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

A Revolving Fund for Solar Energy [Updated Feb 9]

We believe that everyone should have the ability to support clean energy. So we created a new way for people to take action. It's a pretty simple idea actually. We raise money through crowdfunding to put solar panels on community-serving nonprofit organizations and worker-owned cooperatives. As these organizations pay us back, we reinvest the money into more solar projects in communities across the country. This creates a revolving fund for solar energy that continually perpetuates itself building more and more solar. It's a pay-it-forward model for community solar. We call it the Solar Seed Fund. Learn more at www.solarseedfund.org and www.re-volv.org!

Photo of Andreas Karelas
34 15

Written by

Summary:
Our idea is an online crowdfunding platform that tackles the problem of climate change by empowering people to donate to a revolving fund for community-based solar energy projects.

In this model we crowdfund the cost of a community-based solar project. The revenues from one project will fund three more solar projects. And each of those will fund three more. And.. well, you get the idea.

Experiment:
Here is a mock-up of our soon-to-be released crowdfunding platform.  What do you think?  Please comment below with feedback on our mock-up. How could we improve the experience to make it more empowering?

Website walk through:

Step 1: Log-in and select a project to support.



Step 2: Watch video and donate to project.


Step 3: See your donor dashboard with stats on all the projects you've supported so far.


Step 4: Select what types of community centers you want to see go solar next using the revenues from solar projects you supported before.




What Distinguishes this From Other Solar Crowdfunding Platforms?
-A Revolving fund that reinvests savings from each solar project into more solar projects. This creates a positive feedback loop that leads to exponential solar growth in our communities.



How It Works:




Our Thought Process:

We want to show you how we got to where we are--the ideas that drove us to tackle the problems we see, and to choose the tactics we've chosen. Here are a couple of photos to show you the process!

 
"The big picture"- In this exercise we looked at the root causes of climate change which allowed us to see where our model fits in, narrow our focus, and develop specific objectives aimed at having a measurable impact.


We took pen to post-it to lay out ideas about crowdfunding best practices. We narrowed and refined these to come up with our plan for a new solar crowdfunding platform!
 
Why we Exist
We all know about the threat of climate change to our planet.  We want to do something about it, but the problem is so big - where do we start? If we try to act alone, it can seem overwhelming.  But when we work together, our efforts can make a real difference.  Here is our plan.

How the Model Works
RE-volv is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco dedicated to fighting climate change by supporting the growth of solar energy in communities across the United States. RE-volv is building a citizens movement to make solar energy mainstream in the US. And we're doing it through a unique solar financing model that gives communities the opportunity to come together to create their own clean energy future.

Through crowdfunding, individual donations from around the world are pooled together to finance community-based solar energy installations. The community organizations that receive the solar pay RE-volv back through a 20-year lease agreement. These lease payments are then reinvested into the Solar Seed Fund to finance more projects.  Lease payments from each project will finance on average three additional projects, providing for the rapid growth of solar energy in communities.  Moreover, the monthly lease payments amount to 15% less than the organization’s original electricity bill with the savings rate growing over time.  This allows community-serving organizations to save money and have more resources to use towards their mission.

Impact
We’ve completed two projects so far using our unique solar financing model which crowdfunds a revolving fund to finance community-based solar projects. Here are some of the impacts those first two projects have had:

First Project, completed in 2013: Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, CA
-Avoided the emission of 410,769 lbs of Carbon Dioxide, 45 lbs of Nitrogen Oxide, and 209 lbs of Sulfur Dioxide
-Will save Shawl-Anderson $107,000 on their electric bills during the system’s warranty
-800 people educated about the benefits of solar

Second Project, completed in 2014: Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, CA
-Avoided the emission of 362,342 lbs of Carbon Dioxide, 1,122 lbs of Nitrogen Oxide, and 810 lbs of Sulfur Dioxide
-Will save Kehilla $130,500 in on their electric bills during the system’s warranty
-1500 people educated about the beneftis of solar

The Solar Seed Fund is already working to fund further projects! $7,008 dollars from lease payments from the first two projects are helping to fund our third project for the Other Avenues Food Cooperative in San Francisco, CA! Read more about that project at www.solarseedfund.org.

