What can’t you do with bitcoin?

Now you can even use the blockchain-based cryptocurrency to invest in solar panels in sunny but economically impoverished areas on the other side of the world.

That’s the idea behind the startup Sun Exchange, whose stated mission is to help “The Solar Panel Sharing Economy” flourish. That means getting people to make micro-investments in solar cells — not full panels, but individual cells — which are then used to provide energy to remote, rural areas like those in southern Africa.

While there’s a humanitarian component to this, it’s not a charity: If you buy a cell on the Sun Exchange, you own it, and those living in the village lease it from you, typically for 20 years. Anyone can be a solar power entrepreneur, and their investment is designed to reach areas that would otherwise go overlooked by bigger, more traditional energy investors.

The company announced the initiative Monday at the Berlin installment of Tech Crunch Disrupt, saying investors will be able to use bitcoin to help avoid foreign exchange rate fees. Investors can also collect “SolarCoins,” a cryptocurrency given to the solar power operators for every megawatt-hour of power they help fund. While SolarCoins are only worth about 50 cents per coin at the moment, they can add up to a steady stream of income over time.

“Our main goal is to make the deal look attractive enough to encourage customers to take money out of existing investments that are backing fossil fuels and be put into solar energy,” Sun Exchange founder Abraham Cambridge said at the Berlin panel. “It’s up to you to decide whether it’s a worthwhile investment.”

The Sun Exchange and its international solar partners present investors with projects located in underserved, rural areas, with the current focus on southern Africa. Funded projects include a school in Cape Town, South Africa,

“I spent the first year of the business mapping out obstacles and so the model we’ve been running with is pretty resilient,” Cambridge said of the startup. “What is stronger is people signing up and using the service, proving wrong the naysayers who said that no one would want to buy solar panels in this way and that bitcoin was a fad.”

You can monitor the entire process halfway across the world, thanks to an online portal for your project you’re funding.

So if you’re feeling both charitable and entrepreneurial, The Sun Exchange can help you literally make money off the sun.


This island is completely solar powered thanks to Tesla and SolarCity.

Photos via Getty Images / Allison Joyce