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The World’s First Community Powered By Crowdsourced Energy?

Do the solar panels on your roof produce more power than you use? Gridmates wants to help you donate the excess energy to help those in need.

The World’s First Community Powered By Crowdsourced Energy?

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If you have solar panels on your roof that produce more power than you can use, here’s an idea for what you might do with the surplus: Pay off someone else’s bill.

There are millions of people who struggle to meet utility expenses every month. But soon they’ll have an ally in the shape of a new service called Gridmates, which lets one person send energy to another person. George Koutitas, who came up with the concept, calls it a “PayPal for energy”–a peer-to-peer platform, only for kilowatt hours, not dollars and cents.

The idea is simple (though it’s not launched yet). You’d go to the site, find someone you want to help, and the amount of energy you donate would be credited to their bill and added to yours. See more in this video:

Koutitas, who lives in Austin, Texas, plans to launch the platform this December. His initial pilot partner is the Community First! Village, an enclosed 27-acre development that aims to give homeless a fresh start. “Homeless families are going to live in that community and work and grow their own food and be integrated back into society,” Koutitas says. “We are going to make it the first village on Earth that’s powered by crowd-sourced energy. We will connect these 200 families with the rest of the world, and provide them with free electricity.”

After that, he plans to open the site to the public and work with nonprofits to identify people who most need help. The crucial relationship, though, is with utilities that will allow the energy transfer (or energy accounting). Koutitas says he’s currently talking to three companies and he expects to have agreements in places soon.

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To encourage people to donate, Gridmates will also focus on energy efficiency. When you sign up as a donor, you’ll give details of your home and the site will offer advice to save the equivalent power. That way, you can effectively offset any donation by reducing what you might use anyway.

Gridmates is one several new platforms enabling peer-to-peer energy transfers. For example, we recently wrote about Vandebron, a Dutch start-up that lets consumers source energy from independent producers. Crowd Power Plant, from the U.K., has elements of the same idea.

Eventually, Koutitas hopes to facilitate trading of water and gas as well. “The problems we see in Detroit with people who are disconnected from the water grid would never happen, because Americans would donate water so they can pay their bills,” he says.

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.

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