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Excuse me, neighbor, can I borrow a kWh?

Submitted by scc staff on May 8, 2015

Small communities often create tight bonds between neighbors, creating tight-knit community where they may share resources, such as tools or food. But a first-of-its-kind neighborhood near Austin, Texas, goes well beyond that. People who live there can also share electricity.

Community First! Village is described as the world’s first neighborhood powered by crowd-sourced energy. It’s the work of an organization that’s been working for years to reduce homelessness. By allowing people to donate energy, it removes one more large worry for cash-strapped residents. Council Lead Partner Itron is helping sponsor the project.

A community of micro-homes
The 27-acre community is being built to house about 240 people who struggle to find or pay for more traditionally housing. It will serve those with disabilities or who are chronically homeless for other reasons.

It has a mix of small canvas-sided cottages, 5th wheel RVs and micro-homes that are up to 180 square feet. Outdoor kitchens, private bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities are available for residents to share.

There’s even a workshop with tools and an art gallery -- features that allow residents to go into business for themselves, and a community garden, chicken coops and bee hives to allow them to produce their own food. There’s also a medical center, Wi-Fi and a bus stop too.

Crowdsourcing electricity
The homes were built with donations and now they may be powered by them as well. Anyone can donate electricity to the community or to a specific resident.

Itron built the infrastructure that lets the donations work. Essentially, electricity can be sent like email. Each unit of electricity is wrapped in a data packet that identifies which home it’s for.

People who want to donate have several options. They can pay for a certain amount of energy that is sent to the community or a specific home. They can generate their own power through solar panels and the like and donate that energy. Or they can participate in conservation efforts, including demand-response programs, and donate the energy they save.

Place to call home
Even without the electricity donation, the group behind the project has a significant track record of getting chronically homeless people into permanent homes. Over the past nine years, it’s helped 99 people with a long-term success rate of 87%.

More resources …
MasterCard powers donations
Crowd-funding gains momentum as a way to pay for civic projects
Sustainable returns: Why checkbook philanthropy isn't always the best approach to community problem-solving


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