1/27/13

Crowdsourcing an Alternative Future

In an CNN opinion piece, Van Jones, president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online policy, economics and media platform, accused Congress of doing no more than propping up the pieces of our broken economic system -- big banks, big polluters and big defense contractors -- instead of investing in infrastructure that would move our country forward.

But, Jones said, there is a new breed of companies emerging that is leveraging the power of networks and sharing to build a more sustainable, prosperous future, independent of the old economy.  

Crowdsourcing, he said, isn't just for do-gooders anymore.

Jones cited Zipcar -- "Wheels when you want them" -- which Avis just bought for nearly $500 million, as an example of this emerging business model.  Car-sharing appeals to younger, tech-savvy consumers who see transportation as a service, not an investment.

The Zipcar model has now spawned RelayRides, Getaround and Scoot, Zipcar of electric scooters.

Jones cited Mosaic, the first online clean energy investment marketplace, as another example of the emerging share economy. Mosaic connects investors to solar projects seeking financing. The projects generate revenue by selling the electricity they generate, and investors to get paid back with interest.

Mosiac allows you to pick a solar project you like, invest as little as $25, and get returns starting at 4.5% annually (not FDIC insured.) 

Other examples: Airbnb and CouchSurfing allow you to rent out rooms in your house to peer-vetted applicants; through TaskRabbit and Fiverr, you can hire a personal assistant online to do anything from running errands to small business accounting.

Airbnb hosts average $6,000 a year for renting out their homes. People who loan cars through Relay Rides can make enough to cover their monthly car payments. And some "TaskRabbits" earn $5,000 per month.

Unlike the mega-bank-based financing that characterized the fossil fuel era, the emerging clean energy economy is decentralized and ideosyncratic, Jones said.  Los Angeles, for instance, could generate 5 gigawatts of clean power from rooftop solar, replacing two mega coal plants with crowd-sourced clean energy. 

Earlier this month, Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy announced it was investing more than $2 billion in two solar power plants in California.

But we don't have to wait for a Warren Buffett, Jones said:  we can crowdsource.

More than 650,000 people opened credit union accounts as result of the Occupy Wall Street 2011 Move Your Money campaign, and environmentalists like Bill McKibben and his 350.org are now using the power of divestment to fight big polluters.

All of us looking to invest responsibly and grow clean energy can become a force for change by pooling our investments to create 21st-century energy jobs -- without any help from Washington -- he said.

People-driven, shareable, sustainable business can include next-generation technology like wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal systems, hybrid and electric cars, and batteries, Jones said.

While we wait for Washington to notice us, he said, we can create the jobs and spark the clean-energy economy of the future.

The post from CNN.

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