Innovation rules OK? Charity’s approach to clean energy fundraising pays dividends

CORENA - Citizens doing it for themselves

CORENA – Citizens doing it for themselves

Two subjects we always like to cover in these pages are good news Australian solar stories and innovation and inventiveness with regard to clean energy fund raising. So the planets must have been in alignment when Finn bailed up your correspondent this week at the SQHQ water cooler and told me about CORENA.

Finn’s enthusiastic re-telling of his meeting with CORENA’s Margaret Hender at a function got your correspondent scampering over to the website and Facebook Page to find out more. There was a trove of information on a remarkable Aussie charity with a enterprising and innovative approach to funding small and large clean energy projects such as solar power.

CORENA (Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia) is an organisation designed to energise people power towards a sustainable energy future by raising seed funding projects. The emphasis is on the small project here readers — though funds are also raised for larger projects — where CORENA nominates a small project and concentrates its efforts on realising those aims before moving on to the next fund-raising venture.

And the beauty of CORENA’a model is that – because Solar PV provides a positive return on investment, your contribution’s cash returns will be pumped into future projects, and in a few years time the whole caboodle should become self funding.

Here’s how CORENA put it:

Let’s assume one new Small Project each month costing an average of $20,000.

10 years x 12 projects/yr x $20,000 = $2.4 million (or 100,000 people each donating $24)

Assume (very conservatively) a 10 year payback period, meaning quarterly repayments are $500 per project.

120 projects x $500 = $60,000 per quarter

That is enough for one new project every month, forever, without ever needing any more donations!

How the cash flows work in the CORENA model.

How the cash flows work in the CORENA model.

Gandhi’s “be the change” you want to see appears to be a motto suited to CORENA as they take the initiative on clean energy funding in Australia.

However one paragraph in the charity’s “About Us” certainly resonated with us here in the SQHQ bunker. That of direct action towards a clean energy future for Australia rather than dithering around waiting for governments to show any form of leadership.

From the CORENA website:

“The CORENA Fund provides a ‘place’ where people can send their contributions. It enables everyone who wants more renewable energy NOW to collectively get on with the job, rather than just waiting on government action.”

Music to our ears readers.

As always we’d like your opinion on this solar charity. Do you believe it to be the way forward for raising money for small and large clean energy projects in this country? We invite you to drop over to the CORENA website, Facebook Page and Twitter feed if you like what you see and want to find out more. Pop back and comment here or over at our own Facebook Page!

Comments

  1. Sounds a little like Kiva’s micro-loans, Rich:

    http://www.kiva.org/

    A group of us (family and friends) have been ‘donating’ blocks of money, in $25 units, to help enterprising people without capital get started, for almost three years now. It does work on an ‘individual’ basis… so it could work on the basis you’ve described. If I have any reservations, they’d be that the math looks a little like a pyramid scheme, but we’d be happy to put up $25 and see what happens… .

  2. Stop These Thingies says

    Just a bit of clarification. CORENA is not a charity, it is an incorporated environmental organisation. The Small Project component of the activities is comprised of zero interest loans to community organisations to help fund energy efficiency measures, solar hot water, solar PV etc – whatever it takes to reduce electricity consumption and costs. If some electricity from the PV is returned to the grid that is a by-product (providing minimal returns at this stage). The project organisation can then afford to repay the loan (as quickly as possible) so that those funds can be used to fund further projects. It’s pretty simple really but it relies on donations to create the pool of funds. As the pool expands so does the effectiveness of the Small Project concept.

    The idea sprang from the Beyond Zero Emissions stationary energy project which calculated that if each household paid $8 per week for ten years, then Australia could move to a 100% renewable electricity.supply. A pretty modest cost for such an undertaking.

    Given that our governments have not bitten the bullet on our behalf and as the looming climate crisis draws closer as each carbon polluting day passes CORENA has provided a vehicle to enable ordinary Australians to provide the funds so that we can get on with job ourselves.

    Of course, we hope for large philanthropic donations to really make a difference but if every average Australian stumped up the $8 per week then people power can prevail where governments won’t and these projects can multiply quickly throughout Australia.

    The other half of the equation is to finance the large scale projects needed to make an integrated 100% renewables grid become a reality. This still fits within the $8 per week BZE projections and is a CORENA ambition.

