One of the biggest barriers to community-level renewable energy is access to capital. But increasingly we're seeing increased emphasis on crowdfunding efforts, from Dutch wind turbines to rooftop solar for housing complexes in the U.S. to flywheel energy storage.
Now the latest efforts to pool individual investors into backing a renewable energy effort -- solar energy on schools -- is entering its final days, and here's how you can be a part of it. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) is throwing its hat into the ring with an Indiegogo campaign to raise $54,000 to help some "to be determined" schools evaluate, purchase and install rooftop solar energy systems. "Solar Schools: Powering classrooms, empowering communities" (fair warning: video of cute kids imploring for your help) aims to offer an online platform to give community organizers some step-by-step directions specifically for putting solar on schools, walking them from site assessment and approvals to getting funding to the RFP process.
"We're essentially holding a bake sale on the Internet," sums up Jay Orfield, environmental innovation fellow in NRDC’s Center for Market Innovation.
The NRDC is seeking 3-5 pilot projects for schools that will demonstrate town ownership and involvement, "where enthusiasm is high and there's buy-in," he said. Contributors can vote for the cities they'd like to see get the money; so far the front-runners are Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Charlotte N.C. They're particularly looking more heavily at public schools, in areas where regulations and economics might favor solar; but they're also interested in areas where the economics aren't as favorable but a demo system could be modeled and scaled up to be replicated.
Most important is that there's demonstrated public support for it. "Key for us [is to] identify places where the PTA is strong, where they've already identified at least one teacher that can help champion this," Orfield said. "We really need people to take this on ... we need them to be active participants, [to] take up the banner and lead these projects, recruit volunteers."
Why should schools be going solar? Because energy savings can offset years of belt-tightening, which directly translates to educating kids. The NRDC invokes the sample of the Firebaugh-Las Deltas United School District in California, which saved $900,000 by adding solar energy to its buildings and thus was able to reinstate a music program for 2,300 students -- who also get a first-hand lesson in how solar energy works and the importance of science and technology.
The NRDC solar-for-schools crowdfunding campaign was launched October 15 and is a little more than halfway to its goal, but there's just a week left -- so if you're interested you'd better hurry. "Perks" for contributions range from a signed thank-you note from students to various clothing items to a solar charging kit.
Lead image: Girl hugging sun, via Shutterstock
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