Ethan Blumenthal and Miles Wobbleton want to bring solar power to people who can’t afford it.
After finishing at the University of North Carolina School of Law in 2018, they founded a nonprofit called Good Solar to bring solar energy to other nonprofits, municipalities and communities with the goal of serving low-income areas in North Carolina and, eventually, beyond.
Good Solar got a boost from Joules Accelerator, which chose them as one of eight cleantech startups for its spring 2020 cohort. Joules, which is partly funded by Duke Energy, mentors the startups and connects them to decision-makers. It has supported the creation of 90 jobs, $15 million in investment generated, and seven pilot projects.
“The goal,” said Joules Executive Director Bob Irvin, “is to help startups in North Carolina. Over 90 days, we advise these cleantech entrepreneurs on ways to gain pilot projects, new customers and investors in our network. Along the way, we engage corporations, universities and cities to support cleantech innovation and improve our communities through reducing greenhouse gases.”
That’s why Duke Energy supports Joules. “The Joules Accelerator program couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Duke Energy to support,” said Brian Savoy, Duke Energy’s chief transformation and administrative officer and a board member of Joules. “Through its innovative approach, it brings together larger corporations in the Carolinas and startup companies focused on clean energy and technology. When we engage with cleantech startups, we’re getting a view into the technologies of the future and building partnerships, so we can all serve our customers and communities in new – and cleaner – ways.”
So far, Joules has helped Good Solar expand its network. Good Solar CEO Ethan Blumenthal said he and co-founder Miles Wobbleton have made contacts through word of mouth and are developing a pilot project.
“We have four charitable goals that we believe our projects all accomplish,” Blumenthal said: “Tackling climate change, promoting social justice, trying to encourage community economic development, as well as promoting community resiliency – whether that means financially by providing savings on household energy bills, or physically by installing batteries for when the next hurricane strikes in rural communities.”
Many nonprofits, they say, don’t have the ability to launch solar projects on their own because they may not have the expertise or money to pay for it.
“Solar development and renewable development, to put it bluntly, is somewhat a rich person’s game,” Blumenthal said. “The benefits are flowing to the affluent people who can afford the upfront costs.”
At the same time, he said, financial tools and developments allow renewable energy to be shared to a larger group.
How would Good Solar’s plan work?
Through third-party leasing, with a partner like a church or community organization, Good Solar would finance a rooftop solar installation, and the nonprofit would get savings on their monthly energy bills.
With community solar, Good Solar would build a solar installation of 1 to 5 megawatts where a majority of the output would be sold to large users like hospitals, towns or YMCAs. The remaining portion would be sold as subscriptions to community members, which may be subsidized based on income. A significant portion of the total output would be reserved for low- and moderate-income households. Those customers would also see savings on their monthly energy bills.
Good Solar is a traditional nonprofit but has an affiliated for-profit limited liability company structure to handle contracts and develop funding sources. They hope to launch at least one pilot project by the end of the year while getting approvals from state regulators and relevant utilities. Eventually, Blumenthal and Wobbleton would like to expand to the rest of the Southeast and, ultimately, the Midwest.
Their original vision for Good Solar was to bring the benefits of clean energy to communities of color, rural areas and those who can’t afford it. In 2020, their social justice goals are even more relevant.
“With the world and society right now, we’re on the cusp of two big things,” Wobbleton said. “As part of the post-pandemic build back, there’s a big movement to go ahead and start building green and to be inclusive.”
As for Blumenthal and Wobbleton, they hope Good Solar can pioneer the green, inclusive post-pandemic build back.