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This Startup Lets People Without Roofs Get In On The Solar Power Boom

solar crowdfundingMost apartment dwellers who want to use solar power probably won’t find it easy to convince their landlord to install panels on the roof. But there’s another option: A new startup will let anyone invest in solar panels remotely—and then get paid quarterly checks for the energy they produce.

“We’ve found in research that about 80% of people who want to get involved in solar don’t have the ability to do so,” says Cory Absi, co-founder of , which he launched with fellow students from MIT last year. “Whether that’s the initial prohibitive cost, or they don’t have the correct roof angle, or they live in an apartment building. We want to offer a new way of getting involved in solar energy.”

For $750, anyone can purchase a solar panel, which will be installed at a remote solar farm. Over the course of 25 years, the company estimates that the panel will generate about three times that value, from a combination of government incentives and money paid for the electricity. CloudSolar will take a 20% cut, and owners can expect to pull in about $70 a year.

 

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re-volv crowdfunding

RE-volv Continues to Grow its Solar Seed Fund

re-volv crowdfundingLast month, we profiled RE-volv, an innovative solar funding platform that had just launched a crowdfunding campaign to bring solar to a worker-owned cooperative grocery store in outer San Francisco.

RE-volv’s mission brings a twist on both solar financing and crowdfunding: As I wrote last month, the non-profit purpose is:

To create a self-sustaining solar investment fund that supports solar installations for nonprofits and cooperatives that otherwise have a difficult time securing solar financing. The group, which has completed two projects and has Other Avenues’ system underway as its third — offers solar leases and puts the funds generated by that lease, as well as the donations from community members, into a revolving fund that generates interest to support future solar installations.

And so the good news is that the Solar Seed Fund successfully raised $50,002 for the Other Avenues solar installation, surpassing its goal of $48,000 raised. While the installation was always going to proceeded no matter how much money the community raised, the success means that the fund can continue to grow and finance new systems.

solar seed fund“People are sick of waiting for leaders to take action on climate change. They want to lead the way in their own communities and RE-volv is giving them a tool to do that.” Andreas Karelas, Executive Director of RE-volv, said in a statement. “Having completed three successful campaigns, we see that this model is replicable and poised to grow rapidly.”

The group has also gained some impressive attention in recent days — which both helped them reach their crowdfunding goal and also bodes well for their future growth. In the run-up to Global Fossil Fuel Divestment Day last week, the climate change leader Bill McKibben gave a plug to RE-volv on Twitter, noting, “As everyone’s divesting, might be worth donating a little money to this Solar Seed Fund.”

RE-volv has also earned a place in the winner’s circle of the OpenIDEO Renewable Energy Challenge launched by innovative design firm IDEO. By being selected as one of the top ideas in that competition, RE-volv will get support in spreading its message from IDEO and the 11th Hour Project, an environmental foundation that’s funded by Google co-founder Eric Schmidt.

As I noted in the profile last month, RE-volv has big plans for the future of the Solar Seed Fund, including already-launched efforts to expand outreach (and solar panel installations) to members and chapters of the Audubon Society and to train “solar ambassadors” on college campuses. The group also hopes to create its own custom-built crowdfunding platform to help further its reach, which the additional support from IDEO and the Schmidt Family Foundation will no doubt help achieve.

In the meantime, there’s still the matter of installing those 36 kilowatts of solar panels on Other Avenues’ rooftop. RE-volv relies in part on volunteer efforts to install their systems (and to get even more people excited about going solar). If you’re in the Bay Area and want to pitch in during the installation, from 2/28 to 3/8 — or to get involved in future solar installations — check out the RE-volv website for more information, or visit the website of their installer partner, Sunwork.

How Crowdfunding and Distributed Generation are Changing Everything

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Last year, the Edison Electric Institute released a report titled, “Disruptive Challenges,” which identified current and future serious threats to the  electric utility system. The report identified a number of factors causing the major changes in the electricity industry:

Recent technological and economic changes are expected to challenge and transform the electric utility industry. These changes (or “disruptive challenges”) arise due to a convergence of factors, including: falling costs of distributed generation and other distributed energy resources (DER); an enhanced focus on development of new DER technologies; increasing customer, regulatory, and political interest in demand side management technologies (DSM); government programs to incentivize selected technologies; the declining price of natural gas; slowing economic growth trends; and rising electricity prices in certain areas of the country.

