Purpose

The purpose of this project was to explore an innovative alternative financing mechanism for residential energy efficiency projects. Crowdfunding is an emerging tool for individuals and organizations to fund their projects through social networks, social media and the internet by collecting multiple donations of varying dollar amounts at scale. The city’s participation in the Georgetown University (aka Lose-A-Watt) Energy Prize competition was the impetus for this pilot. This competition encourages cities to test innovative approaches to financing energy efficiency upgrades.


Project Description

This project was designed to use a platform for crowdfunding projects developed by a local company, Community Funded. The platform was supported by the FortZED initiative and was located on the FortZED and Lose-A-Watt websites. City staff considered multiple options for channeling projects through this platform to avoid undesired outcomes such as incomplete projects, inappropriate use of raised funds and inability to measure efficiency gains and process effectiveness.

The project application and process was aligned with the Efficiency Works Residential program, requiring applicants to be Fort Collins electric utility customers, have a completed home efficiency audit and backup cash or financing in the event they were unable to raise their requested dollar amount. Participants were given resources to help support and guide their crowdfunding campaign. Projects were limited to measures that qualified for program rebates such as insulation and high efficiency HVAC equipment.
To avoid complications with receiving and holding of raised project funds, the City arranged an agreement with the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster to be the fiscal agent for the initial pilot.

Challenges

This project has shown that there can be multiple challenges in using social channels to fund efficiency projects. Challenges such as the perception of a project owner’s lack of need by potential project donors, and multiple opportunities for non-compliance with project requirements was insurmountable for this pilot.
City staff believed an ideal project owner would be an individual that could make a compelling case for funding. The first project owner had such characteristics. However, how the project description was framed made a difference. The project description included a picture of a house in a historic, affluent neighborhood, which trumped the description a single mother who was a local high school teacher in need of financing assistance.

The pilot also received feedback from audit participants that were solicited for project participation. Comments included questions and perceptions of need, often encouraging this type of financing for low income residents rather than those with more resources. Overall, the pilot was unable to gain additional participants in order to complete the objective of five projects. Based on limited participation and low funding results from the first project, City staff concluded that the platform, as designed, was unsuccessful and closed the pilot.

Lessons Learned

While this project did not reach the desired number of projects and scale, City staff was able to test and learn more about the application of crowdfunding for efficiency projects. The main takeaway points determined by those involved were:

  1. Design matters. This project was structured for residential upgrades. Crowdfunding might work better for organizations that either support low income residents or are faith based. Perception of need played a significant role in the ability to solicit project participants and funders.
  2. Framing of Need is Crucial. The initial project participate might have had greater success if she described her situation in a way that was more compelling to potential funders. Posting a picture of her home that was clearly in good condition, historic and located in Old Town Fort Collins (affluent neighborhood) may have influenced the perception of her need. Describing a different side of her situation might’ve included focusing on her job as a local high school science teacher and her status as a single mother of two children.
  3. Structure and Requirements. City staff made efforts to structure the process to ensure raised funds went to contractors rather than homeowners to ensure projects were not only completed but to standard. Under this structure and platform, it was easy for the homeowner to forget or intentionally forego the requirements, bypassing the process. Crowdfunding may be a less ideal structure to the type of control and defined outcomes city organizations desire.

Aspirations

  • Provide an innovative alternative to supplement traditional financing for home efficiency projects
  • Test ability of homeowners to leverage social network to raise funds
  • Affordability can increase the number of residential efficiency upgrades and energy savings
  • Develop a replicable model as part of the Lose-A-Watt Energy prize competition efforts

Accomplishments

  • Tested a pilot project with resident
  • Identified challenges associated with perception of funding needs based on economic class
  • Fostered culture of innovation and external partnerships

Project Partners

The partners associated with this project include:

  • The City of Fort Collins
  • FortZED
  • Colorado Clean Energy Cluster
  • Community Funded

Funding Sources

FortZED budget and Fort Collins Utilities

Ongoing and Related Work:

While this pilot project may have ended, the City of Fort Collins, as well as other partners, are committed to continue using innovative approaches to support homeowners and businesses implement and finance energy efficiency projects.