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Pitch

Year-long internship enables college students to organize solar projects and clean energy education events on campus and in the community.


Description

Summary

Promoting solar energy is a key component to stopping climate change.  Solar saves people money, boosts the local economy, and creates resilient communities. It also provides a sustainable source of energy. In many parts of the country, solar is being deployed rapidly, but in other places, its adoption is slower. One of the biggest barriers to solar everywhere is lack of awareness.  People just don’t know enough about solar to make an informed opinion.

RE-volv’s mission is to empower individuals and communities to invest collectively in renewable energy.

RE-volv uses crowdfunding to seed a revolving fund that finances solar energy projects for community-based nonprofits and cooperatives: a unique solar financing model that drives the industry forward and demonstrates what is possible when the public unites behind a shared goal to expand renewable energy and counteract climate change. The ultimate goal is to shift collective attitudes about climate change in the United States from one of despair and denial to one of action, cooperation, and creative solutions.

The Solar Ambassador program makes RE-volv’s model even more impactful by educating college aged youth.  This demographic will soon begin their careers, and RE-volv is committed to giving students the tools they need to maximize their impact in the clean energy and climate change field. 

Solar Ambassadors will develop a deep understanding of the solar sector, produce a real reduction in carbon emissions, and build an intercollegiate network of RE-volv student groups, maximizing their impact in the clean energy movement on campuses nationwide.


Category of action

Youth Leadership on Climate Change


What actions do you propose?

As solar educators and solar project organizers, Solar Ambassadors will lead their colleges and communities in a national clean energy movement.

  • Through webinars, study materials, group discussions, and guest lectures from experts in the field, RE-volv will train an intercollegiate cohort of Solar Ambassadors in solar technology, financing, and policy, as well as campus organizing and community outreach.
  • RE-volv will assist these students in identifying potential solar energy projects on campus and in the local community. Students will forge partnerships with local solar installers, form solar financing arrangements with community organizations, and run solar crowdfunding campaigns to engage their community in taking action on climate change.
  • Informed by guided research into the specific policies and incentives of their states and localities, Solar Ambassadors will adapt the RE-volv model to their regional context and expand RE-volv’s project base to a national scale.
  • Solar Ambassadors will host solar education events on campus and in their community to teach their fellow students and neighbors about the benefits of solar energy.


This simple program has a tremendous impact on the climate. The first and most direct impact is the actual reduction of carbon emissions caused by switching a local building off of dirty grid electricity to clean solar energy.

The actions of Solar Ambassadors will make solar energy more familiar, accessible, and worthwhile to their communities.

  • A solar project on a campus building, local nonprofit, or cooperative that serves the community, demonstrates the feasibility of solar energy. Project sites will save money every month on their electricity bill – money they can use to further serve the community. Installing solar could also attract new students, clients, or customers.  Their success stories may motivate community members and other organizations to go solar themselves.
  • The university, nonprofit, or cooperative organization gets to showcase its commitment to clean energy, and in doing so further raise awareness about renewable energy. The commitment to clean energy goes hand in hand with a commitment to environmental sustainability. Switching to solar makes a statement about community values, and community members can take pride in participating in the climate and energy movement.
  • Solar Ambassadors will host events that teach fellow students and community members about solar, and connect community members with local solar installers. These events will result in more people understanding the importance of clean energy sources, more people knowing about solar energy technology, and potentially more people going solar at home and/or supporting RE-volv’s revolving “Solar Seed Fund”.
     

The RE-volv financing model adds additional layers of impact to these projects.

  • Through crowdfunding, Solar Ambassadors are empowering their fellow classmates, peers, and community members to take part in building a solar project. This small yet significant act allows people to take action on climate change, and this can be a point of entry for further participation in the climate and energy movement.
     

The funding stream for RE-volv projects is self-replicating.  The solar projects are not given away, rather, the community center that leases a solar array pays RE-volv back with interest over 20 years.  Each project funds an additional three projects over time, creating the self-perpetuating revolving Solar Seed Fund that installs solar energy and educates people about the benefits of solar nationwide. What makes RE-volv’s model unique is that it creates a positive feedback loop of investment in solar energy multiplying the impact of each project countless times.


Who will take these actions?

RE-volv has recruited a team of committed Solar Ambassadors to begin their internships in the fall of 2014. RE-volv will train the cohort to carry out solar education and implementation activities throughout the year. RE-volv will also play a meaningful oversight role in the implementation process. RE-volv will assess the project sites identified by the students. RE-volv will also screen the installers selected by the students. RE-volv will guide and direct the students to ensure their crowdfunding campaigns go successfully. RE-volv will draft and execute the solar lease agreement with the community center. RE-volv will then operate and maintain the solar energy system and the payment processing for the course of the lease agreement.

