“Grass roots” support for solar energy continues to spring up around the U.S., in no small part with the support of federal clean energy programs, such as the Dept. of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Solar in Your Community Challenge.
A nationwide public-private sector partnership, the Obama administration launched the SunShot Initiative back in 2011 with the aim of making solar power affordable and accessible to all Americans by 2020. Just five years in, the solar industry was 70% of the way towards realizing its primary goal of making solar energy cost-competitive with conventional power generation fuels without subsidies.
Zooming in on making solar energy more affordable and accessible to those with low incomes, President Barack Obama launched the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative last July.
Solar in Your Community
Coupled with sharp declines in the installed cost of both solar photovoltaic (PV) energy and smart, stationary battery storage systems, the sharp rise of interest and investment in community solar projects and programs around the nation drew White House and broad-based national attention to the question of how best to expand access to solar power to city residents, renters, rural communities and low-income households.
The DOE, SunShot Initiative and the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute followed through in a bid to resolve these issues last November by launching the Solar in Your Community Challenge. The nationwide, $5 million competition aims to spur “innovative and replicable community-based solar business models and programs that will bring solar to underserved communities.”
San Francisco, Calif.-based community solar crowdfunding non-profit RE-volv on March 8 announced it had won admission to the competition and had been awarded an initial seed grant of $60,000 to install 100kW of solar power capacity for 10 non-profits nationwide by October 2018. The Solar in Your Community grant funds will be distributed to RE-volv in increments based on achievement of specified milestones.
The seed grant is the first step on a path that leads to $1 million in final round prizes, including a $100,000 grand prize “for success in demonstrating a replicable and scalable model for low income solar,” RE-volv highlights.
A Crowdfunded Revolving Fund for Community Solar Projects
The San Francisco-based nonprofit employs a business, or operating, model that’s novel, if not unique in several respects. That includes recruiting and training staff from colleges, universities and among longstanding local, non-profit community organizations to originate, develop and carry out solar PV projects.
Furthermore, proceeds from RE-volv’s “Solarize” campaigns are reinvested in an innovative revolving fund dedicated to investing in similar projects in the RE-volv’s community non-profit solar project pipeline.
RE-volv has crowdfunded over $200,000 worth of solar PV system installations for six community organizations to date. Cumulatively, they’re serving affordable, emissions-free electricity to 9,700 community members in California, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the non-profit. Additionally, some 10,000 people, including 80 college “fellows” have participated in RE-volv’s solar energy educational programs, which include its community-based Solar Ambassadors Program.
RE-volv has 10 more community solar projects in four additional states in the works for 2017.
“The Department of Energy is truly serving our local communities through this program, by making sure that the benefits of solar can reach everyone, including nonprofit organizations, like the ones RE-volv works with,” RE-volv executive director Andreas Karelas said.
“As RE-volv expands its nonprofit solar projects into more communities around the country, having this support from the Department of Energy gives us a tremendous amount of credibility.”