You can support solar power projects in Africa and earn money doing it

Every so often, I get an email from Sun Exchange, inviting me to invest in a solar project in Africa. So far I haven’t done it, but I am seriously thinking about it for the next time. The opportunities go quickly, because so many others take them up.

Sun Exchange is the world’s first peer-to-peer solar leasing platform. It allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to own solar energy-producing cells and lease those cells to power businesses and organisations in emerging markets. Installations and maintenance are taken care of by one of Sun Exchange’s installation partners.

Photo by Los Muertos Crew from Pexels

“We leverage financial innovation and the power of the crowd to drive sustainable energy development and make the environmental, social and economic benefits of solar accessible and affordable for all,” says Sun Exchange.

It’s a new way to finance solar projects. Sun Exchange identifies schools, businesses and organisations that want to go solar, then works with local solar construction partners to evaluate the proposed projects. Once the projects have been accepted, Sun Exchange runs a crowdsale for the solar cells that will power the project. Any individual or organisation, anywhere in the world, can sign up to be a Sun Exchange member and buy solar cells, even starting with a single solar cell.

Once a solar cell crowdsale sells out, installation of the solar project begins – and investors can track the status of their solar cells through their Sun Exchange dashboard. “Schools, businesses and organisations pay you to use the clean electricity your solar cells produce,” Sun Exchange explains. “Your lease starts when your solar cells start generating electricity.”

Sun Exchange was founded in South Africa in 2015 to advance renewable energy architecture on the continent. “I realized the opportunity for solar was enormous, not just for South Africa, but for the whole of the African continent,” said co-founder Abe Cambridge. “What was required was a new mechanism to get Africa solar powered.”

Sun Exchange has members in 162 countries who have invested in solar power projects for schools, businesses and organizations throughout South Africa. “We’re the marketplace that connects together the user of the solar panel to the owner of the solar panel to the installer of the solar panel.”

This trend of investing for social good is emerging with millennials and generation Z. Sun Exchange uses Bitcoin as the transfer mechanism given its ability to move small amounts of money globally without much cost. You can listen to a fascinating interview with Abe Cambridge here.

Crowdfunding has meant that investing in renewable energy is not just limited to venture capitalists and banks, although I’m not sure how widely this is reported in the popular press.

“Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, as entrepreneurs and innovators from a range of sectors look to appeal to would-be customers directly to fund their projects,” Power Technology wrote last year. “The energy industry is no different, and new innovations in the renewables sector in particular have taken advantage of these networks to bring new clean energy projects to life outside of the traditional means of funding new technologies.”

The story highlights;

  • Allpowers, founded in 2008, smashed its crowdfunding goal for its Monster portable charger, which has a 372Wh battery. It raised $153,657, well in excess of its modest $10,000 goal, and went on to make a number of improvements to the device, improving its battery capacity to 500Wh, and adding the capability for its power storage  It then raised close to $1.5 million in crowdfunding for its Monster X from over 1,400 individual backers.
  • GoSun successfully used crowdfunding to raise $2.6 million for seven renewable projects including the Go, a device to boil water and cook meals with energy from solar panels, the Chill, a solar-powered cooler that requires no ice or outside maintenance, and Flow, a water purification system that filters  impurities from a litre of water in one minute. The Flow dramatically exceeded its funding target, raising over $386,000, enough for around 2,579% of its goal of $14,992.
  • Citizenergy is an EU-backed initiative to collect renewable projects under one banner to encourage further investment. Citizenergy-backed projects have installed 1.2GW of power across 12 renewable energy projects in ten European countries since it began in 2015.

There seem to be increasing numbers of these kinds of opportunities but I rarely see them reported. And there are variations, which allow ordinary people to contribute to projects to address climate change. For example, the fascinating ClimeWorks, which has developed carbon capture technology and just built the Orca plant in Iceland, lets you buy a carbon dioxide removal subscription – although, in the many stories I’ve read about carbon capture recently, none of them mention it. (But if you are thinking about a holiday present for someone, you might consider it.)