By using a peer-to-peer financing model, this Austin-based startup is providing a way for people to power the homes of those who lack access to electricity.
Globally, 1.3 billion people live without power, according to the International Energy Agency, and about 2.6 billion do not have access to clean cooking facilities. Energy poverty is a massive global issue. But it's also a huge problem in the US — more than 48 million people live in poverty, and may not have access to electricity because of that.
Enter Gridmates, a web platform that wants to eliminate energy poverty by crowdfunding energy. Instead of giving cash to a charity, the organization wants to make donating more intentional. So, to give electricity to someone, users pick a dollar amount, find out how much impact it will have in terms of hours of energy, and then donate via PayPal. And it's all tax-deductable.
"The wonderful thing about donations of energy [is] one amount has a great impact," said George Koutitas, CEO and co-founder of Gridmates. "If you give dollars to a person to buy food, they can buy a hamburger and after three hours [they are] starving again. Five dollars to low income family, they have two days of energy. It gives these people the ability to cook, have a hot shower — all the foundations they need to restore their lives."
Earlier this year, however, Gridmates took it one step further — and that's where the real potential lies. With a grant from the Department of Energy, the team created a software platform that allows people who have solar panels to give part of the money they save producing their own energy to someone in need. All they have to do is put in a zip code or give Gridmates the capacity and square footage of the solar panels. The organization asks for people to give anywhere from 2 to 5% of their produced energy.
The first Gridmates project is the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, a 27-acre sustainable micro community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled and chronically homeless in central Texas. Gridmates partnered with nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fisheries to pilot the program.
"The Village is designed to not only put a roof over their heads, but also foster the building of relationships and a sense of community," said Perri Verdino, communications director at Mobile Loaves and Fisheries. Most of those suffering homelessness have had a catastrophic break with family. They crave not only a safe, secure place to live, but a caring community to support them."
The Gridmates campaign has a goal of 1,062 megawatt hours, or $85,000, to provide 150 days of energy to 240 residents. So far, they're just over halfway there, providing 80 days of energy.
The primary goal of this new Gridmates platform is to provide innovation in the energy sector for a good cause. As the solar industry advances and the number of residential solar owners increases, excess energy will become an issue. Now that there are storage solutions out on the market — namely, Tesla's home batteries — and more people go off the grid, Koutitas said he hopes that more people will use their savings to provide energy for people like those in the Community First! Village.
Utility companies and corporations can use Gridmates for their business and can easily integrate the software into their systems to engage customers, improve service offerings. Nonprofits can use the system to raise funds. In turn, Gridmates charges a small fee for the organizations that use the service.
The platform is open and Koutitas wants to eventually engage nonprofits and utilities on the national and international level, and continue to build innovative solutions for energy problems.
"This project is still very young," Verdino said. "I think the biggest challenge will continue to be educating the community that crowdsourced energy is a different way to support their neighbors in need."