What Can We Learn from Failed Renewable Energy Crowdfunding Initiatives?

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After surveying how crowdfunding is kickstarting the renewable energy transition, it’s important to note that for every successful project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo an average of two go unfunded. The reasons behind such failures vary from project to project:  too ambitious of a funding goal, unrealistic projects, an overall lack of exposure, or countless others.

However, even when projects fail they can still teach valuable lessons and it’s only fair to now showcase five of the most interesting renewable energy projects that did not meet their crowdfunding goals.

1. Harvester 3 in 1 Renewable Energy Home Generator — The Harvester billed itself as the world’s first 3-in-1 renewable energy generator, which would allow homes to generate their own power from the sun, wind, and waste heat. Similar in appearance to the successful GEN project, the Harvester promised twice the generation of a micro-wind turbine of the same size, hoping such numbers would translate to a revolutionary project.

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The Harvester turned to crowdfunding as the initial fundraising method because, as the creators told me, “there is a bit of a mountain to climb for new energy technologies, as there is a lot of bad science out there.” The crowdfunding never got off the ground, though, only attracting 16 backers for $1,500, well short of the $40,000 goal. The creators also noted, though, that “although it looks like we were not successful, we ended up being approached by a private investor,” demonstrating an alternative path to success on crowdfunding sites.

2. Magnetar Electric Technologies — With this project

, the inventors sought to create a revolutionary small hydroelectric generator to fit into pipelines (utilizing the flows of municipal water systems, industrial plants, natural gas systems, etc.). The concept is akin to wastewater heating, where energy is already being created as a byproduct, so the right installation could harvest that energy that would otherwise be wasted.  

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The father-son team behind Magnetar exuded passion about the opportunity for freely generated energy, but they were unfortunately not able to transfer that enthusiasm to others, only collecting $650 out of their $50,000 goal.

3. Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System — Seeking to offset the inherent pollution in the transportation sector, the Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System (TPRES) sought to generate power from roads themselves. When installed, every time a car drove over a TPRES the weight of the vehicle would push a piston to compress air and generate electricity.

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Despite the ingenuity behind this potential solution, the TPRES only raised $530 from 14 backers when they were searching for $245,000.

4. ALL- Nonstop Renewable Energy — ALL is best described from the project page itself:

ALL is a new method to get clean energy everywhere, every time and in every condition, it means that this generator can be placed whether in the desert or in the coldest place in the world and it will produce electrical current by the force of gravity and a lever. 

That quote encompasses pretty much all the information offered. Gravity has been used for centuries to generate power, but this project appears to suggest they’ve broken into some sort of perpetual motion that uses gravity to continuously generate energy.

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Despite all the buzzwords and an attractive landing page, potential backers weren’t convinced—during the month and a half campaign, ALL only generated $20 towards their $220,000 goal.

5. Ocean Energy Turbine: Limitless Clean Renewable Energy — Lastly, the Ocean Energy Turbine sought to complete development of a prototype and laminar flow test tank that would ultimately enable the “first commercially viable clean renewable energy source that has the potential to compete with and eventually replace fossil fuels and nuclear energy dependence.” Generating energy from ocean currents is not a new idea, but it’s one that is still largely in the R&D stage worldwide.

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Addressing why they didn’t just go for private funding, the project’s creators noted:

It has been our experience that the Big Corporate Money, while easy to obtain, usually comes with hidden agendas. We are dedicated to making this project a reality without being bought and shelved by a competing energy providing offering lucrative funding. 

While a dispiriting comment on the state of funding for scientific innovation, this quote illuminates why some of these great projects feel forced to crowdfund. Despite exceeding 1,000 backers, the Ocean Energy Turbine only raised $29,000 towards its $75,000 goal—though the team is still pressing on to make their dream a reality.

What can be learned from these failed projects?

Despite these projects failing to meet their crowdfunding goals, much can still be learned from the process, including the following lessons about funding efforts for renewable energy technologies:

1. Consider how wide an audience your project would appeal to before deciding on a funding method

While an ideal like the Magnetar might seem like a brilliant innovation, the application is so niche and the audience who would appreciate it so narrow that mobilizing the masses on crowdfunding sites is an uphill battle. This type of project seems like it would be more successful by finding a private investor in that understands the business and the market or by competing for government grants under which the technology might apply.

2. Unsuccessful crowdfunding campaigns are no death knell

Sometimes funding goals are not met due to no fault of the innovation itself—the campaign might have been underwhelming, the timing not right, or crowdfunding simply not the right method. Despite failing in crowdfunding, the research of Ocean Energy Turbine is still ongoing and the Harvester found private funding. These projects show that even the best projects can fail on crowdfunding sites but still become successes.

3. To realize success through crowdfunding, a project needs a good idea AND a good pitch

Entrepreneurs must realize that both a promising idea and an enticing pitch is necessary for success. Just having a good idea without a convincing marketing push (e.g., Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System) is unlikely to garner enthusiasm from backers, while a great campaign for a project that’s ultimately empty on content (e.g., ALL) will not fool potential backers.

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