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Posts Tagged ‘Re-volv’

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As the price of solar has plummeted and leases have become more widespread, many more Americans have been able to go solar. But what about the 75% who can’t?

More options are emerging for solar for the rest of us — including Mosaic’s new online marketplace, which is making it possible for people to invest in community solar projects and earn solid returns.

This three-part series profiles some other startups that are paving the way to spread solar to all.

Just across the bay from Mosaic in San Francisco, three young entrepreneurs are finding new ways to crowdfund solar projects — and include the 75%. Not content to wait for someone else to do something, they’re taking matters into their own hands, rolling up their sleeves, and making projects happen.

A revolving fund that grows quickly

Andreas Karelas founded RE-volv in 2011. He started the organization, he says, “out of a sense of frustration felt by many of us working for clean energy. The change isn’t happening fast enough and if it’s going to happen now, we’ll have to do it ourselves. There’s a huge opportunity here to mobilize people who care about renewable energy to take meaningful action that will help deliver renewables to more and more communities.” RE-volv’s mission is to empower people and communities to invest collectively in renewable energy.

What makes RE-volv unique is that they’re using crowdfunding to create a revolving fund for community solar installations. This fund is crucial in supporting the organization’s mission.

RE-volv uses a solar lease model for their community solar projects, and they get revenue from the lease payments. Because they fund projects through donations, rather than financing, RE-volv doesn’t have to pay back lenders. And being a nonprofit, they can invest their lease earnings in the next project. So the fund for their projects can keep growing.

RE-volv is currently crowdfunding for the final $10,000 needed to pay for their first solar project, thus launching the revolving fund. The campaign, which will run through January 20th, is being hosted on Indiegogo and can be accessed at www.solarseedfund.org.

Based on current numbers, once 14 systems are in place, the annual revenues from those will generate a new system of the same size and cost. At some point that will equal two more systems a year, then three, and so on. The potential for the fund to grow is huge.

Empowering the 75%

RE-volv will take tax-deductible donations from anyone but is focusing in particular on people who care about renewable energy, who want to see more solar but can’t get it themselves. These people want to help start tangible projects that they can see in their community. And donations can be of any amount, which allows even those on a budget to participate.

Although donors don’t get a return on investment in the usual sense, Karelas likes to think they get a different kind of return. And it’s a substantial one: “If you donate $10, through the revolving fund that becomes $30 to invest in the next project. So you’re looking at a 300% return on money invested — not for yourself, but for more solar projects. If you donate $25 now, over the 20-year lease period that turns into $100 that you’ve invested in solar.” This can be especially empowering for those who can’t afford more than a small donation.

Empowering communities

RE-volv hopes to put solar on community centers that have a reach, in order to educate as many people as possible in the area about solar. In addition to nonprofits, Karelas is looking at coops that own their own space and serve as a community center — and even condo complexes. For the most part, RE-volv is working with a niche market that’s neither residential nor commercial. These organizations may have a hard time finding a solar lease partner, and RE-volv can provide the solution for them.

Because many nonprofits and community-serving organizations don’t own their building, Karelas is exploring the possibility of a lease agreement with landlords, where the the landlord and tenant would have a separate agreement to cover paying the bills. He realizes that to work, this has to be made easy for both landlords and tenants.

The typical model for their projects is that a community center leases the system from RE-volv, who owns it and maintains it. The community center pays for the lease with a small escalator, and saves money from year 1. And what’s more, at the end of the lease term, RE-volv hands over the system to them, at no cost.

RE-volv is currently working with a number of community centers on project proposals. The first project will pay for three more of a similar cost and size in the 20-year lease period.

Planting a solar seed in the community

RE-volv is not content with just making projects happen. They also want to use those projects to help reverse misconceptions about solar. Karelas notes, “I tell people how great solar is, and how there are solar leases and PPAs that allow people to go solar and save money, and people say, ‘Wait a minute, if this is the case why isn’t everybody doing it?’”

Demonstration projects in communities can help show that solar is affordable and provide a way to educate community members. Events during fundraising and at installations will also help involve the community and get the message across.

This kind of outreach and education will help make it  easier to replicate the RE-volv model — and that’s an important goal. While there are other startups working on similar initiatives, Karelas is confident that RE-volv will succeed and doesn’t see these organizations as being in competition. Instead, he shares information with them in service of his larger mission: to show that solar works and pave the way to spread solar everywhere.

How you can get involved

You can contribute to RE-volv on their website, where you can also sign up for their mailing list. They also have volunteer opportunities, another great way to contribute.

This post is part 1 in a 3-part series on solar crowdfunding models in California and was originally published at Mosaic.

