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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
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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

Photo of David / Thomas Svarrer / Høyer
Team

Dear Revolving Fund,

We are producers of Solar Concentrator equipment, and we are teaming up with Water harvesters/purifiers, with Heat producers, with Cooling producers, Power producers, and we would like to hear from you in regards to setting up similar funding (or get into your existing funding) such that we can get Solar Energy to the 2 billion people world wide, who are using Kerosene, Firewood or Charcoal - as we have a culturally workable solar heating system which does not try to teach people when they want to shower or when they want to cook, in that we store the heat in a stone chamber, and thereby enables anyone to use the heat 24/7.

Our system is price wise competitive with kerosene, charcoal and firewood, so we expect that with funding of any sort, we would be able to provide this system to people against a miniscule pay, either per day, per week or per month, and thereby we would be able to empower these who are willing to change to a cheaper way of cooking, showering, cooling, getting power.

Please write to us either here, via email ds@rain.yt, or via our 2018 OpenIDEO account @Nexus 7 Solar Concentrator ...

Sincerely
Rational Intuitive IVS
David Svarrer / Thomas høyer

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Andreas, I love your idea, and I think it could work well with the Green Trees:
https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/the-giving-trees

what if the crowdfunding investment is used to fund these trees?

Photo of Gavi Keyles
Team

Hi Ramiro, thanks so much for the comment! Your idea looks great as well. We'd love to discuss your technology more with you to see if we could use it in the communities we serve. Look forward to being in touch!

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Excited to see where this collaboration goes! Be sure to keep your ideas updated as you move forward!

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

I'd love to see your faces, Andreas and Gavi :)

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Done! I'll ask Gavi to put a photo up soon too. Thanks.

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Hi there! :)

Photo of Gavi Keyles
Team

Got it!

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on making it to the Renewable Energy Challenge Refinement list, Andreas! We like that your idea focuses on low income areas and the revolving loan fund mechanism. It sounds like you’ve made some really exciting progress already and we’re glad you’re in our refinement mix. We hope to help you take your idea to the next level.

Looking ahead to the next 12 days of Refinement our team – along with the 11th Hour Project and the advisory panel – has a few questions that may help move your idea forward. We’re mostly curious if you’ve dug into how your idea compares to other crowdfunding community ideas. What makes the Solar Seed Fund unique? We’re excited to learn more. Awesome that you’ll be launching your own crowdfunding platform soon. Do you have mockups or specific areas for feedback? Have you tested the platform with any potential end users yet? If not, let’s dig in this week!

We can’t wait to see this idea continue to develop. Check out more tips for Refinement on our blog: http://bit.ly/oi-refine and http://ideo.pn/rr-refinetips

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Hope things are going well, Andreas. We hope to see some updates on this exciting idea soon. For inspiration, check out many of the other ideas in Refinement which have been iterating, collaborating and responding to feedback.

Photo of Gavi Keyles
Team

Thank you so much for your great feedback. Our team is in the process of updating our idea incorporating your suggestions, including mock ups of our platform--stay tuned!

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Hi Meena, check out our crowdfunding platform mock-ups above as well as some details about how our model differs from other solar crowdfunding groups.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Awesome stuff, guys. Really digging all the visualisations – and clarity around the uniqueness of your approach!

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Excellent! Thanks for all the useful feedback Meena.

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Great visuals, by the way!

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Thanks so much!

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

As I mentioned in reply to you on my idea post, I'd love to explore a partnership with you. My team's Motivations Interactive Guide is all about helping RE project leaders motivate community stakeholders. https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/incentives-reference-guide#c-03384625c35e97c5a728d9361ff651a5

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Yes, we should definitely discuss how we can work together. This would be very helpful for us.

Photo of Nathan Lucy
Team

Andreas, thanks for your comment on my idea, the Motivations Interactive Guide, asking how the tool my team designed might be helpful to your endeavor with RE-volv (https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/incentives-reference-guide#c-71c384ce5bba2df311f071e3189c1361). I'm excited about making something useful to RE project leaders like you.

We designed our tool for the RE project planning/design phase, which you've already completed. However, it could be very useful in two ways: (1) evaluating your plans and (2) generating new ideas to help you you iterate your plans.

EVALUATION

Our tool is all about motivating people, which any crowdfunding project must do in order to succeed. We break Motivation down into a transaction in which a Giver gives an Incentive to a Receiver. You could use this model to analyze your plans. The obvious Motivation is that a crowdfunding backer (Giver) donates money (Incentive) that enables the grocery co-op (Receiver) to install solar panels. The less-obvious Motivation reverses the flow: The backer (now a Receiver) gains affirmation that they're doing a virtuous thing (Incentive) from RE-volv (Giver) through RE-volv's community engagement and messaging. There are probably many more relationships worth exploring with these questions in mind:

* Are you short-changing anyone?
* Who needs more motivation?

