• 02.06.14

A New Way To Finance Solar: Use Solar Power To Pay For More Solar Power

The idea is simple: Build one solar project, and reinvest the returns in more projects.

A New Way To Finance Solar: Use Solar Power To Pay For More Solar Power
[Image: Sunrise via Shutterstock]

Andreas Karelas wants more communities to go solar, and he thinks he has a new way to achieve just that. As he sees it, a few successful investments upfront could lead to many more panels on churches and community centers–all for relatively little startup capital. He calls his idea for a revolving solar investment fund a “positive impact loop.”


Karelas’s idea works like this. Someone would raise some money for a solar installation on a crowdfunding site like Indiegogo. After the panels are installed, the lease payments would be reinvested in further projects, in time building a portfolio of sites. With 100 installations up and running, he reckons, the returns could build a new project every month.

Revolv, his San Francisco nonprofit, recently raised $56,000 for a project at the Kehilla Community Synagogue, in Piedmont, California, the second it has successfully financed. Now, Karelas is looking for more potential sites, so he can build out his virtuous circle further.

See his campaign pitch here:

Revolv differs from solar funding businesses like Mosaic or SunFunder in that it’s not offering financial returns. The point is to pool resources and instead maximize the environmental benefit. It’s an altruistic choice. But Karelas reckons there are plenty of people who want to do something about climate change and aren’t expecting anything back financially.

“If your purpose is to put money into a good cause that’s going to earn you a good return, then Mosaic is great,” he says. “But if you’re trying to have as much impact on the climate as possible, Revolv is a better option. You’re asking that the money isn’t returned, but that it’s invested in more and more projects.”

To lower costs, Revolv works with another nonprofit called SunWork, which brings volunteers to a job and trains them in mounting solar panels. “It’s a good combination. We’re crowdfunding the money and they’re crowdfunding labor,” Karelas says.


The idea of revolving funds isn’t new, though applying it to solar is. The only other comparable initiative is Portland’s Solar Forward, which launched in December and is backed by the city. “We think this idea is empowering,” says Kerelas. “It’s better than emailing your senator or buying an energy-efficient lightbulb. This is saying ‘we can deploy solar and raise awareness in the community.'”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.