OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Building Solar Through Community, Building Community Through Solar

A revolving fund for solar energy empowers people to put solar on the places they care about and take meaningful action on climate change.

Photo of Andreas Karelas
3 5

Written by

Over the course of six weeks in early 2016, hundreds of people from around the country and around the world contributed to a crowdfunding campaign to help the Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco go solar. When the campaign was done,  volunteers came from all over the Bay Area for two weeks to put on their messy clothes, pick up an impact driver and help install the 102 solar panels that now sit on top of the Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco. Diana, a schoolteacher from a nearby town who had contributed to the campaign, came to lend a hand during the installation. On the last day, she took a step back and looked around at the nearly complete solar array before screwing down the last panel. “We did it,” she thought, with a smile on her face.

It was an accomplishment not just for Diana and the other volunteers, and not just for Other Avenues and its customers—it was the result of a global community of clean energy supporters coming together to help Other Avenues achieve its long-held dream of going solar.

Other Avenues has been serving San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood with organic, healthy food for 40 years. It's a true community establishment, just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Other Avenues is now keeping its produce fresh and running its neon “OPEN” sign on clean solar power because of hundreds of people around the country and around the world. They rallied together to fund those solar panels through a nonprofit called RE-volv. RE-volv, based in San Francisco, CA helps nonprofits and co-ops go solar through crowdfunding. Through RE-volv’s pay-it-forward financing model, Other Avenues’ solar energy system will pay for three more solar projects over time.

Here’s how it works:

RE-volv crowdfunds tax-deductible donations to cover the upfront costs of a solar installation for a nonprofit or co-op. When a person donates to a RE-volv crowdfunding campaign for a particular solar project, the impact each dollar has doesn’t stop when the panels are installed. Community-serving organizations like Other Avenues pay nothing up front for the solar energy system, but over time they pay RE-volv back through a lease with interest, just like you would lease a car. All of those lease payments are reinvested into solar projects for other places we care about—our schools, places of faith, nature centers—across the country, creating a revolving fund that grows and grows with time. We call this fund the Solar Seed Fund.


Image title

People around the world decided to donate to the campaign not only because they wanted to see Other Avenues save money on their electric bills and reduce their carbon footprint, but also because they wanted to help other communities around the country go solar, again and again.  

RE-volv lets people put solar on the places they care about, giving them a way to take direct action on climate change. We’re building a global community of clean energy supporters, creating a cultural shift for solar, and tangibly acting on climate change by reducing carbon emissions. 

Nonprofits and co-ops lack access to traditional solar finance, and we want to see solar energy being used in every community in the country. That’s why we started this pay-it-forward model for solar energy: so every donation can go further, build more solar, and strengthen more communities around the United States.

What's next?

In early 2016, we’re launching a crowdfunding platform to empower more people and communities to join the movement—to stop imagining a clean energy future and start creating it. Around the country, anyone will be able to run a crowdfunding campaign to put solar on a place they care about using the new platform. Donors will be able to direct where the reinvestment of their donations will go, and they will be able to see how their environmental and social impact multiplies over time.

Evaluation results

0 evaluations so far


Join the conversation:

Photo of Debbie Mytels

I know a synagogue that has used the Re-volv system to finance its solar panels.  This is an important step in making solar energy accessible to more people.  -- Debbie Mytels, Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action

View all comments