A Year in Review

July 16, 2014
Let’s rewind to the summer of 2013. I had recently graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Master’s in Public Policy, specializing in Environmental Policy, Economic Policy, and International Security, and I was enthusiastic to start my career in the environmental sector and grow professionally. But where to begin? At first, it seemed like my only option was to become a policy researcher or analyst, and work my way up the ladder and hope to make an impact through policy. I was feeling rather disheartened, especially since I had just spent years learning about the immediate and global threat of climate change and I wanted to hit the ground running to do everything I can to help protect our environment.

Then I came across New Sector Alliance, an organization that provides fellowships to prepare emerging talent from across the nation for high-impact careers in the social sector - exactly what I was looking for! I applied and was accepted as a Resident in Social Enterprise, then packed my bags and flew across the country, and began my service for RE-volv in September. Throughout the year, I applied what I learned during my training with New Sector Alliance to support RE-volv’s growth and help build organizational capacity. Now as I reflect on my year of service, it’s remarkable to see how much I’ve learned and accomplished.

Working for a small start-up nonprofit presented a unique and exciting opportunity. I was able to gain substantial experience in a number of different areas - communications and marketing, strategic planning, web design, event management, crowdfunding, and more - and I was able to have a measurable impact on the growth of the organization. Helping RE-volv complete its second project, a 22 kW solar installation for the Kehilla Community Synagogue, was particularly rewarding; I helped manage our crowdfunding campaign that raised $56,070 from hundreds of donors across the country and around the world, and I even helped install solar panels on their roof! This past year has been undeniably valuable for my professional development, and it was just as valuable to be able to work closely with Andreas, the Founder and Executive Director of RE-volv, who is incredibly passionate and driven, and has empowered me to continue working in the renewable energy sector to maximize my impact.

To be honest, when I first joined RE-volv, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the energy sector; Energy Policy was a separate specialization at my college, and there wasn’t much overlap in my Environmental Policy coursework. I knew about the various renewable and nonrenewable energy sources available, their general advantages and disadvantages, and policy obstacles, but I didn’t know about the feed-in tariff mechanism, net metering, community choice aggregation, or a plethora of the other important policies, models, or programs that will shape our energy future - all of which I learned during my service at RE-volv. This made me realize how integral RE-volv’s solar education component is to the adoption of solar energy and our country’s transition to a clean energy powered society.

Most importantly, my time with RE-volv has renewed my passion and commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability, and expanded my perspective regarding effective solutions. Rather than focusing on policy-oriented action, I have a greater drive to help fuel the citizens’ movement through empowerment, education, and direct action.

Although I am leaving RE-volv, I feel as though I will always be a part of the RE-volv family, and I am thrilled to watch the Solar Seed Fund grow and help more communities go solar!

Students Stepping Up

July 9, 2014

As you may have heard, RE-volv just launched a new program to empower college students to take action on climate change. The Solar Ambassador program will train a cohort of students around the country to organize solar energy projects on their campuses and in their communities.

As outreach coordinator, my first job was to survey the scene. Having researched the existing sustainability programs on American college campuses, I’m excited to report that students are stepping up and driving campus sustainability projects and climate action campaigns nationwide.

Student-led sustainability efforts are nothing new. Try searching for “1970 campus recycling” in Google and the majority of your results tell stories of student-initiated programs. Look up the history of Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC): in 1988, a group of students from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill placed an ad in Greenpeace magazine inviting other students to join them in a fight to change the planet; the enthusiastic response from campuses nationwide motivated them to organize Threshold, America’s first national student environmental conference, in 1989. The latest wave of student leadership has simply taken things to the next level. They’re picking up the pace, diversifying their efforts, and commanding institutional support.

National Mobilization
I have to applaud Energy Action Coalition, the 30 youth-led social and environmental organizations working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement. In just under a decade, the coalition has hosted national four Power Shift summits, and coordinated on collaborative campaigns like the Campus Climate Challenge, Power Vote, and the campaign to stop Keystone XL. Another leader in the activism arena is Fossil Free. Since being called to action by 350.org, students have launched fossil fuel divestment campaigns at more than 300 colleges to date.

