The roof of Sea Gull Lighting Products' distribution center in Burlington Township, N.J., is covered with solar panels that the lighting maker did not pay a cent for. They are installed, operated, and maintained by SunEdison. The company acts as a bank, soliciting investors interested in a return on solar energy. SunEdison's investors own the solar panels, and Sea Gull agrees to buy the power.
The solar panels produce about 40% of the energy that the warehouse uses during peak hours, those times of day when purchased electricity is most expensive. Fortunately, that's the same period when solar panels generate the most juice. During those peak hours solar is cheaper for Sea Gull Lighting than power from the grid, and the company is saving 25% in annual electricity costs. The other benefit: Sea Gull can lock in the price of power for the next ten years, which, given recent trends in energy pricing, seems like a good idea.