SunFunder crowdsourcing solar finance wins Facebook prize

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Social media group Facebook and the Cleantech Group last night awarded a $25,000 prize to a solar crowd funding platform barely a year old.

SunFunder, which crowd-funds off-grid solar projects in developing countries, launched last year.

Its prize-winning Facebook app shows progress on metrics like dollars invested, number of projects, energy saved and number of people helped. Users are also able to see the impact their networks of friends are making, and ask others to invest with them. SunFunder allows users to connect with other investors, solar partners, entrepreneurs and even the project-level end-users themselves.

Sheeraz Haji, CEO of Cleantech Group, said: “Solar is inherently social. When people install solar on their homes they want to tell their friends and neighbours. SunFunder understands this and has developed a thoughtful strategy for leveraging the Facebook platform to finance solar projects in emerging markets. The opportunity to integrate the SunFunder crowdfunding model into Facebook’s social graph could be a game changer.”

Bill Weihl, manager of energy efficiency and sustainability at Facebook, announced the winner at the close of the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco. SunFunder beat off competition from wattTime, whose app motivates users to save money by shifting their electricity use to off-peak hours, and yerdle, which matches things that people give away with the people who want them, founded by Adam Werbach, the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi S.

SunFunder founder Ryan Levinson, said: “Similar to how cell phones have leapfrogged the landline system all around the world, solar energy can leapfrog the grid for over 2.5 billion people who lack full access to electricity. This partnership with Facebook is a great opportunity to leverage a billion people on Facebook to help finance this solar energy revolution and bring clean and affordable energy to people who need it the most. “

Levinson was previously vice president of environmental finance at Wells Fargo, where he helped establish and grow the bank’s solar project investment business and directed over $500 million of investment in more than 150 solar projects.

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