Crowdsourcing Energy For Community Power

Community First! Village in Austin, Texas aims to be the first community powered by crowdsourced energy.
Published: Fri 06 Mar 2015

Crowdsourcing is being increasingly adopted by utilities to engage consumers. [Engerati-What’s New and Upcoming in the Utility World - May 2014 Update]

Now for the first time crowdsourcing is also to be employed to develop a community project. With support from US energy efficiency consulting firm CLEAResult, semiconductor solutions provider Silicon Labs and Itron, Gridmates, an innovative startup focused on energy poverty, wants to create the world’s first community powered by crowdsourced energy at the Community First! Village in southeast Austin.

“There is no better place to begin solving energy poverty than in our own backyards – in the cities and towns where we live alongside people who need our help, in this case, Central Texans who are rebuilding their lives,” said Dr. George Koutitas, founder and CEO of Gridmates. “Leveraging technology to make sure everyone has access to basic resources such as electricity is just the right thing to do so we are thrilled to be a part of this project.”

Community power

Community First! Village scheduled to open in Spring 2015 is an 11ha (27-acre) master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for approximately 240 disabled, chronically homeless people. The village is a project of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a Central Texas social outreach ministry.

Gridmates, a Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Austin startup, is facilitating the energy sharing campaign benefitting Community First! Village. Gridmates is the first internet platform designed to eliminate energy poverty by enabling peer-to-peer energy sharing.

Community First! Village needs electricity to power the 240 micro-homes, RVs and canvas tents, outdoor kitchens, restrooms, laundry facilities, a sanctuary, a hospitality centre, a medical office, an outdoor theatre and an operations building. The village’s first-year electricity costs are estimated to be US$213,000, or about US$895 per resident. This corresponds to a daily cost of electricity for the village of US$581 and a cost per resident of US$2.50.

Gridmates platform to donate energy

Donations are made, either in US$ or kWh units, through the Gridmates platform, which also presents energy saving tips to donors based on questions about their homes.

In the beta stage Paypal is being used to process donations. However, the longer term aim is to open the Gridmates platform to utilities to provide add-on services to low-income households and increase service offerings. In this way the cost of donations could be added to donor’s utility bills. It is also intended, for example, that donors with solar PV generation could donate their excess PV generation.

Gridmates was launched in March 2014 and among other achievements in the last year was a Business Innovation contest winner of the US Department of Energy’s Sunshot Catalyst programme in January 2015 obtaining support for further product development.