However for every successful project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, an average of two energy projects go unfunded. The reasons behind such failures vary – a funding goal that is too ambitious, a project that is unrealistic, or simply a lack of exposure are three common causes of failure.
10 most interesting energy projects that did not meet funding goals
By Matt Chester
This article was published in the Chester Energy and Policy blog on July 2, 2018.
Last week, I published an article called “Kickstarting the Energy Revolution: How Crowdfunding is Pushing the Energy Transition and How It Relates to Government Energy Funding” which surveyed the 10 most interesting successfully funded energy-related projects on crowdfunding websites.
However for every successful project on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, an average of two projects go unfunded. The reasons behind such failures vary from project to project– a funding goal that is too ambitious, a project that is unrealistic, or simply a lack of exposure are three common causes of failure.
However even if these projects did not ultimately succeed, we can still learn valuable lessons from them. As such, it’s only fair to now show the 10 most interesting energy projects that ultimately did not meet their goals.
Top 10 most interesting unsuccessfully funded projects
The Harvester billed itself as the world’s first 3-in-1 renewable energy generator, which would allow homes to generate their own power by harnessing the sun, wind, and waste heat.
In an installation for a home that looked akin to the successful GEN project , the Harvester promised it could generate twice the electricity than an equivalent micro-wind turbine of the same size, hoping such numbers would translate to a revolutionary project.
Crowdfunding was the initial fundraising method for the Harvester 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.”
Unfortunately the crowdfunding for this project never really got off the ground, only attracting 16 backers for a total of $1,500 in four weeks, well short of its $40,000 goal.
When reached for comment, though, the creators of Harvester noted that “although it looks like we were not successful, we ended up being approached by a private investor,” which shows there’s more than one path to success on crowdfunding sites.
With this project, the inventors sought to create a revolutionary type of small hydroelectric generator that could be put inside existing pipelines (municipal water systems, industrial plants, natural gas systems, etc.) and use the flows to generate electricity.
This type of energy generation is akin to wastewater heating, where there’s already energy to be harvested and we might simply need to install the technology to do so.
The father-son team behind this project seemed passionate about the opportunity for free energy generation from their product, but were not able to transfer that passion to enough potential backers, only collecting $650 from 23 backers where they were hoping to raise $50,000.
The American Solar Energy Society sought to raise almost $120,000 so they could digitize their 60+ years of magazines and newsletters, allowing open access to the public for this vast record of solar and renewable energy innovations.
After a flood in the association’s hometown of Boulder, Colorado, the organization realized that the paper-based archives (and the insights they provided) were at risk of being lost at a moment’s notice. Digitizing them would not only ensure that wealth of information was preserved, but also allow people to have easy access to them and perform digital searches.
Funnelhead was invented with the intent to solve several of the recurring issues with traditional wind turbines, including the visual and noise impact, threat to birds, cost to build, and maintenance and operational costs.
By completely rethinking the shape and style of wind turbines, Funnelhead also found this new turbine would be able to convert wind in any direction into usable energy, while also completely blending in with the surrounding buildings. The world might not have been ready for this project, though, as only 13 people became backers for a total of $400 over four weeks, well short of the $67,000 goal.
This project sought to build out an entire line of exercise equipment that would use the associated movement to generate energy. By harnessing the energy generation potential of bikes, treadmills, and ellipticals, those behind this project instructed potential backers to “Imagine a life where energy is infinite!”
Unfortunately, this project ended up being sparse on details and any sort of plan to appeal to potential backers. Over the course of a month, only four backers stepped up to pledge $5 when the stated goal was $500.
Seeking to offset the pollution in the transportation sector, particularly in the daily use of personal automobiles, the Traffic powered Renewable Energy System (TPRES) sought to generate power from the roads themselves.
The idea behind this invention was that every time a car drove over a particular spot in the road, the weight of the vehicle would push down a piston that would compress air and be used to generate electricity.
Despite the ingenuity behind this potential solution, the TPRES only raised $530 from 14 backers when they were searching for almost $245,000.