IDEATION

Suppose you want to motivate a utility company to connect the people you help to the power grid more quickly. Financial incentives are meaningless, because your capital is negligible on a utility's ledger. But if you visit our Motivations Interactive Guide, select "utility company" as Receiver and "non-profit" as Giver, you'll find some other Incentives. For example, publicly recognizing utility companies that help (through social media, perhaps). Motivate them with brand equity instead of money.

If you return to our Guide and switch the Giver to "Business", a new set of ideas for motivating utilities will appear.

Some questions to keep in mind as you ideate:

* Who are the players, and what does my project need from them to be more effective?
* What community relationships have unexplored potential for motivating support of my project?

Hopefully some of these thoughts will help you. All the best!

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Very interesting! Yes, we do need to explore the motivations of the donors and the community centers to see how we can better engage them.

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hey Andreas!

Great video, infographic, and idea! The pay it forward system is such a great idea. I'd love to hear more about your two initial projects you crowdfunded. Perhaps you could post a storyboard of one of the projects or add the story above to help us to fully picture how the Solar Seed Fund works.

I think a great way to get more community involvement would be to have the community map out A.) their current energy consumption and B.) their current energy mix they receive from their utility. I think visually seeing how much coal they are using will inspire them to make the switch to solar. If you guys are interested in these ideas, feel free to check out the following OpenIDEO projects to collaborate with.

Jeffrey's PicMyEnergyMix (Utility Energy Mix App idea) - https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/picmyenergymix

Nyko's SmarTraq, track your energy consumption- https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/smartraq-track-play-compete-save-a-community-driven-app-that-could-be-a-first-step-in-helping-communities-understand-their-energy-usage-better

ShuTing and I's Greenfographic that takes data from Nyko's app and create a green infographic- https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/creating-community-s-infographics-as-posters-for-renewable-energy

RE-volv and the Solar Seed Fund both sound amazing and I cannot wait to see more updates from your team.

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Hi Natalie,

Thanks so much for the suggestions. These seem like awesome ideas. I'll definitely check out their projects to see if we can collaborate.

Here are the links to our crowdfunding campaigns so far:

First: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/plant-a-seed-for-solar-energy
Second: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/revolving-fund-for-solar-energy
Current: http://www.solarseedfund.org

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Andreas,

I'd love to hear more about the Kehlia installation. What sort of impact have they seen come out of this installation? Also if you guys want to check out another awesome impact story video, a great example I've seen here on OpenIDEO is Eraj and Saurav's awesome video on their hyrdro powered microgrid installation. I love that they interviewed a diverse number of people from the community about the impact they've seen. You guys should definitely check it out.

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/feedback/anchor-business-community-model-for-off-grid-micro-hydro

Also, if I may suggest something, you guys should link the videos from your kickstarters above to show the OpenIDEO community more about your project. They were incredibly informative and work as great user experience maps. Also linking your website above would be useful for the OpenIDEOers who want to learn more.

Great work!

Photo of Gavi Keyles
Team

Hi Natalie! Thank you for all your wonderful suggestions. We've posted the crowdfunding videos from our first two projects on our page, and also shared some web links. Impact stats for the Kehilla project coming soon. Thank you so much for your great feedback and questions and we'll keep you updated as we continue to incorporate your suggestions!

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Awesome updates Gavi and team! I look forward to seeing your next set of updates :)

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Hi Natalie, Check out our latest updates including mock-ups of our new crowdfunding platform and a graph that shows how this model is unique in the solar crowdfunding space. Thanks!

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Andreas and team,

The updates look amazing! Nice refining :). Ramiro and I will be in contact to talk about the wind trees project! Best of luck in feedback :)

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Hi everyone! Please check out and give feedback on our latest updates including mock-ups of our new crowdfunding platform and a graph that shows how this model is unique in the solar crowdfunding space. Thanks!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Awesome model! We'd love t learn more about a specific lightweight experiment you'd be interested in pursuing if selected for our Refinement phase. Here's some tips on planning a human-centred prototype: http://bit.ly/pr0totype

Photo of Andreas Karelas
Team

Thanks for the insight. We've used Indiegogo to run two crowdfunding campaigns using this model so far and are currently doing our third one. We've gained lots of useful insights from these pilot projects.

We're currently developing and plan on releasing our own crowdfunding platform this Spring. Perhaps we could work with Ideo to prototype the new site and integrate suggestions from users before officially launching. Is that along the lines of what you're suggesting? Thanks.

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Actually our Refinement phase is only 12 days long and involves lightweight prototyping from you – possibly in conjunction with engaged OpenIDEO community members :^) It's more about exploring quick ways to test assumptions behind your idea in order to develop further. (e.g.. When we were developing OpenIDEO, we did a quick, dirty test on Facebook so we could learn about our thinking in action in a human centered way)