How Office Owners Can Find Something New Under the Sun

Commercial property owners can use solar panels for a passive income stream that is also eco-friendly

Millions of Americans now work from home on a daily basis, after a temporary adaptation to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic became a permanent trend. That’s given many people a reprieve from traffic and commuting, but has affected a wide range of industries, from podcasts to dry cleaning—and of course, commercial real estate has been one of the hardest hit.

In many large cities, such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, office occupancy remains below 50%, according to data from Kastle Systems. And even in cities that didn’t shut down as much during COVID, like Houston and Miami, return to office has plateaued.

Realistic property owners and managers know the way we worked before 2020 isn’t coming back. Even for companies that do work in offices, there’s a shift to more flexible and hybrid scheduling and less dedicated space. At a time when rental demand is changing, property owners need to adapt as well. One place they can start is simple: just look up.

Advances in solar technology have turned the dream of clean energy into a real foundation of our economic future. We’ve seen giant solar arrays in places like the Mojave Desert near Las Vegas, but there’s also an opportunity to produce meaningful solar energy in major cities like Miami, which are blessed with hundreds of days of sunshine and an almost endless amount of underutilized rooftops. 

I’ve developed hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of luxury real estate and understand the care that goes into every square foot, optimizing it for the satisfaction of tenants and its ability to generate income. But for a long time, the rooftop has been ignored, relegated as a place to hide utilities. 

That’s why we formed Solarback USA, which turns these underutilized rooftops into long-term sources of passive income, creating a lifeline for real estate owners in the midst of this transition. We think of it as adding an unexpected, bonus tenant on the previously non-income-producing roof. Even better, it’s the kind of tenant that attracts other businesses, providing a sustainable source of power and aligning with the growing demand for eco-friendly and energy-efficient spaces.

Simply put, rooftop solar installations offer real estate owners a unique opportunity to generate additional revenue by harnessing the power of the sun. Beyond the clear environmental benefits, solar panels can contribute to significant cost savings on electricity bills while providing an additional income stream. 

As more individuals continue to work from home and pre-COVID business modes grow more obsolete, commercial property owners need to find alternative revenue streams that will define this next stage. There is a clear correlation between the decline in commercial property occupancy and the rise in remote work, but that doesn’t mean commercial properties themselves have to decline. They are often valuable assets in desirable locations that still have the ability to generate income. They just need to be retooled.

That’s why leveraging rooftop solar as an income-generating asset can be a strategic move for property owners, not just to offset losses associated with vacant spaces, but also to demonstrate new, sustainable revenue streams that increase the value of their properties. The dual-purpose nature of rooftop solar not only promotes environmental sustainability, but also positions real estate owners to navigate the evolving landscape of the commercial property market.

Integrating rooftop solar into commercial properties is ultimately a forward-thinking strategy for real estate owners—who could use a few more of those. It not only provides much-needed predictable and recurring income to mitigate the challenges many property owners are facing with remote work, but also contributes to a more sustainable, eco-friendly future for the community the property is in. It’s a true win-win-win: for property owners, their tenants, and the environment.

While many industries have fully recovered—and then some—from the COVID economy, commercial real estate has largely been left in the dark. It’s time for more property owners to see the light—reflecting off their rooftop solar arrays.

A leader in both real estate development and strategic initiatives delivering sustainable outcomes, Joshua Schuster has completed more than $2.3 billion in real estate projects, representing over 3.2 million square feet of mixed-use residential, retail, affordable, and hospitality projects.