Environmental fund of the year, North America: Sunwealth Solar Impact Fund

Jess BrooksSunwealth's Solar Impact Fund won a second accolade from Environmental Finance this year, as it claimed the North American title of 'Environmental fund of the year', following its 'Award for innovation - bond structure (social bond)' in the 2022 Bond Awards.

The fund – which has raised $23 million so far in 2022 - partners with underserved communities across the US to install rooftop and ground mounted solar gardens.

Sunwealth said: "Every dollar invested with Sunwealth's Solar Impact Bond creates close to $0.50 in lifetime energy savings for Sunwealth's customers and $0.80 in revenues for local solar developers and installers."

The fund bundles a variety of solar projects into a single investment vehicle, enabling projects that vary in size, the market they serve (e.g. non-profit organisations, small and medium-sized businesses, or low- and middle-income communities), and building type (for example, multifamily housing, schools, commercial buildings, faith organisations, government properties, and community facilities), while providing job creation and revenues for small businesses (local solar developers and installers).

Sunwealth has also built a diverse team – over 40% women and 35% people of colour with backgrounds in structured finance, solar development, community economic development and community organizing.

Jess Brooks, chief development officer at Sunwealth, said the structure of the fund was “particularly innovative” as it enables community organisations, such as NGOs and houses of worship, to take part in solar projects that are otherwise unaffordable. Although solar power projects are subsidised in the US, these organisations cannot claim tax credits as they are non-tax paying groups.

Brooks said: “I think what's innovative about our structure is that we've made it possible for those [community] organisations to get solar, while the tax credit goes to investors wanting to be part of the project…this allows solar savings to go back to customers, so it is actually a really efficient way to get everybody some bang for their buck.”