Non-profit crowdfunds solar projects for U.S. community groups

By Jenny Tan

March 24, 2016

A non-profit in the U.S. has come up with an innovative funding model to finance solar energy projects for community organizations.

The non-profit RE-volv is crowdfunding donations to help other non-profits and cooperatives without access to financing to pay the upfront costs of solar installations. Last week, it launched a new crowdfunding campaign for three new solar projects.

The organizations will sign a 20-year lease with RE-volv, which pays for the panels, and save 15 per cent or more on their power bills, according to RE-volv. The payments from those organizations help RE-volv invest in more projects, creating a self-sustaining fund. At the end of the 20-year lease, ownership of the solar panels is transferred to the organizations.

“Having completed three successful campaigns, we see that this model is replicable and poised to grow rapidly,” Andreas Karelas, executive director of RE-volv, said in a statement last year.

Each 20-year lease with monthly fees is expected to eventually generate enough funds for three more projects. Detailed financial information, however, is not published on the RE-volv site.

RE-volv raised over $121,000 on Indiegogo for its first three community-based solar projects, which totalled 68 kilowatts of solar capacity. The group signed their first lease agreement with a dance centre in 2003.  Since then, RE-volv has signed leases with a synagogue and a grocery store in the San Francisco Bay Area. The organization is now crowdfunding donations for three more projects.

Crowdfunding is gaining popularity as a means of funding renewable energy projects. Other crowdfunding ventures include Mosaic, an American organization that helps individual investors earn interest on solar projects. The People’s Solar, an Australian crowdfunding platform specifically for solar projects, raised over $20,000 in the past three months. Windcentrale in the Netherlands raised €1.3 million in 13 hours for a wind project when it launched in 2013.

Canada has had at least one crowdfunding venture for solar projects. Last month, an Indiegogo campaign ended 25 per cent short of its $50,000 goal for an Albertan community solar farm. Larger community-based funds for renewable energy projects exist, but not throughout the country. SolarShare, a co-operative based in Ontario, allows residents to purchase shares in commercial-scale solar projects. The group has raised over $5 million and members receive a guaranteed five per cent annual return.




Photo Credit: Karen Maraj