ALL is a project that you really just need to read for yourself to understand. In their own words:
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 with hydropower, but this project appears to suggest they’ve broken into some sort of perpetual motion machine that uses gravity to continually generate clean and free energy.
Despite throwing in all the buzzwords and having an attractive landing page, those components alone were not enough to convince people to open their wallets– during the month and a half campaign, ALL only generated $20 towards the goal of $222,000.
Entsa Smart Shower looks to solve the problem of wasted water and energy from long running showers.
By allowing the user to preset the amount of water to be used (20 litres instead of a typical American shower of over 100 litres) and providing warm water from the moment the shower is turned on (to prevent wasted water from waiting for the hot water to start), the Entsa Smart Shower claims it can save 70 per cent to 80 per cent of water consumed by showers, in addition to the energy also saved from water heating.
Despite these encouraging promises, only four people backed Entsa Smart Shower, raising just $87 towards the $80,000 goal.
“State of Green” was a project to raise funds for a documentary film that would examine renewable energy and its effects on the people of Vermont.
Rather than the scientific and political side of the renewable industry, this movie would tell the human story behind renewable development and ask difficult questions like “Will the green energy movement strengthen our economy or compromise Vermont’s unspoiled beauty?” and attempt to deliver an unbiased look into the issues.
Despite raising over $16,000 from 101 backers, this project ultimately failed to meet its funding goal of $20,000. However, in the end the movie did end up getting made.
Lastly, we return to another project promising limitless energy, a prospect that initially seems too good to be true.
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 in the R&D stage pretty much worldwide.
In the project’s FAQ, the creators answer why they did not just go for private funding instead of crowdfunding:
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.
This answer is a dispiriting response to those who are in it for the science, as these entrepreneurs clearly are, but it paints a picture for why some of these great projects feel forced to crowdfunding (though I’d point to it as another reason why government funding of energy technology is important).
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.
Despite these projects failing to meet their crowdfunding goals, the people behind the projects and those investing in them certainly have a lot they can learn from the process. Additionally, outside observers like us can take away a few lessons about funding efforts for energy technologies, both crowdfunding-based and otherwise:
When it comes to generating interest on crowdfunding projects, a key characteristic to consider appears to be the breadth of applications and potential audience.
While an idea like the Magnetar seem like a brilliant innovation, the application is so niche and the audience of people who would appreciate it is so narrow that mobilizing the masses on crowdfunding websites is an uphill battle.
Similarly, the efforts to digitize the solar and renewable records is an admirable effort, but such a project isn’t sexy enough to capture people’s imagination or pry open their wallets.
These type of projects seem like they would be more successful by finding someone in the specific business to fund the technology or competing for government money from a grant program under which the technology might apply.
An important lesson from a number of these projects is that failure on a crowdfunding site is not a sign that the project cannot be successful.
Various reasons can cause a funding goal to not be met that are not the fault of the innovation itself– the campaign might have been underwhelming, the timing not right, or crowdfunding simply not the right funding method.
“State of Green” ended up getting made, Ocean Energy Turbine is continuing with its scientific efforts towards innovation, and The Harvester was able to turn its unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign into finding a private investor to help continue their efforts.
These three projects just go to show that even the best projects can fail to meet their crowdfunding goals, but that does not mean the project is dead in the water.
If you decide that crowdfunding is the right financing solution for a project, you 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 (such as the Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System) is unlikely to succeed on crowdfunding websites.
A good idea will only take you so far, you can’t put partial effort into the marketing part of the equation (a lesson that also applies to fundraising via private investor or government grant). On the other hand, a well-put together marketing campaign for a project that is empty on content (like ALL) will not fool potential backers.
When you’re asking people to contribute their hard-earned money, they’re going to scrutinize the project and sniff out if a campaign is just fluff.
Is there any other pattern or lesson you can see from these energy-related crowdfunding projects that failed to meet their goals? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
Also, as mentioned previously, I hope to turn this survey of energy-related projects on crowdfunding websites into a regular feature (with future versions highlighting active projects, so you can become a backer if one of the projects resonates with you). So if you are an investor or entrepreneur who wants to have their project highlighted in a future entry in this series of articles, don’t hesitate to reach out to me via the contact page.
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About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.