The following is an Executive Summary of our white paper, Too Good to Be True: Lessons Learned on Solar Powering the Nonprofit Sector. To read the full paper, click here and for more information on the Solar for Nonprofits program, contact Keith Timko at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 732-635-1000 x152.
In 2009, Build with Purpose entered the solar market with the desire to help nonprofits lower their energy costs and act as a coordinator with state programs, solar providers and financiers. Throughout this experience we have learned a great deal about the realities and challenges that nonprofits face in entering the solar market.
Build with Purpose undertook this challenge given our mission of building sustainable organizations and healthy, vibrant communities. Our extensive experience in finance, long-term leases and finding solutions to facility challenges faced by nonprofits translated well into understanding and coordinating the installation of third-party financed solar arrays. We were committed to helping other nonprofits navigate these uncharted waters.
We discovered that there was no “system” for nonprofits to efficiently assess the viability of a solar array and then secure financing if needed. State agencies were not set up to do this. No environmental groups or social enterprises readily served that role. We believed that by creating a systematic approach, we could afford nonprofits an increased chance of success by coordinating the effort. Instead of having groups undertake projects individually, we sought to develop sector-based common knowledge that could guide other groups’ thinking.
We believe that the challenges and roadblocks we encountered are the main reasons for the disproportionately small share of the solar market that nonprofits currently hold. Financing proved to be the greatest challenge since nonprofit solar projects are smaller relative to larger commercial projects. Most solar projects under one megawatt are currently on hold. We also found that the vast majority of solar firms looked at solar for nonprofits as a business decision alone without any long-term commitment to the sector. At this point given the state of solar financing, a true consortium of nonprofits is needed to finance any nonprofit solar installations, and the nonprofit sector’s fragmented nature makes putting together such a consortium challenging. Without further clarity, nonprofits will be wary to move forward because the sector has now grown weary of the hype and lack of success around solar.
However, we remain hopeful that we simply haven’t gotten there YET. We believe with greater clarity, a clear “validation” system with one-stop information on financing, installing and maintaining solar arrays on nonprofit facilities and incentives for nonprofits, in combination with efforts to include nonprofit input in solar discussions and policymaking, that a nonprofit solar initiative can move forward.