Simultaneously, the amount of money invested via crowdfunding platforms exploded, tripling from $0.9 billion in 2010 to $2.7 billion in 2012, and nearly doubling again to $5.1 billion in 2013. In addition to funding, the number of crowdfunding platforms (CFPs) on which an individual can invest grew from 283 in 2010 to 536 in 2012. In 2012, crowdfunding platforms hosted over 1 million successful campaigns.

Enter Decentralization. Decentralization is the delegation of power from a central authority to regional and local authorities. Financial and energy markets are experiencing an unprecedented period of decentralization, in which large utility companies and banks no longer hold oligopolies over their respective markets. Rather, power (quite literally in the energy markets) is shifting more into the hands of the “masses.” In the movement towards decentralization, each industry faces its own hurdles to becoming economically competitive with traditional, centralized institutions.

Distributed Generation: Decentralization of the Energy Market

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In a centralized energy system, large amounts of electricity are generated at central power plants and are transmitted and distributed to purchasers of the electricity (businesses, homes, etc.). In contrast, a distributed generation system is a system in which smaller amounts of electricity are generated at a larger number of sites. The energy is often used “on-site,” with 1) excess energy being fed back to the grid and 2) energy being taken from the grid when needed. Due to a range of concerns spanning the environmental, economic, and geopolitical spectrums, among others, governments are incentivizing both individuals and businesses to produce and use distributed generation technologies such as solar PVs and wind turbines, allowing them to achieve economies of scale and become competitive with traditional energy sources. The government incentives have helped to drive down the costs of distributed generation renewables such as solar PV panels as well as increase the market share that renewables have in the energy market.

Crowdfunding: Decentralization of the Financial Market

Crowdfunding is fundamentally changing the investment environment and how entrepreneurs gain access to seed money. Rather than turning to large banks for loans, individuals looking to start a business, support a social cause, or perform an array of other activities requiring financing are turning to the public, letting individuals express their opinions and approval through their dollar. Various types of crowdfunding exist, such as peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, equity crowdfunding, funding in return for some reward or tangible good, and donating money to a cause you believe in and want to help get started. The passage of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS Act, in 2012 has allowed entrepreneurs to seek money from an unlimited number of accredited investors. If all goes according to plan, investors who lack accreditation will also have the opportunity to invest later this year, with the implementation of another portion of the JOBS Act.

Banks and large energy utility companies still hold majority market share by a long shot. However, decentralization is seen as a viable threat in each market and is changing the way that the markets function. Wells Fargo has banned its employees from engaging in any type of peer-to-peer lending, but has no problem holding investors’ P2P money. As Helen Avery wrote for Euromoney.com, “The crowd is taking over from traditional sources of finance and it is here to stay. It’s the start of the big bank disintermediation. Unless banks join the revolution, consumer lending may no longer be their sole domain.” Concerning the energy industry, the Edison Electric Institute report discussed at the beginning of this article further warns (talking about the scale of the ‘disruptive challenges’), “…with the current level of lost load nationwide from DER being less than 1 percent, investors are not taking notice of this phenomenon, despite the fact that the pace of change is increasing and will likely increase further as costs of disruptive technologies benefit further from scale efficiencies.” In both these markets, it appears decentralization isn’t only here to stay; it’s here to grow.

Daniel Stevens is a Political Science graduate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. After working briefly for a tech start up company, Daniel became focused on reporting the news and working in the solar energy industry. After working as a staff writer for a New York based PR firm, Daniel came to Mosaic to focus his writing on advancements in green and solar technologies.  He is passionate about social entrepreneurship and the power of new energy models to help alleviate many of the world’s problems. When not writing, Daniel can be found in the mountains, the ocean, or playing music. Follow him on twitter @dannystevens91.

Original Article on Mosaic

Ocean Energy Tries Crowdfunding

Cool-Ocean-Wallpaper

Crowdfunding is everywhere today, reaching out to individuals in our field to fund documentaries on climate change,solar schools in England, solar systems in the US, and a wind turbine in the Netherlands. Now the ocean energy industry has launched its own platform, Clean Reach.

Designed to address a lack of early-stage funding for this high potential energy industry, it wants to help entrepreneurial start-ups, coastal communities and even mature ocean energy developers to get funding and other resources that take it from a good idea to commercial technology.

“Ocean energy visionaries across the globe have pioneering ideas that, if given the opportunity to reach fruition, can be the difference makers in providing clean, renewable energy to the world population,” says Stephanie Thornton, co-founder of Clean Reach. “Creating commercially viable ocean energy technology is
paramount, but investors aren’t giving renewable energy the attention it deserves.”

