Recharge4040: Billy Parish

Billy Parish is a prolific co-founder, having launched everything from record labels to youth activist organisations in his 31 years.

But his greatest contribution to clean energy — with many more surely to come — was co-founding Solar Mosaic (now known simply as Mosaic) in 2010, alongside long-time friend Dan Rosen.

While concerns about climate change motivate everyone on this list, they are the locomotive behind everything Parish does.

Having grown up wanting to become a journalist, Parish’s “course was reset” by a year spent in high school at the Mountain School in Vermont, an unusual private institution that sees students live and work on a rural organic farm, in addition to their normal studies.

A summer trip during college to India, where he witnessed melting glaciers in the Himalayas, reinforced his convictions.

Coming home, he spent his time co-founding a regional student climate conference, which grew into a regional movement — and which eventually became the Energy Action Coalition, the largest youth organisation in the world dedicated to climate and energy issues.

“I took a semester off college, which turned into forever off college,” Parish tells Recharge.

He spent the next few years working with — and in some cases co-founding — a long list of groups and companies, typically straddling the worlds of business and activism.

“My work has been trying to create more compelling and rewarding ways to get people involved in building a clean-energy future. We haven’t been creative enough in engaging people [in these issues].”

Parish and Rosen (now president and chief executive, respectively) launched Mosaic in 2010 as a way of raising money from people online — or crowdfunding — for PV systems on several churches in Arizona, where the two were living at the time.

The concept (and eventual business) has grown into a platform for connecting investors, many of them small-time, with PV projects. Through Mosaic, investors can sink as little as $25 into projects, and rake in interest rates often around 5%.

So far Mosaic, now based in Oakland, California, claims to have raised about $8.6m for solar projects and made nearly 70,000 interest payments to investors, all on time.

As one would expect from an online platform, Mosaic is evolving constantly. It has expanded into offering loans for both homeowners who want solar systems and for PV installation companies looking to build them. It recently launched Mosaic Places, a platform allowing people to nominate buildings in their area for PV, and then create community (and financial) support behind them.

“Our near term is very focused on volume,” Parish says. “Longer-term, we’re interested in going into other clean-energy infrastructure and spreading around the world.”

Parish acknowledges that as solar matures as an asset class — with more money chasing projects — Mosaic will face new challenges.

“More investors understand solar, so there’s more competition. It’s good for the market, but less good for individual providers of capital.”

But he believes the Mosaic model, with its unparalleled scaleability and flexibility, will be enduring. “As a non-bank lender, I think we’ll be more agile, more able to enter new markets and fund projects that banks won’t.”

Billy Parish is president of Mosaic Solar

Recharge4040 brings together the world's young new-energy pioneers from the worlds of renewables technology, finance, development, social engagement and advocacy. The list includes people from major wind and solar companies, banks, investment funds, crowd-funding platforms and governments. For the full list of nominees and news about the initiative, visit the 4040 website