These three projects combined will have the carbon equivalent of planting 200 acres of trees!

What Does Success Look Like?
RE-volv measures its success in three areas- Empowerment, Investment, and Education.

Empowerment: Success is when millions of Americans are working together to address climate change by supporting solar projects through crowdfunding and seeing the impact they're having in the community.

Investment: Success is when a revolving fund for solar is generating enough revenue to build new solar projects on a daily basis and eventually cover the roof of every nonprofit and co-op in the country with solar.

Education: Success is when every American understands how solar works, is in support of more solar energy in their community, and has the tools needed to investigate solar for themselves.


 

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

The Solar Seed Fund benefits everyone by helping nonprofits and cooperatives that serve their community go solar. The avoided carbon emissions help alleviate climate change, and seeing solar panels on the rooftops of beloved community organizations inspires community members to go solar at home. But even if someone can't go solar at home, they can chip in and support the Solar Seed Fund and know that they are actively creating climate solutions. Every dollar donated is a vote for a clean energy future. Small community-based nonprofits and cooperatives often want to go solar to save money and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. However, due to their tax structure, credit rating, and the size of their projects, they often can’t find solar financing. RE-volv makes going solar easier for these organizations by offering low-cost financing through hassle-free lease agreements. In addition, through RE-volv's educational outreach programs, these community organizations are helping to raise awareness about solar energy among the people they serve.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

RE-volv’s main objective is to implement renewable energy projects in communities that can’t afford them. Nonprofits and cooperatives that serve as the backbone of our communities are often left without financing options for solar energy. Through its revolving fund model, RE-volv is able to provide access to solar to those who previously didn’t have it. RE-volv’s programs are uniquely designed to increase civic participation. Traditional solar financing comes from a few big banks and financial institutions. RE-volv turns this model on its head. RE-volv gives every single person the ability to help support building local solar projects. This way, each person can take action on climate change and participate in creating a more sustainable community. Through this community participatory finance model, RE-volv creates localized, renewable power generation and green jobs through its solar installations.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

So far, we've crowdfunded two projects successfully and are currently in the middle of our third crowdfunding campaign. You can check it out at www.solarseedfund.org! Lease payments from the first two projects have lowered the amount we need to crowdfund for our current project by $7,008. Soon we will launch our own crowdfunding platform giving donors the ability to view a portfolio of the projects they’ve supported and the environmental impact they’ve had. With the new platform we’ll be experimenting with functionality to find out what are the key features to foster engagement on the site.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

We need to expand the Solar Seed Fund network and take our model to scale. We're going to be launching our own crowdfunding platform soon and we want to know from you, the community, how we can make this an interactive and empowering way for people to support clean energy. What can we incorporate to get people excited about supporting solar?

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • Solar

This idea emerged from:

  • An Individual

34 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of jamie dean
Team

Great idea and project! Will you plan to focus outside of the Bay Area for any of your next projects?

Photo of Gavi Keyles
Team

Thanks for asking, Jamie! In 2014, we launched our Solar Ambassador Program, a year-long remote college internship in which we educate students about solar and project management, and train them to carry out a solar project using RE-volv's model. We currently have 5 students spread out across the country, in California, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania. We are looking forward to helping these projects come to fruition and making the Solar Seed Fund national! We'll be recruiting students for next year starting in March. You can read more about the program at http://re-volv.org/content/internship-description.

Photo of David / Thomas Svarrer / Høyer
Team

Hi, Revolving Fund,

We are interested in working with you guys. Please email us at solarpower@rain.yt

Sincerely
David Svarrer / Thomas Høyer
Rational Intuitive IVS

View all comments