Just 0.1% of the ocean’s energy could provide energy for 15 billion people, according to Michael Bernitsas, Professor of Naval Architecture at University of Michigan. Yet, 3% of venture capital supports development of the industry.

Some projects they are currently raising money for:

  • The International Network on Offshore Renewable Energy
    fosters on-going research and collaboration. Funding goal: $6,000
  • An entrepreneur that’s developing a wave energy turbine (see photo below) that is more efficient, produces more power at lower cost than those available today. Funding goal: $3,500

Besides helping the ocean energy industry overcome key barriers, Clean Reach hopes to improve collaboration among project developers and strengthen public awareness of the industry’s tremendous potential.

Visit the website:

Website: www.cleanreach.com

Original Article on SustainableBusiness

Everybody Solar and RE-volv: Crowdfunding Rockstars

re-volv-crowdfundingAndreas Karelas and Youness Scally, founders of RE-volv and Everybody Solar, have been busy. Since founding their solar crowdfunding nonprofits in 2011, they’ve shown that their ideas are more than just ideas by making actual projects happen.

I’ve been following both organizations since before they started their first projects. Not only have they progressed along a similar trajectory, but their founders maintain a collaborative spirit. Given their mission-driven goals, it’s no surprise that they’re happy to share ideas and see others copy what they’re doing.

From first projects to continuing successes

A lot has happened since I spoke with Scally and Karelas last summer about their successful launches. Both organizations completed their first projects last year and are on to the next ones.

Karelas shared a few highlights of developments at RE-volv:

  • After a successful first project, RE-volv was awarded grant funding that allowed them to hire two staff people and rent an office space in San Francisco.

  • The organization’s crowdfunding model was written about in a number of media outlets, including well-read publications like the New York Times and Scientific American.

  • RE-volv’s current crowdfunding campaign at www.solarseedfund.org will finance a 22kW solar energy system for the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. Through the revolving fund, lease payments from Kehilla will finance three additional solar projects. RE-volv has already raised over 70% of its goal for the project, with donations from 180 people from 18 states and 6 countries. The campaign, which ends January 23, is one of the top 10 highest-funded indiegogo environmental campaigns of all time. If it reaches its $55,000 goal, it will be in the top 5.

Everybody Solar has also experienced continued success:

  • Rebuilding Together Peninsula, the recipient nonprofit of Everybody Solar’s first project, continues to save from their solar energy system. They were very excited when they received the first electricity bill from their utility after going solar — it totaled all of $3.45!

  • The organization completed fundraising for their second project, a 7.7 kW solar system benefiting Los Angeles nonprofit Homeboy Industries. The project is slated to be installed in mid-February. That will save Homeboy Industries more than $2,000 a year, which they can use to help formerly gang-involved men and women receive job training, including training to become solar installers.

Now both organizations are working to maintain momentum. Scally says, “We hope to reach more people and bring them into the movement to crowdfund solar for communities.” He’d like to complete two more solar projects by the end of 2014 and is looking for the right nonprofit to partner with for Everybody Solar’s next project.

Karelas has similar goals for RE-volv. “We’d like to reach as many people as possible and empower them with the ability to contribute to the Solar Seed Fund, to build as many projects as possible, and to educate as many people as possible in the communities we serve about the benefits of solar energy,” he says.

The popularity of solar crowdfunding

Karelas and Scally have been impressed by the level of involvement and interest in their work. “We were surprised at how much press we received,” says Karelas. “It really took off after the first campaign. And when we launched the second campaign, we raised $10,000 on the first day.”

Scally says, “The biggest surprise has been the number people getting involved and chipping in to help our organization grow and to make the project for Homeboy Industries happen. From a volunteer who used to work in the solar industry helping us secure the donated materials for the project, to the band Trapdoor Social, who helped crowdfund for the project through the release of their new album, to several generous solar companies, to the over 250 donors who filled the gap to pay for the installation labor — the outpouring of support has really been incredible and unexpected.”

And perhaps the best testament to the success of both nonprofits is the number of organizations that are nowcrowdfunding for solar. Some, like Mosaic, use investment models with interest, some allow people to invest without interest, and some are donation-based. Some are international and some are focused on the US. Many share a community and nonprofit focus.

