Berlin-based Ecosia, an environmentally-focused search engine that uses advertising profits to plant trees, announced on Tuesday that it has invested $23M (nearly €20M) in solar energy platform Zolar to help households speed up the transition to renewable energy.
This investment is in addition to the €350M WorldFund which Ecosia incubated and launched last year to back climate-focused startups. The company is also calling on businesses across Europe to invest in reducing the over-reliance on fossil fuels and combat the climate crisis.
The growing fuel crisis that has been affecting both the UK and Europe caused the import price of fossil-fuel energy to more than double between December, 2020, and December, 2021. This is now worsening following sanctions against Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine. In contrast, renewable energy often comes from local sources and is largely insulated from external geopolitical threats.
According to a recent IPCC report, delaying the transition to green energy and the associated reduction of carbon emissions will result in irreversible consequences for the world.
“Generate cheap electricity immediately with a solar system”
Zolar was founded in 2016 by Alex Melzer and Gregor Loukidis. The startup offers photovoltaic systems, which homeowners are able to custom plan, compare and order online, at a fixed price. The company’s aim is to install solar panels on every roof in the world, making the use of renewable energy as easy as possible for everyone.
The Berlin-based startup enables households to rent solar power systems for a small monthly fee and gives options to add a solar battery and wallbox. By using the Zolar online configurator, homeowners are able to customise the components of their solar energy system according to their needs and also receive a personal consultation from one of Zolar’s solar energy experts.
After the leasing period is over, consumers can buy the product and benefit for a further ten years from low-cost green energy.
Alex Melzer says, “We calculated that if we covered every roof in Europe with a photovoltaic system, we could offset the entire CO2 emissions of Spain, France and Italy together. This shows what a significant contribution to climate protection is possible when the vast majority participates. And the best thing about it is that homeowners benefit in several ways. With a solar system, you not only protect the climate, but you also save money.”
According to the company, a family of four can save about four tons of CO2 per year with a solar system. This is equivalent to six return flights from London to Lisbon or 19,000 kilometres of driving with a petrol-driven car. Tailored products are also available for consumers who want to buy their solar systems outright.
Why did Ecosia invest in Zolar?
The new $23M capital injected into Zolar will allow Ecosia to further double down its investment in renewable energy by empowering more people to access solar energy across Europe. This will enable the installation of solar panels on around 1,300 individual households, with each system absorbing an average of 4 tons of CO2 annually, while helping reduce reliance on oil and gas.
Dr Wolfgang Oels, COO of Ecosia, says, “For too long we have depended on fossil fuels for energy despite the increasing warnings from climate scientists. This should no longer be an option anymore, not just for the planet but for the sake of the geopolitical crisis in Europe. Countries need to acknowledge and leverage the freedom that wind and solar power provides to their citizens by allowing it to be readily available locally. There is no excuse for inaction now; businesses, countries and citizens need to step up and make the change to renewable energy.”
Dr Rupert Read, associate professor of philosophy at the University of East Anglia, adds, “The Ukraine crisis has shown dramatically the downside of depending upon petro-states to keep us warm. The climate crisis will sweep everything that we hold dear away unless we address it with far more seriousness than we yet have. We can address these two crises of our time simultaneously by investing right now in a massive expansion of green energy and of energy-efficiency and insulation. We need to make this switch before next winter. It is very encouraging to see companies such as Ecosia stepping up to the plate to do this. May many more businesses, institutions and communities join them.”
Calling on businesses to invest in renewable energy
According to Ecosia, investments in renewable energy within Europe would lead to savings of almost €2T from not importing fossil fuels, as well as preventing 60 billion tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
Big energy companies are making changes when necessary, such as BP dumping its 20 per cent stake in Russian gas company Rosneft with an immediate cost of $25B following international sanctions. Yet this urgency is missing when it comes to renewable energy – BP’s investment in renewable energy is expected to reach only $5B annually by 2030. If $25B was invested annually by global businesses in renewable energy, this would help speed up global transitions to greener energy and help limit the damaging effects of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.
This is why Ecosia is calling on the private sector to take urgent steps to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and help accelerate the transition to renewable energy through green investments.
Ecosia has already invested $7M into renewable energy, which enables it to create 200 per cent of the energy it needs to power its searches and data centres, so it can sell the excess back to the grid to power other households and businesses. In 2020 alone, this excess energy avoided 4,500 tonnes of emissions from coal power in Germany, claims the company.
“A social business founded after a trip around the world”
Christian Kroll founded Ecosia.org in 2009 after a trip around the world helped him understand the problems of deforestation. The company claims to be the world’s largest not-for-profit search engine. Like any other search engine, Ecosia earns money from clicks on the advertisements that appear above and beside the search results.
The advertisements are clearly labelled as Ads and are text linked to websites that pay for each click by users. The ads are delivered to users by the company’s partner Bing, who pays Ecosia a share of the revenue generated via these ads.
Ecosia earns a few cents for every click on an ad from Bing – or a portion of the purchase price made through an affiliate link. The company then gives the profits from this ad revenue to planting projects. It also makes a small income on commission from its online store. All profits received go towards its projects – meaning it can plant 20 trees every time it sells a t-shirt.
Currently, it has planted nearly 145 million trees across more than 30 countries worldwide. In 2014, Ecosia was accredited as a B-Corp and it built the first of its four solar plants in 2017 to ensure it is 100 per cent renewable, reaching 200 per cent renewable in July 2020.
In 2018, the company gave away its shares to the Purpose Foundation, to assure that it can never be sold and that no one, including the founder, can profit or receive dividends from the company.