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 two of a 3-part series profiling startups that are finding new ways to crowdfund solar projects, paving the way to bring solar to all. You can read part one here.
Empowering the 75% through nonprofits
Youness Scally founded Everybody Solar in 2011. Its mission is to help nonprofits go solar, benefiting not only the environment but also the nonprofit’s budget. By reducing its power bills, a nonprofit can focus resources on programs instead of operating costs. And that helps the community the nonprofit serves. Everybody Solar focuses on local nonprofits that work to help the people with the greatest need in the community or who are doing environmental work. Scally’s motivation to start his own organization arose from frustration with the political process: “You hear a lot of doom and gloom about the environment, and I wanted to do something about it. A lot of organizations are doing environmental work, but much of it is focused on policy. For me, and for many people, it’s important to have a tangible effect.”
Nonprofits are part of the 75% in that it can be especially challenging for them to go solar. Not only are their funds generally limited, but they aren’t able to take advantage of tax incentives. So solar might not be financially feasible for them without some extra help. That’s where Everybody Solar comes in.
Everybody Solar is partnering with a nonprofit solar installer, SunWork, which can get good deals on panels in part because of its nonprofit status. In selecting panels, SunWork considers factors like their environmental impact and how the manufacturers treat their employees. SunWork also provides volunteer training, another way to involve and benefit the community.
For their pilot project, Everybody Solar is putting a solar PV system on the Rebuilding Together Peninsula (RTP) headquarters in Redwood City, CA. Rebuilding Together will pitch in a small percentage of the cost of the system, and Everybody Solar will provide the rest. Scally looked at leases and power purchase agreements, but for this project it turned out to be cheaper to partner with SunWork and let RTP own the system.
In fact, since the first quote for this project in July 2012, the price of solar has declined further, making the project even more feasible. And the payback period for RTP will be under two years. The 13.5 KW system is expected to save RTP about $3,500 a year, which will be freed up for their work: rehabilitating low-income homes and community centers, which includes energy-efficiency upgrades – yet another environmental benefit.
Empowering communities through a multiplier effect
The pilot project is on the small side, but Scally expects it will lead to larger projects. As new models emerge for solar financing and crowdfunding, they generally need to be tried out on a small scale before more widespread adoption. Once people see that a certain kind of project works, it’s easier to get more of those projects going. And like many pioneers in this area, Scally would like to create a model that other communities can replicate. His cooperative spirit can be seen in the way he shares information and ideas with other startups. The goal here is not to kill the competition, but to spread solar.
Everybody Solar’s crowdfunding model also involves community members, giving those in the 75% a chance to participate in spreading solar. While donations are solicited online and can come from anywhere, much of the fundraising outreach is focused in the community – the people who can see the project and feel its impact more directly. Community members can even volunteer on the install.
For now, Everybody Solar is focusing on projects in California. Scally envisions eventually expanding to the rest of the country and doing demonstration projects in areas that have fewer options for solar: “If you do a solar project in South Carolina, it might have even more of an impact because people there don’t get to see the benefits of solar as much as in California.”
Solar in general gives a lot of bang for the buck. Besides protecting the environment, it can also provide benefits in areas like jobs, public health, foreign policy, and even national security. Everybody Solar takes this a step further. Their model has a multiplier effect in helping nonprofits lower expenses – which lets those organizations put more resources into pursuing their mission.
This article was first published on Mosaic's blog.
Photos courtesy of Solar Mosaic and flickr user tamaki.