The two most important pillars of sustainable energy production in Germany are wind and sun. Solar systems on roofs play a special role there because there is a shortage of space. The Berlin start-up Solarimo makes it possible not only for homeowners but also for tenants to have electricity supplied from their roofs. Innovation Origins spoke to Daniel Fürstenwerth, CEO and co-founder of Solarimo.
What does your company do?
We bring CO2-free solar power to the roofs of the city and directly from the roof to the tenants. They are not able to build a solar system on their own roof, so first we have to make a cooperation agreement with the owner, the landlord, so that we can build these solar systems. We make it as easy as possible for the owner so that he has no work at all. From A to Z, from planning to installation of the solar system, we take care of everything. We also bear the costs for the system. In the second step we offer the tenants the option to buy this electricity from us. The landlord provides us with the space and the tenants get cheap electricity.
What does the landlord get out of it?
Our clients don’t do it to make money. They do it to contribute to sustainability, but also because they care about the concerns of their tenants. Our customers are landlords who care about the well-being of their tenants. They think it’s good if their tenants have an advantage even if they themselves do not directly benefit from it.
Who are your customers?
In Germany these are mainly cooperatives. Cooperative housing construction affects almost 40 percent of larger buildings here. The tenants here are co-owners or shareholders so they have a vested interest in sharing something. It also strengthens the cooperative’s positioning in terms of sustainability. Our project has also sparked a great deal of interest from the larger housing associations. When we started two years ago, there were only a few pioneers consisting of people who were keen to experiment. But we’re moving slowly towards the mass market.
How do you find new customers?
We can actually see that it comes naturally. It has really become a sure thing. Some owners are biding their time, but when they see that it works well with others, they’re in. What’s more of a challenge are the political conditions. The German Tenant Electricity Act has been in place since 2017 and should have been amended in autumn 2019. However, to date this has not been done. The old regulations contain mistakes – such as who is allowed to sell electricity to whom and what taxes are due – and technical details are not well regulated.
How does tenant electricity work for me as a tenant?
You can buy the electricity if you want. Then we are your new electricity provider, delivering the electricity from your roof. When the sun is not shining, we supply you with green electricity from hydroelectric power. If the tenants are not interested, we simply feed the electricity into the grid, which is then sold. The electricity that we sell to the tenants is always at least 10 percent cheaper than the basic price of the local electricity supplier. We try to increase this advantage to 15 percent.
What sets you apart from the competition?
We are the only provider that is 100 percent focused on tenant electricity. More specifically, we focus on the customer group of the housing industry.
Apart from the political framework, what are the challenges you have to deal with?
Owners want to invest and earn money themselves. We talked to many people who then realized that the topic of sustainability is not relevant for them. It’s about making money, especially for larger companies. So you have to convince people of the value of sustainability. That was an expensive learning process for us.
Is this topic important to you personally or is it more the industry you find interesting?
The world is heading for a climate catastrophe. Each individual should look to see what he can contribute. That was the point when my partner, Malte Künzer, and I founded this company. I want to be able to look my children in the eye in forty years.
What was the moment when you popped the champagne corks?
There were two moments. The first was when we managed to found the limited liability company after one year, with the appropriate financial resources. The next big step was at the end of last year when we acquired the first follow-up projects and noticed that people were talking to each other. And then the projects got bigger and bigger and we saw: This really works! There are now 40 of us and we are the market leader in the area of tenant electricity in Germany.
What do you wish for the future?
We are the driver for solar systems on roofs in Germany and we want to stay that way. But we also want to become a market driver for the whole of Europe. The next step will therefore be to expand our activities throughout Europe.