When innovators come up with the idea for the next great technological breakthrough, the first roadblocks to seeing that idea to fruition are typically funding. Among renewable energy inventions, this need is typically filled through wealthy private investors, venture capital firms, or government grants. But today, in the age of the Internet, budding entrepreneurs have taken their funding needs online through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Perusing these websites, you’ll find a host of renewable energy projects seeking funding, some successfully reaching those goals and others failing. As a part of a new article series highlighting active renewable energy projects on crowdfunding sites (to demonstrate what’s on the market today and find products that might be of interest to those in the energy field), I decided to start with a look back at some of the most compelling projects successfully crowdfunded. In this way, I could determine what has made these projects successful, reach out to the people behind them to gather insight into the process, and determine what brought them to crowdfunding instead of more traditional fundraising methods.
This first article will look at the most interesting successfully funded renewable energy projects but stay tuned for the coming article that will highlight the most intriguing projects that ultimately did not reach their goals. After that, we’ll start updating on currently active projects.
1. The GEN- Produce Renewable Energy for Your Home
This project received funding from 125 backers and exceeded the $60,000 goal to fund the innovative “world’s first patent pending solar and wind renewable energy generator” for residential energy generation.
Promising a 3-year paybpack period and 17 subsequent years of free energy, this project sought to expand rooftop energy generation from your typical solar photovoltaic system to one that includes wind, thus increasing total capacity and providing additional energy even when the sun isn’t shining.
2. Clean Energy Empire- The Card Game
This card game is one of the more creative renewable energy projects I came across, using the tabletop game craze to promote energy literacy and education, getting people (middle-school aged and up) to consider the consequences of different energy sources in an engaging way.
The goal for this project was modest, but 56 backers were happy to shell out over $4,750 to see Clean Energy Empire become a reality. Despite the success, the entrepreneur behind it noted that “crowdfunding is exhausting work” but was necessary “out of need, as going into debt to fund the project wasn’t an option.”
3. Cow Power
Another project to provide energy-related education is in the form of a documentary. Cow Power sought to tell the story of Vermont citizens supporting a program that turned cow manure into renewable energy, which was able to save the environment and ensure the continued existence of their cherished rural farms.
In just one month’s time, this project had 59 backers to thank for over $6,000 funded towards (in their words) “giving a $#*!”
4. Light Salone- Small-Scale Renewable Energy for Sierra Leone
The Light Salone project focuses on the humanitarian desire to build small-scale renewable energy systems with ingeniously recycled materials, such as hydropower generators built from spoons, windmills built from scraps, and electricity generation from vegetables, to be deployed in rural Sierra Leone. After successfully launching the pilot program on his own dime, this crowdfunder sought to expand Light Salone to go further towards his dream to “light up the African continent from being called the darkest continent to be called the lantern continent.”
Backers shared this vision, with 34 people contributing over $2,400 to fund this endeavor. What’s particularly inspirational is that this project is that it wasn’t just an entrepreneur trying to make his first million dollars, but rather using crowdfunding to make something good happen for the world.
5. HomeBiogas 2.0- Transform Your Food Waste Into Clean Energy
Saving my personal favorite for last, the HomeBiogas project is a machine that allows you to recycle your food scraps in a safe and convenient way, but it also uses that food waste along with bacteria to break organic matter down into biogas that can be piped directly into your kitchen’s stovetop for cooking.
This project made me wish I had the setup in my home that could accommodate the machine, but alas a city apartment is not the ideal location for HomeBiogas. Backers agreed, though, and despite only seeking $75,000, HomeBiogas raised $565,000 from 677 backers across two sites.
What can we learn from these projects?
One goal of this and the coming articles is to highlight the different ways in which innovative renewable energy technologies get funded. While private investors are largely involved in the funding of emerging energy technologies, the surge in renewable energy projects on crowdfunding sites shows how those traditional means are not keeping pace with the speed with which entrepreneurs are making breakthroughs.
Traditionally, government funds have been critical for filling in the gaps when private sector appetite wanes, which is wont to happen due to the potentially high embedded risks or longer-term payoff required of such projects (a point that echoed by several of the entrepreneurs to which I reached out).
Those inherent characteristics of potential gamechangers in renewable energy have been why government investment in potentially transformative energy technologies, through projects like APRA-E, are so crucial. Such federal funding of renewable energy technology has been under attack in recent years, though. As demoralizing as that shift in policy has been, crowdfunding at least allows the innovator to find creative new ways to gather funds and split up the risk of investment among many backers. As such, those who seek to personally affect the future of renewable energy should see crowdfunding as not just an Internet fad, but a unique mechanism to create the future. Hopefully my article series on this topic will enable and inspire you to do so.