“Here comes the sun,” the Beatles sing. And that makes us happy. Because not only does the sun shine free of charge, it could also be a great way to earn some extra money.
That’s why Generaytor, a Tel Aviv-based startup, has devised a cool web-based app that allows us to see in real time how much money we can make by placing solar panels on our roof. And IKEA has already adopted it to convince customers to go solar.
CEO and founder Amit Rosner says it all began when salesmen started knocking on his brother’s door, trying to convince him to install solar panels and promising a good return on investment. Even though Rosner’s brother lives in the (Sunshine State) of California, Rosner says “it was incredible to see how long it took him before he decided to do the right thing and go solar.”
Rosner says his brother’s experience showed him how complicated the decision-making process is for people who are not familiar with solar energy. “Since it is a long-term investment, it is important to make a educated decision,” Rosner says.
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Rosner’s own educated decision was to help people in their own decision-making process. He quit his job, co-founded Generaytor with Idan Ofrat and Paolo Tedone, and raised raised $1 million in 2012. The outcome is a platform that connects novices with people who already generate solar energy and are ready to share their experience with those who want to learn more about it.
Generaytor’s concept is simple: On one side there are people who already produce solar energy. Some are idealists who want to be independent of the public electricity supply (which in most countries is still based on fossil fuels). Others do so simply because they consider it to be a smart investment. Whatever the reason, Generaytor found that many of them are happy to share their experience and data related to their solar energy production.
Generaytor then gathers information about users’ roofs, such as size, location and shade. It accumulates data from private solar producers region-by-region and, based on that, offers calculation of the solar potential in different locations.
Basically, users can go to the website, type in their roof’s specifications and the app will show them how much electricity they can produce. Generaytor says it’s important for them to be objective and they do sometimes tell users not to invest in solar.
“As sunshine does not cost anything, we think the same should be true for the knowledge around solar energy – it should be for free and easily accessible,” Rosner states and explains how this perception led to the business model. Generaytor’s services are free for the home owners. There are no advertisements on their webpage and Generaytor does not sell any panels themselves. “This is important, because if we [sold advertisements] we would not be objective, we would lose credibility and miss the whole point of creating a transparent platform where people can make a sound decision in a trustworthy environment.”
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Discovering the business model
Finding the right business model for Generaytor is a work in progress. One possible point for monetizing is when people decide to go solar. If Generaytor could match between customers and solar-panel providers, they could take a cut when the transaction is made. “One-by-one, we are closing contracts with companies in the industry,” Rosner tells NoCamels. “But this infrastructure is yet to be developed.”
Generaytor recently partnered with IKEA UK, where solar panels have been sold since 2013. Now, customers who are interested in going solar get iPads with the Generaytor app and can check the solar potential for their roofs right at the store. The app can also connect them with solar producers nearby to get their feedback.
Rosner explains: “These are people with faces and stories who can be asked about installers, equipment and return on investment.” According to Generaytor, the US and UK are the fastest growing markets for residential solar energy, which is why they are focusing their efforts in those countries.
Adapting to different markets
But Generaytor says its technology can also be useful in countries that have already gone largely solar. German solar power plants, for example, produce a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity – through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday.
So before taking on more households generating power, explains Rosner, the net infrastructure needs to be extended to handle all the energy. “In some regions, on very sunny days, the end of the net capacity is reached and the systems simply stop taking in energy,” he says. “Here it is about creating more sophisticated systems with the possibility of storage. We can contribute by supplying data gathered from active users.”
“So obviously our primary focus is not on reaching the break-even as fast as possible but to grow our assets,” Rosner says. “And our assets are people, data and the information we create.”
Rosner hopes his company will help promote a solar mindset in people. “In 10 years I hope solar energy will be a common commodity, just like people have tiles on their roof, they should have solar panels or even solar tiles.” Rosner says the goal of Generaytor is also to see “people who have the right roof but little money partner with people who have money but not the roof.”
IKEA photo by Rossographer | Other photos: courtesy