service to prospect but We Share Solar claims to have a pipeline of seven projects ready to attract crowdfunded capital. And Olieman remains optimistic.

"We're starting in the Netherlands because we come from the Netherlands and also because if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere."

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