“I’m beginning to see many more things open up in this regard, and many more organizations popping up,” says Scally. “For example, the focus of recently launched Collective Sun is on providing financing to nonprofits and taking advantage of the ITC through offering a PPA, while giving those who contribute to the projects a return on their investment. They are another example of an innovative organization using the crowdfunding model to make solar projects happen that otherwise would languish or never happen.”

As Karelas notes, “This is great news! We need to see as much community support for solar as possible, and these organizations are giving people a way to take action.” He adds, each organization is a bit different. “What makes RE-volv unique is the fact that we’ve combined crowdfunding with a revolving fund. People make donations to our revolving Solar Seed Fund, which earns an 8-12% IRR and is continually reinvested in more projects, allowing a person’s dollar to go farther than one project.”

Scally says Everybody Solar has been contacted by people across the country who are interested in doing similar projects in their community. “It’s very humbling that people are seeing the projects we’ve done and want to emulate them elsewhere. We try to provide whatever information we can to help them make it happen!”

Rosana Francescato is the Communications Director for Sunible.com, an online portal that’s radically simplify the home solar buying experience. She also combines her passions for solar power and community as a community solar advocate. Rosana is on the board of Women and Cleantech and Sustainability and the steering committee of the Local Clean Energy Alliance. She has hands-on experience installing solar with GRID Alternatives, where she’s been the top individual fundraiser four years in a row. She’s excited about new ways for the 75% to participate in solar and has invested in several Mosaic projects. Follow Rosana @SolarRosana.

Michigan: Embracing Crowdfunding

michigan-crowdfunding

On December 31st, 2013, while most of the Michigan government was seemingly on holiday, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law to enable intrastate, equity-based crowdfunding in MichiganPublic Act 264, which amends Article 2 of Michigan’s Uniform Securities Act, revises the definition of “institutional investor” and helps create new economic opportunities for Michigan residents. This law has many optimistic about its potential to help catapult Michigan to the forefront of the crowdfunding movement and drive investment and financing opportunities in Michigan. (For a detailed definition and explanation of crowdfunding, see What Is Crowdfunding?)

Michigan is the most recent state to pass legislation to enable crowdfunding for non-accredited investors – with certain restrictions. Other states like Georgia, Kansas, and Wisconsin have already moved on equity crowdfunding, either passing legislation or altering existing rules to make it feasible. Other states, such asAlabama and North Carolina will consider such securities exemptions in coming months.

This state-level trend helps bypass delays in federal action on the subject and – hopefully – will help lay the groundwork for a more overarching application of federal crowdfunding. At the federal level, the JOBS Act of 2012, Title III, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was directed to develop rules that will allow equity offerings to non-accredited investors. While the JOBS Act has had many excited, its progress has been slow and unpredictable, leaving state governments increasingly impatient to see the potential of crowdfunding realized in their state.

The SEC proposed rules on crowdfunding under the JOBS Act, which were published on October 23rd and made available for public comment. The rules are expected to be finalized by the end of the first quarter of 2014, but this timeline, along with the eventual utility of the rules, has been questioned by many. Beyond the potential for long delays, some have claimed the 585-page rules make the process to establish and engage in crowdfunding efforts cumbersome and costly to the degree that it may not be worth the effort.

As states across the country adopt intrastate crowdfunding, it is hard to predict what types of challenges may arise when the JOBS Act finalizes its crowdfunding rules for interstate crowdfunding. For example, Michigan’s law limits individual investments from non-accredited investors to $10,000, while the JOBS Act is more strict and slightly more complicated. It limits investments to 5% of an individual’s annual income or net worth or 2,000 dollars (whichever is greater) if their annual income or net worth is less than $100,000. That restriction shifts to 10% if an investor has an annual income or net worth of over $100,000.

Whether this crowdfunding law – or other state level laws – will be leveraged toward the implementation and investment in renewable energy is yet to be seen; to date, such laws have actually done little to stimulate equity crowdfunding. Still, particularly in states where renewable energy markets and the associated financing infrastructure are already robust, crowdfunding renewable energy projects could begin to take hold sooner than later.

While many questions remain, some states now have equity crowdfunding, allowing for creative experimentation in how to establish and successfully run such ventures – hopefully it can help provide new, sustainable, and socially responsible investment opportunities for residents in Kansas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and future states.

