Tosh Szatow

The People’s Solar, a national crowd-funding platform for solar projects, recently announced it had gone to the market to raise $30,000 as a first step, to have a 15kW solar system installed on the roof of one of  the rooming houses managed by St Kilda Community Housing in Melbourne. “If successful, it will be the largest crowd funded solar project in Australia, and the only one of its kind dedicated to supporting those at risk of homelessness right here in St Kilda,” co-founders The People’s Solar, Alex Houlston and Tosh Szatow said. In this article Tosh  Szatow explains the thinking.

For all of the focus on science, research and advocacy, climate change remains an ominous threat. An approach based on reason has failed to cut through, particularly in Australia where politics has consistently hobbled momentum.

You’ve probably noticed, and I certainly have, that the shortcomings of our collective approach on climate change are finally being acknowledged. We are beginning to understand that, for everyday people, climate change remains a distant, complex threat, easily dealt with by using short-term strategies for managing cognitive dissonance. More fundamental shifts in values and behaviours are hard to stir.

So how will we cut through?

When it comes to shifting the energy market, solar power has emerged as a trump card, creating an existential crisis for energy companies, and forcing their participation. But solar power on its own is just an extension of the market psychology, bound up in self-interest. This isn’t the shift in deeper values we need, in order to address climate change in a holistic way.

What if we could use solar power to shift values and behaviours? What if we could use solar power, to connect people with their communities, and the places they live? What if we could get people who don’t care about climate change, to take action on clean energy?

These questions sparked what we call The People’s Solar – the only crowd-funding model for solar power, which ties the financial benefits of clean energy directly to what communities’ care about – and, with a steady stream of projects coming online, we think it’s working.

Communities have both very broad, and very narrow interests. Some communities care about education in schools, others care about addressing homelessness, and still others might just care about their local sports club. With The People’s Solar, we can structure any solar project, anywhere in the world, to serve the interest of just about any community, with our focus being on social justice and food sovereignty.

To date, growth in the community energy sector has been held back by many factors – some extrinsic and market related, some not. The biggest constraint has arguably been the lack of replicable, viable models for community energy projects, which have broad community appeal.

The People’s Solar is a replicable, scalable model which enables a tax deduction of $100 towards solar power to become as much as $400, reinvested into communities over time. It’s part philanthropy, part social impact investing, but mainly just good common sense. Who wouldn’t donate to support a cause they care about, when their donation will grow for 25 years to come?

Crowd-funding enables us to avoid the overheads of managing an investment scheme, and uses a social contract to create discipline over community investment. This is both a solution to scalability, but perhaps more importantly, creates a model for the kind of behaviours needed to address the climate threat.

We see significant community appetite for getting on and “being the change”, by crowd-funding solar projects. Importantly, it’s not just for people who care about climate change or clean energy. It’s people who care about the communities they live in, who care about sustainable support for the arts, for training, for education and opportunities for those at the margins of society.

Importantly, The People’s Solar is not just about solar power on roofs. It’s about communities coming together, giving together, and experiencing what it is like to act on a desire beyond self-interest. Because we will only create a more socially connected, generous society by giving people the opportunity to participate in one.

Tosh Szatow is co-founder, The People’s Solar