Campus Sustainability
I also have to highlight the range of student-led campus sustainability programs: student-grown and local food, tray-less dining, campus compost and recycling programs, bottled water elimination and reduction strategies, eco-houses, inter-residence hall energy-saving competitions, and bicycle shares. These are more than protests of policy; they’re practical, programmatic initiatives, requiring student participation on a daily basis, in the most mundane moments of campus life.
You can check out “Generation E: Students Leading for a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future,” a publication from NWF Campus Ecology’s Climate and Sustainability Series, for a more comprehensive report on how eco-representatives and other on-campus groups are providing education, incentives, and support for greener living on campuses nationwide.

Solar Innovations
College students have been producing solar race cars for the American Solar Challenge and solar houses for the EPA’s Solar Decathlons for over a decade, and so far in 2014 we’ve seen a number of intercollegiate competitions in which solar innovations took center stage. University of Colorado Boulder students developed a revolutionary solar toilet for the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge,” an effort to develop a next-generation toilet that can be used to disinfect liquid and solid waste while generating useful end products, and unveiled the project in India in March. In April, Cal Poly’s environmental engineering team took second place at an International Environmental Design Contest in April with its design of floating solar panels for a hypothetical copper mining operation in the southwestern U.S. In May, at another environmental design contest, a team of University of New Hampshire Seniors took top prize with a TiltOne power point tracking systemfor solar panels.

We actually got to meet some impressive student innovators from San Jose State University yesterday, at the Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco. Outside of the intercollegiate competition circuit, their interdisciplinary team has developed a model for an innovative solar-powered Automated Transit Network. They unveiled their “Spartan Superway” at the Maker Faire in May.
There’s no telling what our nation’s college students will come up with next, but it’s certainly exciting to speculate about what these innovations might mean for the world and, more directly, for the solar sector.

Solar on Campus
The AASHE website has information for on-campus solar PV dating back to a 20 kW installation at New Mexico State University in 1980. Their database shows 11 solar photovoltaic installations on college campuses at the end of 2000, and 59 by 2004. Fast forward to 2014: 552 solar photovoltaic installations on 326 campuses in 46 states and provinces, with a total capacity of 191,577 kilowatts and an average capacity of 352 kilowatts. From the 2002-2003 student organizing efforts of Greenpeace UC Go Solar (which culminated in a Green Building Policy and Clean Energy Standard and the founding of California Student Sustainability Coalition) to Yale’s Project Bright, students have been both activists for and contributors to this important work. 

As renewable energy sources, along with other sustainability initiatives, are recognized as competitive advantages for schools, what was once a fight is becoming more and more of an opportunity. Yale’s Project Bright exemplifies the potential of students taking an active role in on-campus solar: with a three-year loan from the Yale Office of Sustainability, a student-led group of trained students are installing panels themselves. Check out this Yale article from the Yale Daily News for more details.

Students at over 50 colleges have voted to increase their own annual or per-semester fees in order to fund clean renewable energy and energy efficiency measures. Some schools are maximizing the impact of these projects by establishing revolving loan funds. Two Macalester students wrote a how-to manual called Creating a Campus Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund: A Guide for Students, and had it published by American Association of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2007.

On deck: RE-volv Solar Ambassadors
Are you a college student? Do you want to grow the clean energy movement, accelerate your career, and organize solar projects either on campus or in your community? Check out our Solar Ambassador Program for the 2014-2015 academic year. Learn how to maximize your impact with RE-volv.

 

By Maggie Belshé

The World Cup, Solar, and Optimism for the Future

June 26, 2014

With billions of viewers, the World Cup is the most-watched sporting event in the world.

I always get excited at World Cup time, but this year I have more to be excited about than just the soccer.