    Comments, queries and suggestions from readers are welcome.

    Steve Fuller
    CORENA Secretary

  3. If the model relies on the average Aussie ‘stumping up’ with over $400 pa, we’d have to wish you the best of luck, Steve. I used the term ‘donate’ in my comment 24/11/2013 primarily because none of us in our ongoing Kiva project(s) ever expect(ed) to see our money again. As ‘loans’ are repaid, however, our money returns to the pool, for us to reassign to (a) new project(s). It has been remarkably successful. Most ‘borrowers’ have repaid their loans quickly, mostly within a year. One of our New Years Day activities involves looking at new loan applications, discussing their merits and re-loaning the money. We’re making a (very small) difference.

    Your vision is quite remarkable, Steve.

  4. Further to my comment November 27, 2013 at 9:37 am, we’re also part of the kickstarter ‘kommunity’:
    http://www.kickstarter.com Wondering why Corena didn’t use that vehicle(?) We recently donated a hundred bucks to fund a project, which subsequently raised over $50K for one pet project. I realise that’s small beer, compared to your large-scale initiative, but it certainly launched a brilliant enterprise as a result.

    • Excellent point about Kickstarter (or Pozible) – I think either would be a perfect vehicle for Corena.

      • Stop These Thingies says

        Obviously fund raising is a fundamental task for CORENA and finding the right message, mechanisms and strategies are things that we have to get right.

        We wanted as close to 100% of donations to be used for our projects as possible so we’re relying totally on volunteers and donated admin funds (via membership fees) at present. The current crowd funding mechanisms have significant fees to pay so we’ve avoided them so far. If we’re sure that they can be a vehicle for expanding our supporter base and increasing donations instead of simply providing an alternative means of reaching the same audience that we are currently reaching then no doubt we’ll reconsider.

        In the meantime, we are currently running a fund raising raffle – tickets $5 ea, 10 for $45, 20 for $80 details at http://corenafund.org.au/events/

        Spread the word.

        Cheers

        Steve

  5. Steve Fuller said: “calculated that if each household paid $8 per week for ten years, then Australia could move to a 100% renewable electricity.supply. A pretty modest cost for such an undertaking.”

    8 x 52 = $416
    416 x 10 = $4,160 (Nb – will this be affected by the future time value of money?)
    $4,160 x ? 23m people (according to the current ABS population clock) = A$95,680m or A$95.7bn.

    Whatever else it may be, whether for good or ill, A$95.7bn is not a “pretty modest cost”.

    • It’s only 2 NBN’s !

      • Steve Fuller says

        The mathematics and transition process are set out in detail in BZE’s report http://media.bze.org.au/ZCA2020_Stationary_Energy_Report_v1.pdf
        A very interesting read indeed with glowing reviews from a wide variety of notables.

        Depending on how one sees global warming unfolding the solutions can be viewed as cheap or expensive.

        In my view, securing a safer environment for our children and grand children for $8 pw is cheap compared to paying nothing for the alternative.

        It is the generations, mostly in the rich countries like Australia, who have been burning fossil fuels for the past 200 hundred years – you and me – who have created this mess.

        8 bucks a week (2 cappaccinos) is a very modest cost which the vast majority of households can easily afford.

        Whether they choose the CORENA vehicle or something else is up to each of us – but for me, doing nothing is not an option.

        Steve

    • Thanks for your input Jim. While the point you make is an excellent one, it just shows (I stand to be corrected here) how a very small input can build quickly.

  6. In fact Australia doesn’t have 23 million households. It’s all theoretical, anyway. If just 1% of Aussie households made such a generous (albeit worthwhile) contribution, this would be a remarkable achievement.

  7. Stop These Thingies says

    Regarding the quantum of funds required to revolutionise Australia’s electricity generation systems read BZE’s excellent report http://media.bze.org.au/ZCA2020_Stationary_Energy_Report_v1.pdf

    The $8 per week per household is a way to easily conceptualise the funds required – 2 cups of coffee per household per week. In the scheme of things I consider that to be not only miodest but totally affordable and given the costs associated with even best case climate change scenarios – a freakin’ bargain!

