The world isn’t spending enough on climate change. But as government and corporate investments fall short–we spent around $280 billion globally last year, $2.1 trillion short of what a recent landmark climate report says is necessary–a new startup suggests that crowdfunding could begin to fill the gap.
“The reality is that when you read the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report that says we have 12 years to save the world, and the world needs to invest $2.4 trillion every single year to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius . . . it really makes you feel helpless and powerless and like there’s nothing you can do,” says Aoi Senju, CEO and cofounder of the startup Jumpstart. The startup is designed to point people to concrete action, with clean energy investments targeted at areas where the grid lacks renewables and other sources of funding.
In one of the site’s projects, you can invest in rooftop solar power for a Crow Nation school in Montana. The state is sunnier than the national average, but solar is growing slowly there. “Huge parts of Montana are powered by natural gas and coal, so it’s a very dirty grid,” says Senju. The project is a loan; anyone who invests will be paid back and should get a return on the investment. (Like Kickstarter, however, if a project doesn’t reach its full funding goal–$500,000 for the Crow project–it won’t move forward.) Some projects on the site ask for donations instead, such as a project that gives solar lanterns to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
The company hopes to convince people to invest in clean energy who might not choose to do it for themselves–because they live in an apartment, for example, or because they have $100 to give but can’t afford solar panels for their own rooftop. It also wants to help direct impact where it’s most needed–if you live in Seattle, where most electricity comes from hydropower, your money might be better invested in renewable energy on a grid that’s still dominated by coal, and where sunshine is more plentiful.
“We wanted to make it more flexible for people to contribute to clean energy and actually make it possible for people to contribute to meaningful clean energy around the world,” Senju says. The startup also wanted to focus on markets that lack widespread access to electricity and are getting less attention from the clean energy sector, and where developers have less access to funding.
“Innovative financing structures are key to scaling the use of solar by businesses across Africa,” says Pieter Joubert, chief investments officer for CrossBoundary Energy, a developer that owns and operates the largest portfolio of commercial solar projects in Africa. “At CrossBoundary Energy, we are interested to explore how crowdfunding can reduce the cost of financing project construction, and help to rapidly deploy solar installations for the enterprises we serve.” The company is using Jumpstart to raise funds for a solar farm in Rwanda.
The website also plans to crowdfund some individual residential solar projects in communities that can’t afford solar panels on their own. In Texas, where some recent immigrants haven’t built up enough of a credit history to get a standard loan for solar panels, Jumpstart plans to use machine learning to evaluate potential customers’ creditworthiness itself. “We see that as being a very big market,” says Senju. “[There are] a lot of customers who want to go solar, but just haven’t had the financing opportunity to do so.”
As some governments pull back from action–the frontrunner in Brazil’s presidential election has said that he wants to follow Trump’s lead and withdraw from the Paris climate agreement–and others move slowly, the site aims to give everyone else a way to act now. “We just really want to give people hope again,” Senju says. “You don’t need to be a Google or a Facebook or the president of the United States to support clean energy.”