Solar’s better (and cheaper) when you do it with others

The great thing about going out for margaritas with your crew – you can get a deal on a pitcher, maybe even try a new flavor.  All in all, a way better plan than drinking tequila on your own. Same goes for solar – do it with your friends, and it’s cheaper and more fun!

Smart policymakers, businesses, and non-profits are helping homeowners go solar through group purchasing programs.  Here’s how it works:

Rather than going it alone, a group of people – maybe neighbors, maybe co-workers – gets together and issues a request for proposal (RFP) for their combined solar needs.  With the help of technical advisors, the group chooses the best vendor(s).  Then each homeowner works directly with the vendor on the logistics of the actual system installation.

Because so much of solar’s price tag right now is related to non-hardware “soft” costs, models that make processes like customer vetting and acquisition more efficient have a big impact. With homeowners coming together to buy in bulk, group purchasing can save them 10, 15, or even 25% off market rates on solar systems.  We’re talking prices in the $3-4/Watt range for PV systems. It’s the cheaper-by-the-dozen approach to going solar.

Early examples of this “solarize” model come from Portland, OR and San Jose, CA, where each city helped groups of residents review vendor bids and ensure a good, reliable deal.  The model has spread across the country thanks to organizations like 1 Block off the Grid and GroupEnergy as well as a helpful how-to guide from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  Enterprising policymakers in places like Connecticut and Massachusetts are now taking the model statewide, helping to coordinate solar group purchases for residents.  Massachusetts’ program got a lot of press in September after a report showed that residents were able to get solar for less than the cost of traditional electricity from the grid.

Solar group purchasing is such a no brainer – cheaper clean energy, the reassurance that your investment has been vetted by others you trust, and an excuse to geek-compete with your friends over who can zero out their electricity bill first – this is one of those trends that can really help get solar over the tipping point.

We just love finding new ways to go solar. We love margaritas too, but that’s another story.



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