By Anum Yoon Crowdfund Beat Guest Editor, 

The idea of crowdfunding has gained popularity in the past few years. Individuals contributed approximately $880 million in 2010, when the concept was still new and innovative. Today, the practice of crowdfunding generates tens of billions for startup enterprises, budding entrepreneurs and motivated professionals on an annual basis.

But the concept behind this relatively new phenomenon isn’t limited to financial investments. Some of the more tech-savvy and energy-conscious leaders of today are now exploring the value of crowdfunding to meet our nation’s growing energy needs. The results are showing tremendous potential to revolutionize the way we look at our utility bills from this point forward.

Embracing the Shared Economy

Crowdfunding is paving the way for what many experts refer to as a “sharing economy.” Expected to be worth over $300 billion by 2025, the sharing economy provides new opportunities around the world. When applied to energy production and consumption, this amounts to newly built, sustainable energy sources and the establishment of new facilities in remote regions of the world.

The Africa Regional Climate Change Programme, a part of the United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP, points out that more than 60% of Africans do not have access to a standardized power grid. Crowdfunding and the sharing economy are poised to help these communities by developing energy sources that are clean, renewable and sustainable.

Mosaic, which recently launched in the U.S., serves as a go-between on behalf of clean energy investors and solar projects that need funding. Investments start at the low price of $25 for annual returns of 4.5%. Like with all investments, those who put in more money will have a greater chance of receiving significant profits in the long run.  

Crowdfunding Energy Around the World

According to recent studies, the United States currently leads the world in active energy crowdfunding projects with eight different initiatives. Germany boasts six, the United Kingdom has five and Netherlands has four of their own.

There has been a strong push toward eco-friendly and sustainable energy around the globe. In 2014, nearly 10% of all the energy consumed in the U.S. was drawn from renewable sources. This number has remained consistent and will likely increase even further as more crowdfunding campaigns pop up.

Europe is making huge strides in the effort to curb fossil fuels. Approximately 90% of new energy generators installed in 2016 utilized renewable sources. The majority of this new power is coming from large-scale windfarms in countries like Germany, France, Finland, Ireland and Lithuania.

Some of the most popular energy crowdfunding platforms are based in the United Kingdom. GenCommunity and Abundance Generation, two of the most popular options to date, are both based in the U.K.

Overcoming the Obstacles

As bright as the future of crowdfunded energy seems, there are some roadblocks to overcome. Given the large scale of many projects in the energy sector as well as the high costs and extended timeframes needed to complete such jobs, the industry doesn’t lend itself to the idea of crowdfunding.

In an economy where investors want to see instant results, there simply aren’t many projects in renewable energy that match the format.

Proof of these challenges can be seen in current projects. Although Europe is on the forefront of energy crowdfunding, most of the campaigns to date were focused on small or medium-sized jobs. This is great for hobbyists and those who want to participate in a community-oriented effort, but it does little to address the growing issue of worldwide energy consumption — at least for now.

One of the primary points of crowdfunding energy is to make it possible for smaller investors to raise the capital needed for bigger and better projects. This opens up the industry to a far greater number of investors and even more minds trying to solve such challenges.

Larger Investments Will Lead to Greater Advancements

Although the number of renewable energy projects to benefit from crowdfunding has been limited thus far, proponents of the platform are optimistic about the future. With more investors starting to consider crowdfunding as a viable means of financing projects, and as more investment groups begin to target the renewable energy sector, we’re bound to see even larger investments and greater advancements across the board.