An ambitious community solar campaign launched last month to crowd-fund a 99kW PV system for the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne has hit its $120,000 target, raising just over $60,000 from a Pozible crowd-funding round to match $60,000 provided by a private sponsor.
The campaign, coordinated by Victorian group The People’s Solar, closed last week on June 30, paving the way for what will be Australia’s largest crowd-funded solar project, to date.
Its success means that the iconic site now owned by the not-for profit Abbotsford Convent Foundation (ACF) – including 11 heritage buildings housing more than 100 artist studios, cafes, galleries, a radio station and a school – can reduce its combined annual electricity bill of $130,000 by around $15,000 a year.
As we reported last month, money freed up by these savings will be reinvested into maintaining and protecting the Convent’s gardens and grounds – 16.8 acres on the Yarra River – and ensuring it remains an “inner-city” arts sanctuary.
Funds will also be used to roll-out additional sustainability initiatives, including LED lighting, site-wide green waste recycling, an integrated composting regime, additional water tanks and irrigation channels.
For Tosh Szatow, a founder and director of The People’s Solar, the campaign’s success is a major vote of confidence for community-funded solar.
“For us it means the basic concept of crowd funding solar is really strongly validated,” Szatow told One Step Off The Grid in an interview on Monday.
“The People’s Solar has only been operating as a part-time venture, so that suggests there is a lot of opportunity to grow and scale from here,” Szatow said.
The Abbotsford Convent campaign was The People’s Solar’s first effort in conjunction with Pozible, one of Australia’s best known crowd-funding platforms, which uses a rewards-based system to help drive participation.
Before this, the group used its own crowd-funding platform to raise more than $130,000 for solar projects – including for schools, charities and community cultural centres.
All up, The People’s Solar has now raised $250,000 for solar projects, and has been doubling funds raised every six months since its inception.
The next step, says Szatow, “is bedding down a plan to expand the rewards-based system, via possible hybrid alternatives.
“What we want to look at more now js investment-based crowd funding.
“We would like to test the financial return system, perhaps using hybrid model, where we would have (a campaign) that is part rewards-based, versus people getting a financial return, and see which is more popular.”
Szatow says The People’s Solar has a couple of potential new campaigns in the pipeline, including to raise funds for an around 70kW project in Footscray, and for another project in rural Victoria – an off-grid system on a farm set up as enterprise to train people coming out of homelessness in aspects of food production.
“One of the things that’s been interesting about projects we’ve crowd funded, is that all of them would have really struggled to get solar on the roof, because they don’t have the discretionary budget to do it – even though the payback is good,” Szatow told One Step.
“Rewards-based (crowd-funding) is a way of growing that commercial-scale rooftop solar market.
“We’ve got a long way to go to make a dent on the overall demand for solar,” he added. ”But doubling our investment every six months is a good start.”