When we turn on the television to see our favorite teams take the field, we’re greeted by more than the battle of soccer giants. The World Cup features digital billboards along the walls of the field to feature advertisements from its official sponsors. Here we see typical ads for credit cards, beer, fast food, soda, cars, and solar — wait, solar?

That’s right. This year’s World Cup is showcasing solar alongside the world’s biggest brands trying to catch our attention. Yingli Solar, a Chinese panel manufacturer, now has its brand reaching billions of viewers around the globe.

As it turns out, this is not Yingli’s first foiree into the soccer world. The company was also a World Cup sponsor in South Africa four years ago (see photo below). Research from MEC Global indicates that consumer awareness increased 30 percent after their first 2010 World Cup sponsorship. 18 percent of those surveyed said that Yingli was now their preferred brand for solar panels, and 11 percent expressed intentions to purchase products from the company. As part of their 2010 sponsorship, Yingli partnered with FIFA to build 20 solar-powered Football for Hope Centers across the African continent.

This time around, Yingli’s gone the extra mile so that “one of the biggest stars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil will certainly be the sun," according to their website. Yingli worked with Brazilian-based companies Light ESCO and EDF Consultoria to provide a combined more than 1 MW of solar panels to power Arena Pernambuco and Maracana Stadium. The impact of these installations goes beyond the event: when the stadiums are not in use, the clean solar energy will be delivered to the local grid through Brazil's net energy metering program.

I get excited when I see a highway billboard ad for a solar company. It shows that the industry is maturing and becoming more mainstream. Well, it doesn’t get more mainstream than being a major sponsor of the world’s most viewed sporting event. And it doesn’t take a fortune teller to see the future for solar: the writing is literally on the wall.





Written by Andreas Karelas and Maggie Belshè

Student on Staff

June 19, 2014

I’m a 90’s kid from the Bay Area. “Reduce, reuse, recycle” was right up there with “treat others the way you want to be treated” in my elementary education, and I grew up to be an up-cycling enthusiast, eco-product aficionado, all-organic kind of girl. Yet for a long time I was a solar skeptic. Not feeling scientifically or financially capable of any large contribution to the industry, I waited for the day when the proliferation of solar power became technologically and economically feasible. I assumed that when it happened, I’d know.

Fast forward to last week: the internet was overflowing with buzz about solar roadways (so cool!) but beyond that, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard news from the solar sector. When I scored an interview with RE-volv, I was astonished to discover how accessible rooftop solar had become. RE-volv uses crowd-funding to finance rooftop solar for community centers and nonprofits. With no upfront cost, the organizations RE-volv works with pay for the technology with interest over a 20-year lease. The lease agreement consistently saves them 15% on monthly electricity bills while generating enough revenue for RE-volv to fund 3-4 additional installations over the next twenty years.

RE-volv offers organizations a unique opportunity to help others by helping themselves. It’s called a revolving loan fund, and it means that when I contribute a hundred dollars to help a community organization switch to a clean energy source and save money on electricity, their lease payments magnify my donation to as much as four hundred dollars over the next twenty years.

Having just joined the RE-volv team, I’m eager to learn as much as I can about the movement I’m contributing to. I can understand why opponents of the latest EPA regulations are concerned that rules threaten the electric utilities industry, but check out this article on Bloomberg View: “Obama Isn’t Killing Power Plants, The Sun Is”!  The reality is that after countless years of electric utility companies essentially holding monopolies over the power they provide, an ever-increasing number of roof-top solar installations is challenging the system—with or without these regulations, providers are going to have to adapt. Change is scary, but we’re talking about institutional change versus climate change here. And we’re talking about an institutional change that creates jobs: Every $1,000,000 invested in coal creates 7 jobs—investing the same amount in natural gas creates only 5 jobs, but investing it in solar creates 14.

With so many ways to go solar, consumers are in a position to step up as power players and reshape the energy economy. Solar roadways may be a radical innovation with the potential to change the world, but rooftop solar is a mature, reliable technology bringing people clean energy and savings today.

