DiCaprio Foundation Doubles Down on Solar for Non-profits Crowdfunding Project Developer

RE-volv Solar Crowdfunding Platform
Credit: Indiegogo

Academy award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has been a leading public advocate and supporter of taking action to address the myriad and profound impacts and effects of rapid global climate warming. Working through the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), the actor-activist is helping a wide variety of organizations worldwide working at grass-roots and higher levels to conserve increasingly rare and threatened natural ecosystems and resources, protect and ensure indigenous and basic human rights, and advance the transition from centralized fossil fuel to distributed, local renewable energy and energy efficiency-driven economies and societies.

What is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
Credit: SlideShare @bokeywong

The DiCaprio Foundation on Sept. 19 announced it awarded $20 million in grant funding to 100 organizations around the globe that in one way or another are contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Most are non-profit, non-governmental organizations. Many struggle greatly to obtain the financial support they merit from government, public and private sector sources.

An innovative developer of “crowdfunded” small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) energy projects for non-profits, San Francisco, California’s RE-volv numbers among the latest batch of LDF climate change action grant award winners.

A Climate-Energy Partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation awarded RE-volv a US$120,000 partnership grant to expand access to its innovative solar PV project crowdfunding platform and revolving project fund, which is dedicated to installing solar power generation capacity for non-profit organizations across the US.

Via the partnership, the foundation will match fund donor contributions to RE-volv’s solar crowdfunding platform and Solar Seed Fund, thereby doubling the capital for the innovative, community-based non-profit solar energy development organization to carry out its mission.

How RE-volv's Solar Seed Fund Works?

The DiCaprio Foundation grant is the largest awarded to RE-volv to date. Overall, RE-volv has raised more than US$300,000 from more than 1,000 supporters in 22 countries via its crowdfunding platform. That includes winning two grants from the US Dept. of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, according to a RE-volv press release.

“This grant is a phenomenal opportunity for us for a number of reasons. Of the $120,000 grant, $60,000 is earmarked for our operations. For nonprofits, it’s critical to have operational support,” RE-volv Executive Director Andreas Karelas told Solar Magazine. “The other $60,000 will be used to match our next five solar crowdfunding campaigns dollar for dollar.”

“This is important, not only because it will allow us to make every crowdfunded dollar build twice as much solar, but because of Leo’s following, we’ll hopefully be able to help spread the word of the crowdfunding campaigns to a much larger audience.”

A Unique Solar Energy Project Development Fund for Non-Profits

RE-volv was one of the first solar energy organizations to turn to and successfully build a crowdfunding investment platform to raise capital. In addition to being the only solar energy development fund dedicated to funding solar energy projects for non-profits, RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund is unique in that it is a revolving fund.

As the organization explains: “Donors select a specific nonprofit to support and, as the project pays back dividends through a solar lease agreement, the user can then reinvest in new solar projects through the RE-volv platform.”

This pay-it-forward model helps to accelerate solar energy deployment in local communities while keeping donors engaged in solar projects.

RE-volv’s Solar Seed Fund has grown to US$650,000 in value. It has crowdfunded 10 solar PV energy projects (total 150-kW) for community non-profits in four US states. These include Harbour House, which helps support refugee, immigrant and low-income families in RE-volv’s hometown by running after-school programs and ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. Morris Chapel Baptist Church in Philadelphia, the oldest African-American church in the nation, is another.

RE-volv projects that the 10 solar energy crowdfund projects it has completed to date will save recipient non-profit organizations between 15-40 percent on the monthly electric bills. That’s money not spent – an estimated total of US$1.5 million over the useful lives of the 10 solar PV systems – that they can devote to enhancing and/or expanding the public community services they provide, RE-volv highlights.

Future lease payments from these projects will be plowed back into and reinvested in the Solar Seed Fund. It’s projected RE-volv will be able to finance at least 20 more solar energy projects for non-profits as a result.

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Solar Ambassadors and Champions

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In addition to financing solar PV installations for non-profits, RE-volv runs the Solar Ambassadors and Solar Champion programs. Via the former, RE-volv trains college students and community volunteers to reach out across the communities in which they are living and obtaining their college degrees to educate and promote use of solar energy.

RE-volv’s latest contingent of Solar Ambassadors consists of a group of 44 students from seven US universities: American University, Coastal Carolina University, University of Dayton, University of New England, Swarthmore College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “The students are now in discussions with nonprofits in their communities and we hope to have signed solar lease agreements soon,” Karelas said.

Anyone interested in leading a solar-for-non-profit organization solar crowdfunding campaign in their community can sign up for RE-volv’s Solar Champions. RE-volv provides the resources, training materials and support during their campaigns, Karelas explained.

At present, RE-volv is partnering with Community Power Network, Interfaith Power and Lights (another LDF grant award winner) and the Sierra Club to identify professional solar projects and prospective Solar Champions via their networks of supporters and stakeholders.

“RE-volv is working to make sure that the benefits of solar can reach everyone, including nonprofit organizations and the people they serve,” Karelas was quoted in a press release.

“Thanks to this generous grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, RE-volv will be able to scale its impact and bring solar to even more nonprofits around the country.”

All told, RE-volv has helped educate some 10,000 Americans about solar energy and its socioeconomic and environmental benefits through training, outreach and organizing more than 100 events, according to the non-profit organization.

A Critical Time

“The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation is excited to support RE-volv,” added Gregory Lopez, Climate Program director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. “Not only is their work important in deploying solar energy and reducing greenhouse gasses, their unique model provides an introduction of accessible, renewable energy to new communities.”

Foundation founder and chairman Leonardo DiCaprio announced the latest round of Climate Program grant awards during a speech he delivered to a climate change conference at Yale University hosted by former Secretary of State John Kerry’s Kerry Initiative.

We are proud to support the work of over 100 organizations at home and abroad. These grantees are active on the ground, protecting our oceans, forests and endangered species for future generations – and tackling the urgent, existential challenges of climate change

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation CEO Terry Tamminem highlighted the significance of the timing of the grants. “This round of grants comes at a critical time. With a lack of political leadership, and continued evidence that climate change is growing worse with record-breaking heatwaves and storms, we believe we need to do as much as we can now, before it is too late,” he said. comment

Andrew Burger

Andrew is a researcher, reporter, writer and editor whose work spans the fields of energy, science, technology, sociology, finance and political economy. He has a degree in geology, a master’s in finance and has completed postgrad studies in international governance for biodiversity.