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Christian Organizations Put Their Faith, and Capital, into Community-Driven Solar Power

Religious and faith-based organizations of all stripes are turning to solar and other local, renewable energy resources and the latest in energy efficient clean tech in bids to serve their communities and address society-wide issues of growing disparities in wealth, income and access to opportunities for enrichment and empowerment. No less a religious personage than Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, in June 2015 published an historic encyclical highlighting these growing divisions and the threats they pose to peace and security. Titled, Laudato Si, Pope Francis called on people the world over – leaders of commerce, industry and government in particular – to address and resolve them.

Universal access to energy that is safe, reliable, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable figures prominently in Pope Francis's encyclical. Roman Catholic, other Christian and religious and faith-based organizations are taking the Pope's message to heart and following through by investing in and deploying solar and other renewable energy systems in industrially developed, developing and lesser developed countries alike. 

Non-profit, community-driven solar crowdfunding platform provider RE-volv on Giving Tuesday donated money sufficient – more than $14,000 in one day – to have a solar PV system installed for the Faith Baptist Church in Oakland, California. The RE-volv-Faith Baptist Church solar crowdfunding campaign is the latest in a lengthening list of solar energy and cleantech investments by and for the benefit of religious and faith-based organizations worldwide. 

A solar crowdfunding campaign for Oakland's Faith Baptist Church

Both Faith Baptist Church and RE-volv call Oakland home. The funds raised via the solar crowdfunding campaign will be used to deploy a 5.8kW solar PV system capable of producing more than 30 percent of the church's electricity needs, according to a RE-volv press release. 

Among the community services it provides, Faith Baptist Church feeds more than 300 hungry families a month and distributes more than 100 tons of food each year through a bi-weekly Food Giving Program. 

“Lowering our electricity bill will add to the bottom line in our organization’s budget,” said Faith Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Curtis Robinson. “With the savings from solar energy, we plan to better serve our youth and young adults and our seniors, some of our most under-served populations.”

The solar PV system will also benefit the local community environment. A projected 422,274 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided over its useful life, according to RE-volv. 

Turning to the financial benefits, the solar PV system is expected to save the church more than $40,000 in utility bills over its useful life. The payments the church makes to repay the solar crowdfunding loan will be reinvested in RE-volv's revolving solar project fund and used to fund additional non-profit, community-driven solar energy projects around the nation. 

“RE-volv is working to make sure that the benefits of solar can reach everywhere, including nonprofit organizations working to benefit under-served communities,” said RE-volv Executive Director Andreas Karelas. “Faith Baptist Church is an inspiring example of people in a community coming together to help their neighbors who are less fortunate.”

Solar energy for Rochampton Catholic Diocese schools in Australia 

Faith Baptist Church is by no means the only Christian faith-based organizations turning to solar PV and clean tech to improve their ability to serve communities. Australia's Rockhampton Catholic Diocese is in the midst of a project that entails rolling out integrated rooftop solar PV-battery energy storage systems with a combined capacity of 4MW and 3MWh, respectively to schools across the communities it serves. 

Brisbane-based GEM Energy is seeing to the installations, which began in Dec. 2015. The Catholic college and school solar energy project encompasses 52 sites in total. Twenty had been completed as of July. 

The project also entails energy efficient LED lighting upgrades. The largest could wind up with more than 1MW of solar PV generation and more than 1.2MWh of battery energy storage capacity, according to a news report. 

Community solar energy and stemming the refugee tide

Lack of access to reliable, affordable electricity is a root cause of poverty, conflict and forced migration – increasingly pressing, global issues Pope Francis brings to the fore in Laudato Si. Earlier this year, the investment arms of two prominent Protestant Church organizations – the Episcopal Church's Church Pension Fund (CPF) and Wespath Benefits and Investments, an agency of The United Methodist Church – each invested $30 million in Developing World Markets’ (DWM) $60.8 million ORCA (Off-grid Renewables-Climate Action) note.

Bridging the worlds of international investing and faith-based socioeconomic development, the Protestant Church agencies' investment in DWM's ORCA note marked a world first for sustainable energy access financing and international development. 

DWM invested the capital raised in eight banks and financial services providers that lend to innovative, fast-growing off-grid household and community solar providers and three leading off-grid solar energy startups that are bringing access to affordable, safe, reliable and environmentally friendly energy to impoverished and rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America for the first time.

The $60.8 million investment should go a long way towards expanding sustainable energy access in off-grid communities on three continents, helping them to “leapfrog” a generation of power generation and distribution and build a foundation for more open, equitable and environmentally sustainable economies and societies.

“In all these cases, the conventional has failed to achieve the expected goal, so there’s an unconventional solution, which a combination of innovative technology and financing is now providing,” DWM Managing Director Peter Johnson highlighted in an interview.

“If you could improve quality of life in a material area, such as access to clean energy and improve health, it becomes multi-layered…That certainly would be proactive and should make a contribution towards stemming the motivation for them to leave their home countries,” added Courltand Walker, the DWM managing director responsible for product development and partner engagement. 


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