Written by Maggie Belshé

Years of Living Dangerously

June 11, 2014

Along with 550 others hosts across the US, Julia Kim and Andreas Karelas hosted a 350.org watch party for the Years of Living Dangerously last month  in San Francisco. Kim and Karelas, who work at RE-volv wrote this review about the viewing party they hosted. (RE-volv is a nonprofit that empowers people to finance community-based solar energy projects by donating to a revolving fund. RE-volv raises awareness about solar energy through its community-based solar projects and outreach programs.)

30 friends and climate activists came to see the premiere of “Years of Living Dangerously,” the new series about climate change produced by James Cameron. Through captivating stories, the first episode scratched the surface of this global issue, demonstrating the breadth of climate change and its undeniable linkage to economic, political, and social disruption.

After the screening, we had a lively discussion with our event participants. The show evoked mixed reactions from our attendees. Some thought the stories glazed over important details, while others thought that it was a creative way of engaging the general public. What we came to realize was how incredibly valuable and necessary it is to have events like this, where climate activists get together in person to share their opinions and learn from one another.

Here are a few takeaways from our discussion:

Who is giving the message? The issue of climate change has become so politicized that it can often be divisive with a general audience. The show follows a story of a Christian climate scientist who is able to reach a crowd of climate skeptics since she shares the same religious beliefs and is from the same area as her audience. When people hear about climate change from someone who shares their worldview or comes from a similar background, it’s much more credible. To reach as many people as possible, the climate movement needs messengers that can relate with many different audiences.

What’s the message? Some attendees felt that that the show could have better demonstrated the severity of the climate crisis. This prompted an interesting conversation. To those of us who understand climate change, messages that speak to the urgency of the situation may motivate us to action. But for many who are skeptical, fear-based messaging does not have the intended reaction. Instead, it pushes the two camps further apart. Reaching a certain audience ultimately comes down to crafting a message that resonates with their values. In our opinion, the show made a good attempt to touch on a variety of values by sharing stories regarding economic security, climate induced conflict, and habitat destruction.

Focus on Solutions. The biggest criticism from the group was that the show focused on problems without providing solutions. Since it was only the first episode, we hope that solutions will be a large part of the remainder of the series. But this is an important reminder for the movement; we have to provide people with opportunities to take action. Otherwise, if the solutions are out of our hands, we’re left feeling disempowered by the scale of the problem. Thankfully, opportunities for people to directly affect change exist, such as 350.org’s divestment campaign or crowdfunding local solar projects through RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund.

Originally posted on 350.org

How to Go Solar If You Can't Put Panels on Your Roof

May 14, 2014

An acquaintance recently told me about her experience investigating solar for her home. A solar company told her that in order to go solar, she would have to cut down the trees that shade her house -- an unfortunate trade off. If your house is shaded, your roof is facing the wrong direction, or you’re a renter, you join the many Americans that can’t go solar at home.

What to do?

Thankfully, depending on where you live and your motivations are, there are lots of ways you can support the solar energy transition underway.

Donate to a Revolving Fund for Solar Energy
Revolving loan funds are not a new concept, but applying them to solar is. RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has pioneered a model that allows people to donate to its revolving Solar Seed Fund that finances solar projects for community-serving nonprofits and cooperatives. The idea is simple: Each community saves money on its electric bill while paying back the cost of its solar array -- with interest -- over time. RE-volv reinvests the payments from one project into the next three or more. If you live in Portland, you can also support the City of Portland’s solar revolving fund program called Solar Forward.

Donate Solar to a Community Center of Your Choice
If a nonprofit is interested in going solar mainly to decrease its electricity costs over the long run, their best bet is to buy a system outright. Of course nonprofits are often cash-strapped and already rely on donations from supporters for their ongoing work. Everybody Solar is a nonprofit working to help other nonprofits raise the money they need to purchase their solar energy system and save money for years to come.

