Is Crowdsourcing the Future of Solar?

15 Jul 2017

In his recent book BOLD, Peter Diamandis discusses four exponential trends poised to disrupt industries around the world. Diamandis makes the case that crowdsourcing has explosive disruptive power, since the crowd can usually accomplish a single task much faster than any one individual team or company can do alone.

For example, take DuoLingo, a free language-learning platform that’s translating the web at the same time.  If you were to hire a company to translate every word on Wikipedia into Spanish, it would take 10 years, and about $50 Million. DuoLingo, on the other hand, with its with 100,000 users, claims it can accomplish the same task in only 5 weeks, for free.

In recent years, we’ve seen a sharp rise of the “Crowdsourcing” platform, as evidenced by companies like Uber, Airbnb, and more. Whether it’s someone with a spare room to rent in their home, or an individual looking to share a ride and earn a little extra money, these companies deliver their products and services by tapping the power of the crowd. The difference between the old model of vertical integration, and the new model of platforms tapping the crowd, has resulted in almost total industry disruption in several long-standing sectors.

So much focus is put on how solar is disrupting the current utility/energy model - but what if it’s the industry itself that needs disrupting?

A case can certainly be made that the current national provider model is broken. Solar has reeled from black eye after black eye in recent months: the bail out of solarcity by Tesla; the bankruptcies of sungevity and sunedison; the full-scale exit of NRG; and the sheltering of oneroof. Virtually every company has struggled financially to achieve significant scale. The vertical integration model creates inefficiency and bloated costs, and, since these costs ultimately make their way to the end user, weakens the customer value proposition as well.

Why, then, are barely any solar companies utilizing the power of crowdsourcing to grow their businesses? The energy sector is ripe for disruption, akin to what Airbnb did to hospitality, or Uber to transportation. We need solutions to scale, without incurring the tremendous infrastructure costs national companies have assumed in the past.

It’s not just customer acquisition that has huge potential for crowdsourcing - there is massive fulfillment capacity, yet often weak demand. Companies have installation crews, excess product supply, and engineering capacity, which all frequently sit dormant. What if we could tap the power of the fulfillment crowd to lower built in overhead, and share resources across the industry?

What if we could tap the trillions of dollars existing in the crowd, to provider cheaper project finance, lower crushing dealer fees and onerous interest rates (a common problem in lower tier markets), and provide a competitive value proposition to end customers? In order to compete in states like Michigan or Oklahoma, we need to not just lower module and product costs, but lower finance costs, as well.

No matter how you look at it, it’s time for the power of crowdsourcing to come to the solar industry. In order for our product to flourish, our industry desperately needs to achieve scale, lower costs, and create more competitive value propositions around the world. If the crowd has proven anything, it’s that we’re more powerful together than apart. When companies successfully unite the crowd to help, magic happens.  


Jonathan Budd is an expert on expanding entrepreneurship and renewable energy. As founder and CEO of Powur, he’s working to crowdsource home-based solar energy, halt carbon-based climate change and shift the global energy paradigm. Powur aims to connect 2 million homes to solar by 2025 using a disruptive, decentralized direct sales model.

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Volume: 2017 July/August