Original Article on Mosaic

Crowdfunding: Bringing Solar to Non-Profits

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Consumers and businesses have been able to take advantage of a growing number of solar energy programs recently. These programs are designed to mitigate the costs associated with the purchase and installation of photovoltaic systems, thereby making them easier to acquire. Non-profit organizations, however, do not typically have access to these programs. Non-profits cannot take advantage of most solar leasing initiatives, power purchase agreements, or financing programs that make the adoption of solar power easier. The solution to this issue may be somewhat straightforward and may take the form of crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding can mitigate the costs associated with solar adoption

Crowdfunding has become a popular concept in the technology and entertainment realms. The idea is quiet simple: Consumers and businesses come together to provide funds for a project they are interested in. Instead of a project being forced to seek out funding from investment firms, the project focuses on the general public to meet its financial needs. This concept has been gaining ground in the renewable energy space recently as more organizations become aware of how much support the public is willing to give to innovative energy projects.

Company taps into the power of the crowd to make solar energy more accessible

CollectiveSun is aiming to make solar energy more accessible to non-profit groups by tapping into the power of crowdfunding. The company works exclusively with non-profit groups that are interested in solar power and claims that these organizations can take advantage of significantly reduced energy costs by working with it. CollectiveSun also notes that it can obtain as much as 5% return on investment through its initiatives concerning non-profit groups.

TERI successfully funds projects through CollectiveSun

CollectiveSun’s first project was successfully funded on December 11, 2013, and was held on behalf of TERI, a non-profit energy policy research organization. TERI intends to use the funds for its solar energy projects, which are meant to bring reliable power to children and adults with special needs. TERI has already approached CollectiveSun for assistance with another of its projects.

The original article was posted on Hydrogen Fuel News. 

Portland Oregon Launches ‘Solar Forward’ Crowdfunding Effort

solar-forward-oregon

Oliver P. Lent Elementary School in Portland, OR is set to receive solar panels in 2014 as part of the city’s Solar Forward campaign. To complete the project–the second of the campaign– $50,000 needs to be raised. Of the $50,000 goal, $20,000 has been donated by organizations including SolarWorld, Portfolio 21 Investments, Umpqua Bank, Wells Fargo and the Portland Development Commission.

To finance the rest of the project and additional local solar projects, Portland is turning to crowdsourcing. Solar Forward, Portland’s first solar crowdsourcing program, is raising funds from residents for solar installations throughout the city. The model, which accepts donations from ordinary citizens, businesses and foundations, is a hybrid of crowdsourcing and traditional fundraising. The city is hopeful that by using crowdsourcing, the city can, “offer community members a way to engage in the development of new, clean, local renewable energy systems on public buildings like community centers, schools and libraries.” Although the city can only offer a tax-credit at this time, it may offer discounted rates on electricity in the future.

With help from a $100,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation, Solar Forward was created in September of 2012, after a 10-kilowatt solar electric system was successfully installed atop the Portland Parks & Recreation’s Southwest Community Center. They are yet another great example of the power of crowdsourcing and community engagement.

Read more from Solar Oregon.

Original Article on Mosaic

Crowdfunding 2.0

crowdfunding2

According to the economic philosopher Karl Marx, meaningful change would only come about when the workers seized control of the means of production.  Just over the past few decades, technological progress has been slowly, but surely transferring the power away from large corporations to the people. R&D has moved from the siloed corporate laboratories to open-data and open source information, marketing has switched from a largely PR approach to social media and peer-to-peer (P2P) connections.  Distribution is no longer dominated by a few firms, but millions of individuals through Amazon and eBay, manufacturing is now being challenged with 3D printers, and now capital, one of Marx’s favorite subjects, is being democratized through crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding has been proven to be hugely popular and for good reason. People are putting their money into things that they care about and it’s also a reaction to the financial crisis and the relentless focus on profits at all costs. It’s especially relevant for renewable energy because it offers revenue derived from a fixed-income source rather than an investment eroded by inflation.  Mosaic is an example of this trend, demonstrated by its popularity among investors who are seeking a steady return on their investment, while putting their money where their values lie.

But, it’s not a perfect system. More than 30 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses fail in their first two years and high rates like those are among the risk factors being considered by governments and regulatory agencies who warn about the possibility of low or negative returns and liquidity issues. To protect against these risks, regulators are looking to limit who and how much individuals can invest.

Crowdfunding isn’t particularly new, but in the past few months, governments around the world have begun to realize its significance and are creating legislation around it in efforts to boost the economy and protect investors.

Last month, The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opened up the process to accredited investors, people with a net worth of more than $1-million or who make upward of $200,000 a year in personal income. Extending it to ordinary investors, who are also known as retail investors, was part of Title III of the JOBS Act, and is expected to be published by the end of the year.