Invest Your Money in Solar
A very exciting development for solar is the wave of organizations allowing people to invest money in solar energy projects and get it back, sometimes with a return. Groups in this space include MosaicSunFunderCollectiveSun,VillagePowerWiser Capital, and a few others. Even SolarCity is now getting into the space. While most of these are for-profit companies, there is also a cooperative working to offer its members a return -- the Energy Solidarity Cooperative.

Subscribe to a Local Solar Project
“Solar gardens,” or shared solar projects, allow people to subscribe to a solar energy project somewhere in or nearby their community. The energy produced by the solar array then gets credited to your electricity bill. The concept is gaining traction and programs are being developed in a number of states including Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and California. The Solar Gardens Institute andClean Energy Collective are two of the groups working in this space. California recently passed a law, SB 43, that will allow utility customers to sign up for shared solar projects, but the details aren’t all worked out yet, so stay tuned.

Community Choice
In California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Ohio, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, there is a policy in place calledCommunity Choice Aggregation (CCA). Community Choice allows a city or county to set up an agency that’s in charge of buying electricity for the community. The utility still delivers the power, but through a CCA program, the community gets to pick what type of energy it wants to buy -- a great way to support clean, renewable energy. The real promise of CCAs is that the revenues from the sale of electricity stay within the community and can be deployed to build local clean power, creating cost savings for customers and local jobs. For more information on exciting CCA work happening in California, check out the Local Clean Energy Alliance.

Start Your Own Community Solar Project!
In addition to all these great organizations that make it easy for you to join the rooftop revolution, there’s always the option of setting up your own community solar project. University Park Solar did this in Maryland by forming an LLC to allow community investors to finance a local solar project. In addition, you can do what the Mt. Pleasant Solar Cooperative did. This group of neighbors in Washington D.C. organized a group purchase of solar to get a big discount. For more resources on do-it-yourself community solar, visit the Community Power Network.

Haven’t Explored Solar at Home yet?
While these are all fabulous initiatives, there are still plenty of solar-ready homes out there and yours could be one of them! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you could save money on your electric bill and protect the environment by going solar with one of the many solar leasing companies. Sungevity, a residential solar leasing company, will even donate $750 to RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund, and give you a $750 discount, if you sign up through this link: sungevity.org/re-volv. That way, you can go solar and help the community!

When it comes to climate change, we don’t have much time to switch from a fossil fuel-based society to a clean, renewable energy-powered society. In addition to fighting the dirty energy systems in place, we have to rapidly build the clean energy infrastructure we need, and that takes a movement. When I look at all the work going on around the country to build renewable energy in our communities, I see that movement taking shape and it gives me great joy.

If you’re not inspired yet, check out this video of RE-volv’s latest people-powered community solar project:

By Andreas Karelas
Originally posted on Shareable

Crowdfunding Solar with a Twist - A Revolving Fund to Serve Communities

April 21, 2014

According to Bloomberg News last week, crowdfunding solar could become a $5 billion investment vehicle in the next 5 years. This exciting development will connect people who want to invest their money responsibly with solar projects that need financing. SolarCity, the biggest U.S. solar power provider by market value, is getting into the space presumably to finance their residential and large commercial project arms.

However, some projects that are harder to finance might not benefit from this development. Small nonprofits and cooperatives are often underserved by solar financiers since they have a harder time taking advantage of solar tax credits, may not have qualifying credit ratings, and pose high transaction costs.

Fortunately, the power of crowdfunding is also being used to provide solar financing to these outlying organizations. RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has developed a new way to crowdfund solar for community-serving organizations. RE-volv has pioneered a revolving fund to finance solar energy projects for nonprofit and cooperative community centers.

RE-volv's model is simple. Money is raised through donations to seed a revolving fund that recycles the investment from one project to the next. Through a 20-year solar lease, community centers save money on their electricity bill while paying back the upfront costs and a small amount of interest to RE-volv. The lease payments are then reinvested into solar projects for other community centers, allowing the revolving fund to grow perpetually.

Last week, RE-volv received interconnection approval to turn on its latest project - a 22-kW installation at the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. With energy savings from solar power, Kehilla can devote more resources to better serve the community.

