With rooftop solar panels becoming increasingly affordable, and more sellers entering the market, residential and commercial consumers alike could very well be paralyzed by choice. Should they go with standard photovoltaics? Thin-film panels? What’s a good price? Who do you get to install and maintain them? A startup called CivicSolar says it can answer these questions and deliver the best possible product.
Based in San Francisco, the company, which calls itself a direct solar distributor, has just raised $404,991 in seed funding — of a targeted $501,200 round — according to a filing with the SEC. This sounds pretty modest, but considering that the company simply connects customers with solar vendors, its own costs are probably pretty low.
More indicative of the company’s potential is the roster of manufacturers it has in its network. Sanyo, Sharp, Trina Solar and SOLON all work with CivicSolar to make sure clients get the exact solar systems they are looking for. On top of that, it provides tools to help property owners find and get quotes from nearby solar panel installers and contractors — making it easy to compare bids and choose the best deal available. It even says it has the heft to negotiate prices with manufacturers and installers to serve up price breaks that can’t be found elsewhere.
So let’s say you are a homeowner interested in generating solar energy. CivicSolar’s web site makes it simple for even beginners to find the product they are looking for according to various metrics. You can choose between silicon, polycrystalline and mono-crystalline panels; you can choose based on the amount of power you need to generate, either between 151 and 200 watts, or more than 200; or you can search for products by manufacturer.
For each panel listed on the site, CivicSolar provides a wattage, the cost of a single panel, and the cost per watt generated by the panel. This gives you a solid sense of what you’ll be getting for your money.
If you need additional help making the choice, CivicSolar has agents waiting by on the phone to offer advice. Its web site is also home to a forum where prospective customers and dealers can post solar-related questions and receive replies from installers and other experts.
Right now, the company is pretty limited by the number of manufacturers it is working with — but this will probably change as it grows. It could also run into trouble competing against companies like SolarCity and SunRun, which also help consumers navigate solar installation. So far though, CivicSolar looks like a decent first stop for anyone interested in learning more about their solar options.