Patrick Mijnals is the founder of the crowdinvesting platform for energy efficiency projects “bettervest”. He talked to us about the concept of crowdinvesting and the sponsored projects in Africa and India.
Can you explain the concept of your crowdinvesting platform “bettervest”?
I became aware of the phenomenon of crowdfunding about 11 years ago and thought about how to use it for sustainability purposes. The book “Faktor Vier” by Ernst U. von Weizsäcker, who has also become our patron, has helped me to finalize my idea. The principle of crowdfunding means that many people make an individual contribution to finance a joint project. Crowdfunding is possible in many variations but in our case people invest in a project and get money back.
Does “bettervest” create new projects or does it fund existing projects?
We ourselves do not come up with the ideas for a new project, but finance various existing projects. For example, we help an entrepreneur finance a new heating system. The savings through the more efficient and newer technology will be shared by the entrepreneur with the crowd, with the many individual investors and so they get their money back. After initially supporting projects in Germany, we also wanted to finance projects in emerging and developing countries. There it is mostly about solar energy and about a much more basic supply. It’s about the fact that people are supplied with electricity for the first time or that old diesel generators are replaced by solar energy and more. In these projects in areas in Africa and India, partner companies are involved that are already working on the day-to-day basis on such constructions abroad.
A current project of yours is to build photovoltaic constructions in Ghana. Can you tell us about your projects in Africa?
In Ghana, we are working with UMAWA to build a photovoltaic system. We have already worked with them for four times. There the solar system is used in addition to the public power supply to provide power for the Ghanaian supermarket chain “Shop N Save”, which mainly offers local products. Or in the case of Nigeria, we have worked with GIZ, the “Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit”. The project was about installing mini grids in rural areas where there is no basic electricity supply, to supply individual households. Such projects have already been funded by the GIZ and we have secured follow-up financing through the crowd.
In India, you are helping to finance the basic electricity supply in rural areas as well. Can you give us some information on that project?
The project in India is a special case because we cooperated with the foundaition “Kanopus Stiftung”. In another cooperation with the „Fraunhofer-Institut für Solarenergie“ they started a competition, where companies for micro grids were able to apply for worldwide. The best most cost-efficient project with the greatest social impact could win the prize, which was to get crowdfunded by us.
With the project of the first winners about 24000 people in 4000 households are supplied with electricity in Uttar Pradesh. It is mainly about the fact that light comes into the dwellings, but of course also cell phone recharge possibilities and and more is installed. But light plays a very special role here because when the sun has gone down, there is no longer a possibility to read, learn or work. The light has a particularly high Impact, because the people get many productive hours a day for this. It also replaces environmentally damaging kerosine lamps. These produce a lot of carbon dioxide and are also harmful to health due to their fumes.
How important is the aspect of sustainability to you?
So basically sustainability was the stimulus for founding “bettervest”. First and foremost we are concerned about the energy and carbon dioxide savings side, like how climate damaging or harmful such a project is. But if it is possible to bring in further sustainability aspects or to reject non-sustainable projects then we are willing to do that. The best example is biogas constructions in Germany: Biogas is not bad but it can be harmful to the insect population. So we always have to weigh the situation. This is also the case with a landfill in Colombia where methane occurs and in this case the project consisted of constructing a system that causes the methane to be fired. Methane is eight times more climate-damaging than carbon dioxide, so it has made sense to burn off the gas in order to prevent the climate change of the methane.
So this is really an engineering skill! But the great thing about our projects is that it is not a matter of financing a future technology, something that is only marketable in five years. We finance things that already work, which are already established.
How exactly can the readers of this interview participate in the projects themselves?
There are two very basic possibilities: the easier one, that does not involve a lot of effort is to talk to other people about it, to recommend it. And the second one of course is to make an investment. You can invest a minimum of 50€, because it was particularly important to us to keep the threshold as low as possible. It is something that is possible for many people in Germany like the money you got for christmas or the 50€ birthday money from grandma could flow into such a project, without having to go straight into debt. In contrast to many other equity funds you have the opportunity to distribute your money to 10 projects, thus reducing your risk to the minimum.