    Of course it remains to be seen whether this idea will resonate with enough people to make a huge difference – but whatever the case any donated money WILL be used to expand renewables ad infinitum.

  8. I take the point about the households v population (although incidentally, it is explicity stated as “if every average Australian stumped up the $8 per week” ; I also take the point about it may well be a sound investment.

    The point I take issue with is, is the description of it as a “modest cost”.

    It’s not.

    It’s a very expensive cost in absolute terms. Whether it’s a good investment is another debate. But this blog (if I understood it correctly) is all about telling the truth about solar power and solar investment.

    And the truth is that the scheme as devised by Corena – whether good or bad, whether a sound investment or not, whether cheap compared to other things – carries in and of itself – a colossal cost.

    Describing as a mere ‘two cups of cappuchino’ each week does not do justice to the truth.

    There’s a very good second point to make about describing the cost accurately, and that’s the point Finn makes (albeit amusingly) when he describes it as “only 2 NBNs”.

    It’s the concept of opportunity cost i.e. the cost of what we DON’T buy with that money that’s important.

    So, yes, we could build 2 NBNs with that money. Or god only knows how many schools, hospitals, roads, Army regiments, seaports, Badgerys Creek Airports and so on and so on.

    Now, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be invested in nor should the Average Aussie (if such a mythical creature actually exists) feel dissuaded from ponying up the cash.

    What I am saying is that there needs to be an honest disclosure of how much it is going to cost.

    And describing it as a “modest” cost at $8 per week per average Australia, or two cups of joe a week per person, when that adds up to about $96bn or so, well, in my opinion, that ain’t an honest disclosure.

    • Yes, the actual number of those donating is unclear. I was simply commenting on your quote:

      “Steve Fuller said: “calculated that if each household paid $8 per week for ten years, then Australia could move to a 100% renewable electricity.supply. A pretty modest cost for such an undertaking.”

      My concern is more about being realistic. Having actively fund-raised for a very modest solar electricity system* for a community organisation for _nearly a decade_ I have a feeling that, despite any theoretical mathematical calculation, the prospect of the average Aussie coughing up $400 pa is pie-in-the-sky. It’s a highly commendable, but very flawed proposition/expectation.

      Does it ‘hurt’ the project to promote such an unrealistic goal? It may actually weaken confidence and cause potential supporters to step back… to watch-and-wait a while… rather than committing.

      * That 7.2kW project was completed 2012.

    • Thanks folks. We appreciate the thought-provoking points raised. Perhaps the theme of a future article?

  9. Stop These Thingies says

    2 people concerned about climate change were doing the Walk for Solar Thermal at Port Augusta last year. They were discussing the BZE $8 per week projection.
    “So it only costs the equivalent of $8 per week for 10 years from each Australian household to pay for a transition to 100% renewable electricity. Forever. Once it’s done there’s no turning the fossils back on.”
    “Wow! Only $8 per week? Where did you hear that?”
    “It’s all set out in the Beyond Zero Emissions report.”
    “Ok – where do I pay my $8 per week?”
    -crickets-

    “Looks like someone needs to create something.”

    Thusly, CORENA was born.

    If the conversation went,

    “It only costs $96 billion to make the transition to 100% renewable electricity.”
    -crickets-
    -more crickets-

    It’s unlikely that either would have done anything further than become even more depressed about climate change.

    Marketers, advertisers, governments etc can try to shape attitudes by using big numbers instead of equivalent smaller numbers and vice versa.

    The old 8 cents per day for the ABC was a powerful example. It demonstrated that a valuable public institution costing millions, beloved by many and reviled by some actually cost each of us a minute amount.

    Exactly the same numbers can be honest disclosure or manipulative propaganda.

    In one of the richest countries on the planet, 2 coffees per week, per household for 10 years is a modest and totally affordable cost for a product that we desperately need in my humble opinion.

    With only a few more coffees we could have 100% renewable liquid fuels, healthy forests, farm lands oceans etc. Or not.

    The individuals comprising our generation get to choose what we are prepared to do to safeguard the future. Or not. Argue semantics. Or not.

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  1. […] alternatives though are not unique and we have previously covered the seed funding renewables organisation CORENA who have a similar goal of crowdfunding solar and […]

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