Imagine a financial world where you could bypass banks – which now pay virtually no interest – and put your money instead into projects of lasting social value.
Not only that, but you could invest as much or as little as you choose, getting returns starting at 4.5 percent annually.
Consumers now have that option, Dan Rosen said. Rosen, 27, who now lives in California, grew up in Ridgewood, a member of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center there. He and several friends recently launched the first online clean energy investment marketplace. It is called Mosaic, and Rosen is its president.
“It’s really taking off right now,” Rosen said, explaining the phenomenon of crowd sourcing.
“Basically, it’s an opportunity for projects to be funded not just by one bank or large institution but by many people,” he said. “It makes it possible for more people to participate – it democratizes financing.”
Investors, he said, can put in as little as $25, selecting solar projects they would like to support in an effort to build a clean energy infrastructure.
Among other efforts, the group has offered investments in the Wildwood Convention Center in New Jersey, as well as in a parking lot at a university in Florida. Investors participate by buying “solar tiles.” A certain number must be bought for the project to be fully funded.
“We turn down more than 95 percent of the projects that come to us,” he said, adding that the group cherry picks the very best projects. “Our goal is to be the investment platform for the clean energy economy and create abundant clean energy while moving away from fossil fuel.
“It will happen sooner than we think,” he added, noting that his group has won a $2 million award from the Department of Energy and has raised more than $3.5 million from venture capitalists.
So far, Mosaic – officially launched just a few months ago – has attracted 9,000 investors. Contributors span all age groups.
“People sign up and create accounts and they see the projects listed,” Rosen said. News of the venture has spread through articles in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other prestigious publications.
“It’s a good thing for a lot of reasons,” Rosen said. “You can do both ‘good’ – furthering clean energy – and ‘well,’ getting above a 4 percent annual return.”
Rosen came up with the idea for the investment company when he was working with Navajo and Hopi tribes on reservations in the Southwest. He said he had been obsessed with the idea of clean energy “since I was a little kid.”
Looking for ways to help the tribal nations transition off fossil fuels, he was drawn to the idea of a community investing in its own energy.
“Crowd sourcing is a growing phenomenon,” he said, adding that more money is distributed by these kickstarter projects than is given out by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Rosen said the share economy differs from traditional models “because you actually make decisions. We make it transparent and disclose all the information about a project. You don’t let bankers make the decisions. You can specify where you want the money to go.”
He said that accelerating the transition to clean energy, and its implications for climate change, should be of significant concern to the Jewish community.
“As Jews, we should make it our mission to get the world off oil and coal [in light of] the climate disasters that have impacted our community and because of security and safety reasons” affecting the world as a whole, he said. “The Jewish community has always been on the front lines of major social issues, such as civil rights, moving humanity forward.”
Rosen added that as a Jew “who observes Shabbat in my own way and puts on tefillin,” he relates closely to Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writings about the Sabbath as “a taste of eternity.”
“I think that when we create a society with abundant clean energy, we will move closer to that vision,” he said. “With energy abundance, we will truly be celebrating creation,” whereas “fossil fuel addiction forces us to work really hard for energy.”
Still, he said, the issue of clean energy transcends the Jewish people; climate change poses his generation’s defining issue.
Rosen said companies such as his, and the movement to build a clean energy infrastructure, present “the biggest industry opportunity the world has ever seen. The energy industry is a trillion dollar industry.
“In 20 years, there will be 9 billion people using energy. Remaking our energy system is one of the biggest opportunities for investment, not just in producing electricity but in moving water and in transportation.”
The need for clean energy is international, he continued. “In the United States, we need to transition from the current, broken grid to a better one.” But around the world, in Africa, India, and other places “where there are 1.6 billion people with no running water, they can leapfrog the fossil fuels and go straight into solar and wind power.”
For more information about Mosaic, email Dan Rosen at joinmosaic.com.