Experts in the field, including but not limited to members of the RE-volv board, will contribute guest lectures to the Solar Ambassadors’ training.

The cohort of Solar Ambassadors will adapt the RE-volv model to their regional contexts and expand RE-volv’s project base to a national scale.

Each Solar Ambassador will build his or her own team of fellow students. Together they will organize solar projects, crowdfunding campaigns, and education events.

University administrators and local nonprofit and cooperative organizations will lease solar energy projects for their buildings, lowering their energy bills while showcasing their commitment to clean energy.

College students and community members that attend solar education events will learn about solar, climate change, and the clean energy movement. They will learn about the Solar Seed Fund, and thus discover a small act through which they can have a big impact. Some college students and community members will join the clean energy movement and contribute to crowdfunding campaigns. These individuals, together with RE-volv’s network of donors, will help their local project sites go solar. Event attendees will be given the ability to sign up for free home solar quotes with local installers.


What are other key benefits?

 

  • The next generation of leaders will be empowered to take action on climate change. One of the key benefits to this program is giving the people who organize and support this campaign a meaningful sense of accomplishment in the fight against climate change.
  • Crowdfunding campaigns can build community among contributors. Students, neighbors, faculty, and people all over the world who support the crowdfunding campaigns become a part of RE-volv’s community of solar supporters committed to taking action.
  • Projects demonstrate the power of collaboration. Each project is a visible reminder of what people can achieve by pooling their resources, and stands as a symbol of the community united in support of a common goal.
  • There will be additional business for solar installers creating jobs in the community. As Solar Ambassadors educate community members about the benefits of solar and connect them with local solar installers, more solar will be installed and people hired.


What are the proposal’s costs?

It will cost RE-volv $20,000 to launch this program. 

RE-volv has already acquired the $10,000 needed to cover RE-volv staff time to develop the curriculum and train the Solar Ambassadors.

The remaining $10,000 will be distributed to the Solar Ambassadors to cover event costs, video production for their crowdfunding campaigns, as well as marketing and promotion.

The more money RE-volv is able to raise, the more will be allotted to the students, giving them additional resources to make more solar projects happen. A small portion of revenue from lease payments on student-initiated projects will sustain the program and support its development in years to come.


Time line

Solar Ambassadors will begin their training in the fall of 2014. During the 2014-15 academic year, students will host at least 2 solar education events on campus or in their community. They’ll recruit team members and begin identifying potential solar energy projects. It is expected that each team will be able to sign a solar lease agreement with a community center, run a crowdfunding campaign, and complete the solar installation over the course of the year. If a team is unable to complete a project the first year, existing team members or new recruits could continue working on it in the following year.

Over the next 5 years, RE-volv will build an intercollegiate network of students organizing solar projects with the Solar Seed Fund model. RE-volv will select 4-6 campuses to work with for the project’s pilot year, and expects the number of Solar Ambassadors to grow rapidly in years to come.  

RE-volv will help Solar Ambassadors organize and document their operations and activities in such a way that their groups endure. Younger team members will be trained to become team leaders. Solar Ambassadors will be encouraged to share best practices with Solar Ambassadors of new chapters. RE-volv will build an alumni network by inviting alumni to mentor new Solar Ambassadors, teach guest webinars, and lead regional cohorts. 

This will continue over the next 5-15 years of the program, with RE-volv developing regional contacts and regional offices as needed to accommodate growth.

Between years 15-100, as the cost of solar comes down, and the revolving fund reaches self-sustainability, this program will be responsible for an incredible amount of solar in the US.  RE-volv will encourage students at that time to consider and pursue ways to apply the revolving fund model to other pressing environmental efforts including additional climate change adaptation and mitigation measures both domestically and internationally.


Related proposals

N/A


References

1) Here is a full description of the Solar Ambassador internship program:

http://www.re-volv.org/SolarAmbassador

2) This article in Fast Company recognizes that RE-volv has a bold new idea to help spread solar:

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3025639/a-new-way-to-finance-solar-a-use-solar-power-to-pay-for-more-solar-power

3) This article in Yes! Magazine describes the details of RE-volv’s innovative solar financing model:

http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/a-pay-it-forward-approach-to-funding-solar-power

4) This blog on 350.org supports RE-volv’s work as a way to fight climate change and support clean energy:

http://archive.350.org/about/blogs/crowdfunded-solar-oakland-ca