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How to Cook up a Community Solar Project

What does it take to cook up a community solar project? A dash of crowdfunding, a pinch of grassroots outreach, and a generous helping of persistence.

That’s the word from San Francisco nonprofits RE-volv and Everybody Solar, who have shown with their first projects that they have viable recipes for crowdfunded solar installations. Founders Andreas Karelas and Youness Scally joined me in this video to talk about their successful launches.

Impacts of first projects

Everybody Solar concentrates on bringing solar to nonprofits. Since the nonprofits then save on their power bills, they can put more money toward their mission. That’s exemplified in their first project, which will help Rebuilding Together Peninsula put more resources into the communities it serves. With the money they save, they can repair about five more homes a year for people in need. 

  Volunteers installing solar panels for Rebuilding Together Peninsula

 

Nonprofit

crowd-

funder

Project

System size

Annual energy production

Annual CO2 emissions avoided

Annual electric bill savings

RE-volv

Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

10 kW (40 panels)

14,000 kWh

7,070 lbs

30%

Everybody Solar

Rebuilding Together Peninsula

21.6 kW (90 panels)

33,500 kWh

16,400 lbs

$6,000

RE-volv works with both nonprofits and cooperatives that serve their communities. They aim to spread the good word about solar through the communities where they build their projects. With the lease payments from their first project reinvested through their revolving fund, RE-volv can finance an additional four solar energy projects of a similar size during the course of the 20-year lease. And those four projects can each finance four more — so this model has the potential to grow exponentially.

       Solar panels on the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

 

Beyond first projects

While these first projects provide benefits to their communities beyond just the savings to a couple nonprofits, their significance is far greater. They provide a proof of concept and a springboard for much more, opening the door for both RE-volv and Everybody Solar to scale up and increase their impact. And they can serve as an example and a blueprint for other organizations around the country.

They also reflect a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo when it comes to solar power. Anyone trying to start solar projects knows how frustrating that endeavor can be in the face of weak policies and reluctant financial institutions. Crowdfunding is gaining prominence as a reaction to these realities. It’s putting the power to make change back into the hands of the people.

 

How you can get involved

You can be one of those people! The barrier to entry is low, since you can donate any amount to these nonprofits — either at RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund or through Everybody Solar. You don’t have to be in California, or even the United States, to donate. This opportunity is available to people everywhere.

These organizations were created by regular people who wanted to overcome the obstacles to spreading solar and make clean energy projects happen. They’ve shown they can cook up these projects, with a solid recipe that includes the help of many other regular people. They’re at the forefront of a crowdfunding revolution — one that we can all be part of.

 

Learn More: 

For more info on solar crowdfunding in California, see our series: part 1: Re-volv, part 2: Everybody Solar, part 3: San Francisco Energy Cooperative.

Rosana Francescato combines her passions for solar power and community as a community solar advocate. This began with her quest to install solar on her San Francisco condo complex and had evolved into blogging and solar analysis. She’s a member of the Local Clean Energy Alliance steering committee and has hands-on experience installing solar with GRID Alternatives, where she’s been the top individual fundraiser three 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.

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