What do you do when people — or “consumers,” as they’re called these days — stop consuming because they don’t have money, even for...

What do you do when people — or “consumers,” as they’re called these days — stop consuming because they don’t have money, even for things that could actually save them money over the long run? If you’re like a growing number of cleantech companies, you start getting creative with your financing programs.

Efficiency-focused Serious Energy is the latest firm to join that crowd, rolling out a zero-upfront cost program called SeriousCapital. The program is billed as a service that “cuts energy and maintenance costs and creates more comfortable and efficient properties for building owners and tenants.”

Here’s how it works: Serious Energy and its partners start with how much a building owner is spending now on energy, say, $1 million. They then identify improvements that can cut those energy costs, and make a deal with the building owner: You pay us $1 million minus $50,000 a year over the next 10 years, which means you’ve brought your annual energy costs down to $950,000. We pay for a package of improvements that actually reduces your utility bill by $250,000 a year, take care of the $750,000 annual bill from your utility, and use the remaining $200,000 to cover maintenance, bank and financing fees.

At the end of the 10 years, the building owner keeps all the improvements in place without incurring any additional costs … so it’s not a lease-to-own program.

“Just give us your utility bill,” said Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Energy. “We will do the rest.”

According to Serious Energy, the financial concepts behind SeriousCapital were inspired in part by the solar power purchase agreements, or PPAs, that many solar energy companies have adopted in recent years. In fact, Claire Broido Johnson, SeriousCapital’s general manager, helped to pioneer such agreements as a co-founder of SunEdison.

With buildings in the US currently accounting for around 40 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption, making structures more efficient offers the potential for large energy and financial savings. Commercial real estate alone accounts for 18 percent of all of the energy consumed in the US, more than cars and light trucks combined (16.5 percent). And most buildings are in need of significant improvements: many experts that at least 30 percent of the energy used in buildings is wasted or consumed inefficiently.

Upon launching SeriousCapital, Serious Energy also announced that it had hired real estate services and investment firm Grubb & Ellis Company to “identify opportunities” with building owners interested in making efficiency improvements.