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Community power is springing up everywhere! There’s a huge amount of interest in it – in fact, as I noted almost a year ago, it’s really a movement, and one that keeps growing. This was in evidence at the recent San Francisco Bay Area Community Solar Confluence I organized, which was co-sponsored by the Solar Gardens Institute and the Local Clean Energy Alliance. It was part of a series of similar events this spring in Boston, New York, and Omaha.

A small part of the Confluence audience

The event drew in 80 people from diverse perspectives:

  • Members of community groups and neighborhood associations
  • Organizations that are funding community power
  • People working on policy to promote community power, or advocating for community power in other ways
  • Members of activist groups like 350.org
  • Government employees
  • Solar installers
  • And even individuals not associated with any organization, who were just interested in finding out more about community power

We also had a range of speakers from organizations promoting community power. Though the organizations have different approaches, they’re all working toward the same goal – and that’s to empower communities and help as many people as possible participate in renewable energy.

I’ve posted Confluence videos and presentations from these organizations on the Solar Gardens Institute Training page:

Evan Wynns, Andreas Karelas, Youness Scally

Learn more about policy:

The fact that we had to squeeze the talks and questions into not enough time attests to how much is happening with community power in the Bay Area, and how much interest there is. The Confluence gave us an overview of community solar in the area and introduced many of us to one another. Let’s continue the conversation!

Joy Hughes, Ted Ko, Eric Brooks, and Erica Mackie

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, get involved locally:

  • Join the Local Clean Energy Alliance for updates on what’s going on, including monthly meetings on community power issues. The LCEA welcomes volunteers in a variety of areas, so here’s your chance to keep networking and learning.

For more Confluence videos, see the Solar Gardens Institute Training page and YouTube channel.

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This post originally appeared on The Energy Collective.

You may or may not have noticed, but a grassroots movement in community power is picking up speed around the country. What’s community power, you may ask, and why does it matter?

The community power movement aims to decentralize electricity generation, which provides benefits to communities beyond local, clean, and more affordable energy — though those benefits would be enough. Take the case of solar power. Solar is getting cheaper, and given the costs of coal and nuclear plants, it will at some point become cheaper than other options. But who will benefit? Organizations promoting community power want to ensure that the answer to that is the people who need the power, rather than big companies outside their communities. In addition, keeping power production local creates jobs locally, avoids destroying delicate habitats, and bypasses the need for inefficient transmission lines, which can take many years to put in place.

Community power also helps address the challenges many of us face in going solar. If you’ve read about my quest for solar at my condo complex, you’ll have some insight into what this means for multi-family buildings. Condo dwellers aren’t the only ones facing significant hurdles; renters are at the mercy of their landlords. And many single-family homeowners can’t afford solar, even with rebates and incentives. In fact, fewer than 1% of U.S. homes currently have solar panels.

A big boost for single-family homes has been the increase in leasing options, such as those provided by Sungevity. This Oakland-based company is showing that solar is not just for the elite but can be within reach of any homeowner. Leases allow homeowners to go solar without putting any money down — thereby saving money right away, with savings increasing yearly.

But what’s a homeowner to do if their roof is not large enough, too shaded, or not positioned correctly for solar panels? Even a lease can’t help with those issues. Plus, leases are hard to come by for condos and are not an option for renters. That’s where community solar comes in.

Groups like these are springing up around the country to help address these challenges:

  • Solar Mosaic, based in Berkeley, uses crowdfunding to raise money for solar installations on schools, churches, all kinds of public buildings, or homes. Anyone can invest in a “Tile,” which represents a $100 share in a solar installation. The investor is paid back in full over a period of years (with no interest), and the money generated by the system is used to fund future solar projects.
  • Re-volv, a San Francisco nonprofit, uses a similar model to fund renewable energy projects in community centers. The organization aims to empower communities and individuals to invest collectively in renewable energy, creating what basically amounts to a revolving loan that helps fund more community solar projects.
  • The Colorado-based Solar Gardens Institute helps people pool resources as a group to buy panels in a “solar garden” — these can be on the roofs of public buildings such as churches, schools, or libraries, on parking lot awnings, or in other available spaces. Because laws in many areas prohibit anyone but a utility company from selling power, the organization advocates for legislation that promotes community-based energy development.
  • The Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative started as a group of friends and families that decided not to wait for the government or business to take action on global warming. Though it began as a small venture in a DC neighborhood, the larger goal is to make solar affordable and available throughout DC, where they’ve already formed other coops — all of which can serve as a model for the rest of the country.

We can all help promote the model of community power — after all, we are the community, so our involvement is crucial to the movement’s success. A good first step is to sign up for updates from the groups listed above and others like them, and ask how you can get involved. You can donate to organizations like Re-volv or ask them how they can help you fund solar projects in your community. Or you can invest in a Tile with Solar Mosaic, which is similar to lending through kiva.org — you might think of it as micro-investing rather than micro-lending. With all these options, and others sure to come, it’s easy to get involved and make a difference.

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