Power in numbers
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. This is part one of a 3-part series profiling startups that are finding new ways to crowdfund solar projects, paving the way to bring solar to all.
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 use 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. As a nonprofit, they can invest their lease earnings in the next project, so the fund for their projects can keep growing.
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. 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.”