We have two broken systems - energy and finance - which conspire to support a coal fired centralized grid that never reaches the poor while driving dangerous climate change. That means 1.3 billion people around the world won't escape the dark, and we'll fry the climate, unless we disrupt these systems and deploy distributed clean energy. Three months ago the Sierra Club worked on a pilot project with SunFunder to promote such a potentially disruptive solution: solar crowdfunding for the world's poor. We have a few preliminary lessons we'd like to share about taking it to 'scale.'
Let's start with the good news - in three short months the clean energy access project we shared with you is already fully funded! The project raised $15,000 to fund ReadySet Solar Kits from Fenix International to for 375 energy entrepreneurs in Uganda who will in turn power mobile phone charging and lighting for up to 19,000 households - as a microutility device, each ReadySet can power up to 50 phones in a community - while avoiding 12.3 tons of carbon dioxide. It's just the latest SunFunder success story as the company has raised $120,000 for eight projects that benefit 28,377 people directly. Not bad for a year's work.
Let's compare that to the World Bank. A 2011 Oil Change study that found that of all fossil fuel projects the World Bank supported, none provided energy access for the poor. That's right - zero. The only energy project that actually delivered energy for the poor was a $1.25 million investment in biomass gasifiers that benefited 2,500 people in India (thanks to Husk Power). For those keeping score, that's 28,000 people helped by SunFunder versus 2,500 by the World Bank.
Not bad on SunFunder's end, but clearly not the scale we're looking for right? I mean this is just a small slice of the energy needs of 1.3 billion people. That's true, but after engaging SunFunder on this project, and working with off grid clean energy entrepreneurs demanding $500 million for their sector, we have a few lessons we think have big implications.