States are also getting in the action. Kansas was one of the first players and other states have joined in passing or writing up crowdfunding legislation including Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Washington, Florida,  and Michigan.

It’s an exciting time to be part of this industry and we hope our local and national governments continue their support in democratizing the archaic and traditional financial industry so that true prosperity can be spread and where democratization levels the playing field.

Original Article on Mosaic

Crowdfunding Throwdown: Kickstarter vs Indiegogo

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Here is why Kickstarter is beating Indiegogo.

In the battle for the top of the crowdfunding food chain, Kickstarter is handily beating Indiegogo in virtually every measurable category. In an article posted on Medium, Jonathan Lau and Edward Junprung performed a comparative data scrape and analysis of the two companies that lead to six eye opening insights:


  1. “Cumulatively, Kickstarter (KS) has over 110,000 campaigns while our scrape found 44,000 campaigns on Indiegogo (IGG). However, through multiple scrapes over a month, we discovered that IGG de-list failed campaigns that raised less than $500
  2. KS ($612M) has successfully raised over 6 times more dollars than IGG ($98M)
  3. KS has had 40 projects raise $1M+ while IGG only has had 3
  4. The average success rate on KS is 44%. Based on the total number of campaigns we found in our scrape, we calculate IGG’s success rate to be 34%. However, if we factor in the de-listed failed campaigns, IGG’s success rate drops significantly
  5. At the time of the scrape, KS and IGG had near the same unsuccessful dollars (KS $83M vs IGG $70M) despite KS raising over 6 times more money
  6. 40% of dollars that IGG raised were generated from campaigns that raised more than $100,000”

When the two crowdfunding platforms are compared the reasons for the dominance of one becomes clear. Kickstarter has guidelines for their projects, Indiegogo does not. “Everything on Kickstarter must be a project” and “every project on Kickstarter must fit into one of our [creative] categories.” Indiegogo is “available to anyone, anywhere, to raise money for anything.” In addition, Kickstarter has all or nothing fundraising stakes while Indiegogo creators can keep the money raised even if they don’t reach their fundraising goal.

Kickstarter projects have guidelines that foster creativity and all or nothing stakes that force creators to set realistic goals and work hard to achieve them. Indiegogo let’s anyone do anything. In the end, quality trumps quantity and Kickstarter trumps Indiegogo.

Original Article on Mosaic

Solar Crowdfunding: Lessons Learned

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We have two broken systems — energy and finance — that conspire to support a centralized, coal-based grid that exacerbates climate change and fails to serve the poor in developing countries.

That means 1.3 billion people around the world won’t escape the dark (while simultaneously frying the climate) — unless we disrupt these systems and deploy distributed clean energy.

Three months ago, the Sierra Club worked on a pilot project with SunFunder to promote a potentially disruptive solution: solar crowdfunding for the world’s poor. We have a few preliminary lessons we’d like to share about taking it to scale.

Let’s start with the good news. In three short months, the clean energy access project is already fully funded. The project raised $15,000 to fund ReadySet Solar Kits from Fenix International for 375 energy entrepreneurs in Uganda who will power mobile phone charging and lighting for up to 19,000 households. SunFunder has also raised $120,000 for eight projects that benefit 28,377 people directly. Not bad for a year’s work.

Let’s compare that to the World Bank. A 2010 Oil Change International study found that of all fossil fuel projects the World Bank supported, none provided energy access for the poor. The only energy project that actually delivered energy for the poor was a $1.25 million investment in biomass gasifiers that benefited 2,500 people in India (thanks to Husk Power). For those keeping score, that’s 28,000 people helped by SunFunder versus 2,500 directly helped by the World Bank.

Not bad on SunFunder’s end, but clearly not the scale we’re looking for. After engaging SunFunder on this project, and working with off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs demanding $500 million for their sector, we have learned a few lessons that we think have big implications.

Lesson #1: Small is big. There is not a single energy entrepreneur in energy access who is not focused on deploying decentralized clean energy. Talk to entrepreneurs who eat, sleep, breathe this stuff and you’ll see they recognized long ago that decentralized, small-scale clean energy is usually always the right tool for the job.

That’s why companies like SunFunder that specialize in financing these businesses can outpace entities like the World Bank 10-to-1 when it comes to the number of lives impacted. The best part is that they do it despite having only a fraction of the available capital.

