Solar Energy Crowdfunding

Andreas 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 now crowdfunding 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!”

Learn More:

Photo Credit: Crowdfunding Solar/shutterstock