The future of clean energy is suddenly looking brighter, said Daniel Gross. The clean-energy business has accomplished one breakthrough after another, from thin-film solar technology to hydrogen fuel cells. Yet the money to drive those breakthroughs to wide-scale use has been extremely hard to come by.
But there’s hope. SolarCity, a clean-energy company in California, has doubled its business over the past year by developing a new model for marketing solar panels for home use. Instead of selling them outright, it leases them to outside investors, who can spare the $25,000 or so it costs to install solar panels on a homeowner’s roof. The investors earn tax credits and rebates for solar installation, as well as the cash they make selling the electricity to the homeowners. And now the federal government is offering cash and loan guarantees to companies investing in “industrial-size” clean-energy projects. Financial innovation is finally catching up with scientific innovation.