Community-based solar projects do more than just save the community money; they raise awareness about the benefits of solar. When people see their local community center go solar, it can change their perception of the technology and its viability.

This is an exciting moment for solar energy. As costs drop and innovative financing models like crowdfunding are implemented, solar will be deployed rapidly around the country. Let’s make sure that our vital community centers are able to take part in this transformation.

By Andreas Karelas

Now you can get solar panels at Best Buy

April 1, 2014

There was an era when putting solar panels on your roof was a time- and money-sucking hassle on par with remodeling your kitchen. But the cost of going solar has been dropping fast. The latest signal of the industry’s move into the mainstream came last week, when Oakland, Calif.-based SolarCity announced it would begin to sell solar systems out of Best Buy, alongside big-screen TVs and digital cameras.

“There are a lot of people out there with unshaded roofs, paying high electricity bills, who just don’t know this is an option for them,” said Jonathan Bass, SolarCity’s vice president of communications. The move into Best Buy “gives us a chance to have that conversation with more people.”

The company is the biggest installer in the country’s biggest solar market, California, a state that earlier this month broke its all-time solar power production record twice on two consecutive days, churning out enough electricity from solar panels to power roughly 3 million homes. Just since last summer, California’s solar production has doubled, according to the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electric grid. There’s a lot more growth where that came from, Bass said.

At 60 Best Buys in the solar-heavy states of Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York, and Oregon, customers can sign up to have SolarCity equip their house with solar panels free of charge. SolarCity retains ownership of the panels; it sells homeowners the power they produce at a rate the company says is roughly 10 to 15 percent lower than the standard utility rate. Homeowners get cheaper, cleaner power, while the company makes money on the energy sales; excess power gets sold back into the grid. It’s a business model SolarCity has already used successfully at Home Depot, but Bass said it’s only recently that costs have gone down enough for the company to try to take a bigger bite out of what it sees as a market of millions of homes nationwide. (Only about 400,000 U.S. homes have rooftop solar today).

Since 2010, the cost of a solar system for a typical mid-sized home in California has dropped by a third, from close to $30,000 to around $19,000 today, based on data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance and SolarCity, as the chart below shows. That makes it easier for companies like SolarCity to gather the up-front capital needed to invest in solar systems, and thereby allows them to offer the electricity at a competitive rate. SolarCity’s move into Best Buy is “a big deal,” said BNEF solar analyst Stefan Linder, because it signals a shift in how solar companies are able to pitch their panels to potential buyers.

“It used to be that you considered solar as a capital project,” like a major home renovation, Linder said. “But distributed energy companies have gotten good at marketing it as a consumer good” like any other piece of electronics.

Thanks to engineering and manufacturing advances, the biggest savings have come from declines in so-called “hard” costs: The panels themselves and the hardware used to mount them and send their power into the grid. Progress has been slower on ancillary “soft” costs: The cost of municipal building permits, for example, and installation labor. In 2010, the total cost of a solar system was about evenly split between soft and hard costs. Now, soft costs are the main expense, making up about 65 percent of the total. That’s in part because installers work under a complex patchwork of different state and city building laws, and also because in most cases the various steps in getting a solar system up and running — panel sales, installation, maintenance, financing, etc. — are handled by different companies.

In other words, the biggest roadblock to getting more solar on U.S. rooftops has little to do with technology, and more to do with regulations and business operations.

“Right now, it’s all about reducing soft costs,” Linder said.

SolarCity’s approach to that problem has been to gradually take over the full range of required services (“vertical integration,” to use the Economics 101 jargon), the same way Apple owns or directly manages everything from parts production to iPhone maintenance.

“Doing so enables us to drive out costs from that process,” said Tim Newell, SolarCity’s VP of financial products.

The need for the company to trim costs was highlighted on Tuesday, when the value of SolarCity shares dipped 1.4 percent after an announcement that losses for the current quarter would be deeper than expected.