Lesson #2: Small is fast. In the absence of significant resources or media attention, SunFunder was able to raise the money from the crowd in just three months. Ask any entrepreneur who has engaged entities like the World Bank and you’ll understand that this is far, far faster than they are capable of. On top of that, entrepreneurs can be turned down at the end of a lengthy process with the World Bank — meaning they spent time and money for nothing.

Continue Reading at Greentech Media

In Focus: Crowdfunding Solar in Detroit

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As the costs of solar technologies decrease, the opportunities for innovative solutions to community problems are increasing. Economic hardships have hit America’s communities hard and, in many communities, electricity prices continue to rise as spending on local public services continues to fall. From 2010 to 2011, the state and local sectors contracted by 3.4 percent, the largest contraction since World War II and that contraction continues to be felt in neighborhoods across the country. Spending cuts have come in all shapes and sizes; some cities have reduced the local police force, while others have slashed the budgets for local fire departments.

In Highland Park, Michigan (a city within the city of Detroit), having already cut funding for the fire department and other public services, tough economic times have caused even more severe cuts to public services. One of the most recent, and potentially the most public, occurred in the winter of 2011. In order to pay a $4 million debt to local utility company Detroit Edison, the city removed two-thirds of the community’s street lights. After 1300 of the city’s streetlights were physically removed, residents were asked to leave their porch lights on at night. In this small, urban community, a group of dedicated community members are applying off-grid solar technology and a simple crowdfunding model to light the streets of Highland Park.

With local residents concerned about safety, a community organization called Soulardarity is working to solve the problem in a novel way using crowdfunding and solar power. The project, initiated by A.J. O’Neil, Kyle Wohlfort, and Jackson Koepel, is helping bring streetlights back to Highland Park. Throughout the summer and fall of 2012, the Soulardarity team successfully launched a campaign to crowdfund the first solar powered streetlight in Highland Park. While the Indiegogo (for more information on this and other crowdfunding platforms see How To Crowdfund Your Project) campaign funded the installation of a single streetlight on Victor Street in Highland Park, the larger vision of the project is to install over 200 solar powered streetlights over the next several years. Soulardarity is currently in the process of holding a series of community forums to identify priority locations for the next round of installations and is working toward finding ways to move beyond the one-off crowdfunding strategy employed to date (follow on Facebook for further developments).

The campaign, more than simply trying to bring streetlights back to Highland Park, contributes to a broader push toward the development of a clean energy economy in the Midwest. Working with Solar Streetlights USA, which is just one of the many clean energy companies based in Michigan, the project highlights solar’s potential in all communities and specifically the prospects of solar in Michigan.

The Soulardarity campaign in Highland Park makes the following key points about solar and crowdfunding transparent.

First, solar is increasingly viable in locations with comparatively lower solar resources. While this has been true for years (see Germany), seeing more and more solar solutions in places like Michigan helps to dispel myths about the limited practicality of solar in northern latitudes. Solar isn’t a technology reserved for the states and geographies with the most sunshine, it will be reserved for the places that make it easiest to finance and implement.

Second, crowdfunding and declining costs are making solar a viable solution in low-income areas. With 12,000 residents (once 50,000), an unemployment rate of 22%, and with 40% of the population living below the national poverty line, Highland Park isn’t your typical location for solar. A city built at the heart of the second industrial revolution in America, Highland Park was once the home to the respective headquarters of Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Group, but today is considered the poorest city in Michigan. The application of solar in communities like Highland Park is notable. The advancement of solar and creative financing is – and will continue – making solar more accessible for everyone.

This second point is important. As the democratization and decentralization of energy generation via distributed sources occurs, it is crucial to ensure social inclusion. Just as a “democracy” where only a few can vote isn’t a true democracy, the democratization of energy won’t truly be democratic unless everyone can participate. Just as other organizations like Mosaic and RE-volv are helping to democratize solar by allowing people to invest in clean energy, community models across the country are helping ensure that everyone – including communities like Highland Park – can reap the benefits of distributed energy. Soulardarity’s efforts, beyond bringing light to the streets of Highland Park in a novel way, underscore the opportunities that solar and distributed energy technologies can provide in seemingly unlikely settings.

For more information about Soulardarity and how to support the initiative, please visit soulardarity.com or email Jackson Koeppel at jkoeppel@earthlink.net.

Cory Connolly is a Research Associate at the Environmental Law Institute and is a co-founder of MiGrid Media – a Michigan-based clean energy communications company. Cory has worked on climate change and clean energy at the international, national, state, and local levels and is passionate about the rapid deployment and development of distributed clean energy systems.

