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Published on March 21st, 2016 | by Tina Casey


Rooftop Solar Seed Fund For Non-Profits Takes Off In US

March 21st, 2016 by  

More than 1.5 million non-profit organizations and 30,000 co-ops in the US could be saving big bucks with rooftop solar, but they don’t have access to the kinds of financing and tax benefits enjoyed by residential and commercial properties. To help change that, a non-profit called RE-volv has developed a unique financing approach, and last week it launched a new crowdfunding platform that will bring rooftop solar to the first three of what is anticipated to be an avalanche of solar installations.

rooftop solar funding

The RE-volv Rooftop Solar Funding Concept

CleanTechnica has been following RE-volv’s creative approach to rooftop solar financing since 2013, and so has the US Energy Department. Last year, the organization won a Business Innovation award from the agency’s SunShot Catalyst incubator, which provided it with $25,000 in funding, along with technical support to develop a first-of-its kind crowdfunding and revolving loan platform to help community organizations get clean power.

The platform is now ready to go with rooftop solar funding campaigns for the Riverwest Co-op & Grocery in Milwaukee, Isla Vista Food Cooperative in Santa Barbara, and the community center Serenity House in Philadelphia.

The idea behind the platform is so simple it hurts. The three new RE-volv rooftop solar projects will recruit nearby college students to raise money for the new Solar Seed Fund, which carries the up-front cost of the installations. Through that mechanism, the installation gets a tax break — but it goes to the donors instead of to the solar recipients.

What the solar recipients do get is a 20-year lease agreement that provides them with a break on their electricity bills, as is typical of any power purchase agreement. RE-volv estimates that the savings can top 15 percent or more.

All together, the three new Solar Seed Fund clients are expected to save about $217,000 over the lease period.

With the money saved on electricity bills, each new solar owner can then help pay into the Solar Seed Fund, and RE-volv chips in most of the lease payments as well.

As for recruiting students to take on the volunteer work, RE-volv already has that figured out:

The students [from Swarthmore, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and University of California-Santa Barbara] are members of RE-volv’s Solar Ambassador college fellowship program. The program educates college students about solar energy and teaches them to run a successful solar crowdfunding campaign in their local community.

The Solar Seed Fund also partners with other organizations to raise funds. For example, the new round of funding is being supported with matching donations by the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, and you can visit RE-volv now to double your money.

RE-volv has already tested out its solar platform on three previous projects in the receptive environment of the San Francisco Bay area, and now it’s ready to go national.

Big Solar Bucks For Low Income Properties: Thanks Obama!

RE-volv is just the tip of the low income solar iceberg, by the way. The organization is one of many partners in the Obama Administration’s National Community Solar Partnership, which launched in July 2015 to tackle the very conundrum that RE-volv set its sights upon:

The Partnership’s mission is to leverage the momentum in the public and private sector to expand solar access to new markets (demographic and geographic) and convene relevant stakeholders to assess market barriers and catalyze deployment in low and moderate income (LMI) communities.

The Energy Department leads the effort, and as demonstrated by RE-volv, the agency has deployed its Catalyst initiative to kickstart new solutions to the problem of cracking open barriers to solar installations.

In addition to bringing solar to low income and non-profit properties, the Community Solar Partnership casts a wide solar net over the estimated 50 percent of consumers and businesses that can’t host solar installations on their own properties.

A main obstacle is that many buildings are occupied by renters. Others don’t have sufficient roof space, or they have too much shade.

One solution is shared community solar, and according to the Energy Department that market is huge:

Shared solar…could represent 32%–49% of the distributed PV market in 2020. This could lead to cumulative PV deployment growth of 5.5–11.0 GW by 2020, representing $8.2–$16.3 billion of investment.

Community solar projects could also help fill in for the jobs that are being killed off as the US fossil fuel sector contracts, so keep an eye on that.

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Image (cropped): via US Department of Energy. 
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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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