Newell said the company is also preparing to offer a new product: Direct investment in solar projects. Until now, SolarCity has paid its up-front costs with money from some 40 big-time investors, including Goldman Sachs, Google, and Bank of America. That method has raised roughly $3 billion for 90,000 projects, but the company aims to grow its customer base to at least 1 million by 2018, Newell said.

“So you get a sense of the appetite for capital we’ll have,” he said.

By mid-year, individuals who are keen to hop on the solar bandwagon but can’t get panels themselves (if they live in a rented apartment or their roof is covered by trees, for example) will be able to invest in a fund that pays for the panels on other peoples’ roofs. Then they’ll receive a share of the profits from the electricity sales. With more investment up front, the systems can be even more cost-competitive, attracting more customers, and pushing solar even more into the mainstream.

Originally posted on Climate Desk by Tim McDonnell

Fostering Community Power: A New Pay It Forward Model for Solar

March 24, 2014

People can now help build solar energy projects in a brand new way. RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, has developed a revolving fund to finance solar projects for community centers that raises up-front costs by crowdfunding donations.

RE-volv just finished its second solar energy project, a 22-kW installation at the Kehilla Community Synagogue in Oakland. Its first project, completed in June, was a 10-kW system at the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. RE-volv works with community-serving nonprofits and cooperatives.

We’ve seen a number of crowdfunding solar models arise in the last three years, which is a great development for the industry. It gives people the ability to put their dollars directly into driving solar energy at the community level, either to earn a return or as a donation.

RE-volv is the first initiative to start a revolving fund to finance solar energy projects for community centers here in the U.S. The idea is pretty simple. Community centers save money on their electricity bill while paying back the upfront costs and a small amount of interest over time through a 20-year solar lease. The lease payments are reinvested into additional solar projects, allowing the revolving fund to grow perpetually.

The potential of the fund is massive. Once approximately 100 systems are installed, the revolving fund will reinvest the collective lease payments to build a new system each month. Each new system brings in more lease revenues, allowing the fund to grow at an ever accelerating rate.

The idea is that if we can empower people to support solar through crowdfunding, and we can educate members of the communities we serve about its benefits, we can raise awareness across the country and hopefully change the tone of the national conversation around solar energy.

Historians will look back at this decade as the moment when solar became mainstream. The economics are here. Now we have to give people the tools to drive it on their own, allow them to benefit from it directly, and show them what it looks like right in their neighborhood.

- Andreas Karelas

Distributed Bananas: A Better Way to Go

March 17, 2014

Guest post by Woody Hastings

In the debate over centralized vs. distributed energy systems, we can perhaps learn something about which one might be better for society from behavioral studies of our chimpanzee cousins.

In her book “The Egalitarians - Human and Chimpanzee: An Anthropological View of Social Organization,” Margaret Power challenges the view, based largely on observation of artificially fed chimpanzees, that the normal social behavior of chimpanzees is aggressive, dominance seeking, and fiercely territorial. All reports from natural field studies are that in the wild, chimpanzees live peacefully in non-aggressive, non-hierarchical groups.

The difference between the two is that artificially fed chimpanzees receive food only at specific times and of a limited quantity. Chimpanzees foraging in the forest receive food over greatly attenuated time periods and, when the forest ecosystem is in balance, there is no clear limit in quantity of available food. In a word, the food in the natural setting is distributed, while the food in the artificial setting is centralized.

This situation and the resulting social disorder directly mirror the situation in the human world with distributed versus centralized energy. We humans recognize limited quantities of energy all in one place in the ground (e.g., oil, coal), and powerful members of society seek to aggressively control the resources, seek dominance over the people and territory where the energy is located, and ultimately, fight wars over it.

Technology is opening up new possibilities for a more sustainable and equitable energy future, but technology by itself will not bring about changes for the better. What matters just as much is how society organizes itself to take advantage of the new technologies with institutions like Sonoma Clean Power that will enable us to get the maximum technical and social benefit out of the technology.