Original Article on Mosaic

Mosic Sells Out California Solar Crowdfunding Projects in Hours

mosaic-california-crowdfunding

Mosaic, which is using crowdfunding to develop solar and other clean energy projects, today (April 8) unveiled $100 million in solar projects that Californians can invest in directly. At the same time it launched its first offering in what it is calling the Golden State Series of solar projects in California, crowdfunding a 114 kilowatt array on the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego. The $157,750 project was funded within hours of its offering, signifying the public’s interest in supporting solar projects.

Mosaic is getting more U.S. citizens to invest directly in solar projects. This is occurring as companies are trying to figure out new financing mechanisms for solar, like creating bonds and securities. Such tools will help lower the cost of solar because they can offer long-term returns at lower interest rates than the short-term, higher interest rate loans that banks and some other institutional investors are looking for. Bonds and securities will also attract new types of investors to solar project financing, investors like insurance companies and retirement funds, which are looking for stable, long-term returns.

“California has always been a leader in solar energy. We’re thrilled that now any resident of California can invest directly into solar energy for as little as $25,” said Billy Parish, President & Co-founder of Mosaic.

The Ronald McDonald House project is anticipated to offer at 4.5 percent annual return on investment. It will have a 117-month term—nearly 10 years, according to Mosaic.

Thus far the company’s offerings to the public have received a lot of interest. When it made three offerings in California this January, all were completely funded within 24-hours. In all, people ponied up to invest $300,000 in the projects.

Now that Mosaic received approval from securities regulators, it can start offering its Golden State Series of projects to Californians for investment. However, it has not named all the projects it plans to offer to the public at this point.

To make sure that the industry and new investor interest in it is continuing to grow Mosaic is working with other companies as part of the truSolar working group. The companies, which include Standard & Poor’s, DuPont and Distributed Sun, are working on ways to efficiently evaluated projects to ensure quality while reducing the time it takes to bring solar projects to investors.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Crowdfunding Solar: Why It’s So Important

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Crowdfunding is populism’s answer to the bank, and it’s being applied to solar. This once novel concept – a collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations – has evolved into a force and molded itself into an exciting company called Solar Mosaic.

Todd Woody’s recent Forbes’ piece, “Solar Crowdfunding Startup Lets Ordinary Investors Own A Piece of the Sun,” reported the two-year-old, Oakland, California-based company already won approval in California and New York to allow individuals to invest directly through its website. This gives ordinary people, with ordinary money, the opportunity to put their personal capital toward solar projects that draw reasonable returns over time. To be fair, they are not exactly investments, but loans that pay their interest through the sale of electricity from solar.

Mosaic’s business model provides die-hard renewable energy advocates, conservationists and corporate responsibility advocates with something that is hard to find elsewhere: a competitive, environmentally conscious investment. Mosaic’s return rates are excellent for those of us schooled in stocks, bonds, REIT and other medium to long-term investment vehicles. You can’t find returns of 4.5% to 6.5% in a CD, online savings account or U.S. savings bond.

With Mosaic, the customer’s money is going directly to the purchase and maintenance of a solar farm that will produce electricity for 20 plus years. There are no price swings, mechanical breakdowns or new hires that will disrupt the farms conversion of light into electricity, and the power purchase agreement with the local utility has its returns locked in from day one. Photovoltaic solar’s greatest virtue from a developer’s standpoint is its simplicity: “Set it and forget it.” This, along with Woody’s research showing that some projects allow investments as low as $25, has the potential of making solar an “everyman” technology.

Why is this important?

If Mosaic is successful at raising enough capital to build solar farms across the United States, and if it proves profitable, then the model can spread and become commonplace over time. As reputations are established and trust is earned through consistently predictable returns, coupled with solid customer service, companies using the model can then be used for many other things – from balancing retirement and education portfolios to alternative investment options for Colleges and Universities seeking to divesting their endowments of companies proliferating climate change.

The recognition of renewable energy as more than a social or environmentalist cause will have a drastic impact on its access to capital and corporate talent. Mosaic’s model is an important step toward the goal of everyone having the opportunity to invest in sustainable energy directly, which encourages an environment of carbon transparency. At some point, perhaps in the near future, it will inspire people to ask their financial advisors, “what gives me the highest return and where does that return come from,” instead of the simplistic, “what gives me the highest return?”

Original Article on Scaling Green