As technology and the right kinds of institutions enable the harvesting and sharing of free energy from the sky from just about anywhere on Earth (e.g., solar, wind), the dynamic of a peaceful and egalitarian energy destiny is upon us.

Now, have a banana. And – no fighting!

Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge

January 7, 2014

Start off the New Year right- by supporting clean energy!

It’s that time of year again when we look at our lives and think about what we really care about. Many of us will set resolutions to make personal improvements like exercising more, eating healthier, or having a better work-life balance. What if in 2014 you decided to take a few moments to help create a more sustainable world? How about instead of cutting out junk food we cut our carbon footprint?

The Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge

In order to speed the transition to a clean energy powered society we have to do more than just put up solar panels. We have to engage with each other to build a growing network of renewable energy supporters that will work for clean energy in our communities around the country.

Today we're launching the "Biggest Carbon Loser Challenge" for individuals across the United States to see who can prevent the most carbon emissions by getting their friends to support our current indiegogo campaign for local solar energy!

The challenge is to see who can get the most friends to donate and who can raise the most money for solar!

For every $10 donation you bring in, we’ll be able to replace grid electricity, that would have produced 3lbs. of carbon dioxide each year, with clean solar energy.

We have two winners for this contest.

The Biggest Carbon Loser: This person will prevent the most carbon emissions by raising the most money for the campaign.

The Biggest Movement Builder: This person will encourage the most people to contribute to the campaign.

Find out how to participate in the challenge at www.solarseedfund.org.

 

RE-volv Launches Second Crowdfunding Campaign

December 13, 2013

RE-volv launched its second crowdfunding campaign last week on Giving Tuesday and has had a strong start. The campaign already raised over 20% of our $65,000 goal, thanks to over 100 donors and supporters of renewable energy. The campaign charged out of the gate, gaining broad support and raising over $10,000 on the first day, and getting featured in 350.org, East Bay Express, Renewable Energy World, PV Solar Report, The Community Power Report, and Wind Plus Solar Energy.

We are excited to serve as a tool for climate change activists and community members to make a difference. Through our revolving model, a small act of donating money can make a large impact on spreading clean renewable energy, supporting community centers, and moving towards energy independence. Our current campaign will finance the installation of a 26 kW solar array atop Kehilla Community Synagogue’s roof, and by paying your donation forward through our revolving fund, we will be able to bring solar to 3 additional community centers in the future!

In the words of our Executive Director, Andreas Karelas, “This is an exciting moment. We can do something, right now, as a community that will make a real difference.” We want to thank all of our donors and partners, particularly the supporting organizations of our campaign: ACORE, California Interfaith Power & Light, Local Clean Energy Alliance, Sierra Club, Toyota Together Green by Audubon, and The Wigg Party. Together we are investing in a brighter, cleaner future for our communities.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our live campaign on Indiegogo, you definitely don’t want to miss out! Find our campaign at www.solarseedfund.org and donate now to join the movement!

Photo: Kehilla members at a community gathering.

300 People Come Together To Build Local Solar Project

November 21, 2013

RE-volv is pleased to announce the completion of its first solar project, made entirely possible by individuals who care about renewable energy and climate change, and seek to positively impact the environment with their dollar.

300 people from 26 states and 5 countries came together and donated to make our first solar installation possible. (Check out a video of the install above!) Thanks to our supporters, the nonprofit Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, CA is now entirely powered by the sun! The 10kW project will not only save the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center thousands on their electrical bill, but their lease payments will be reinvested to finance four additional solar energy projects.

The idea behind RE-volv is simple: Let’s all get together, chip in a few bucks, and create a society powered by renewable energy. RE-volv, a nonprofit organization, finances local community-based solar projects through the Solar Seed Fund—a revolving fund for solar projects that raises money through crowdfunding.

We are fueled by the dedication of the local communities we serve and the global community alike, to accelerate the renewable energy movement. As we move forward onto our second project (to be announced in the coming weeks), we invite you to join the movement! Connect with us on facebook and learn more about our efforts at www.re-volv.org.