A Groupon for Solar: Bulk Purchasing Brings Solar Within Reach of More Homeowners

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Group purchasing for solar spreads around the country, with new programs in North Carolina, Virginia, and Utah. The programs help help homeowners by simplifying the process of going solar and lowering the costs.

 

A Groupon for solar? That’s what some bulk-purchasing programs for solar are being compared to. Solarize and other group-purchasing models for solar are taking off around the country, driven by groups of citizens, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. These grassroots efforts help community members by simplifying the process of going solar and lowering the costs.

 

Some examples of recent solar group-purchasing programs launched around the country:

 

North Carolina

 

In North Carolina, a group called the Cleaner is Cheaper coalition, supported by more than 20 community, faith, and grassroots groups, kicked off Solarize Charlotte this week with an emphasis on bringing clean, safe power to low-income communities and working families.

 

Following the U.S. Department of Energy’s solarize model — formerly the province of early-adopting solar states on the West Coast — Solarize Charlotte is one of a new wave of programs bringing community-based solar to emerging solar markets such as North Carolina.

 

One feature of Solarize programs is pre-qualifying and selecting a contractor, so homeowners don’t have to do that. A free site assessment is also arranged.

 

Virginia

 

The Richmond Region Energy Alliance started the SolarizeRVA program to help Richmond-area homeowners save money on solar by contracting for installations as a group.

 

The group expects homeowners to save 10% to 15% on the cost of solar PV systems. About 30 to 75 local homeowners are expected to participate in the program.

 

Both the North Carolina and Virginia Solarize programs offer high-performance, American-made SolarWorld solar panels. Since SolarWorld has partnered with Solarize campaigns in 26 communities in four states to supply about 3 MW of American-made SolarWorld solar panels to nearly 1000 families.

 

Utah

 

This week, the University of Utah launched the nation’s first community solar program sponsored by a university. The U Community Solar campaign offers discounted solar panels and installations to university faculty, students, staff, alumni, and campus guests. The program is administered by the nonprofit Utah Clean Energy and offers participants a 25% discount on installation from one of two selected installers.

 

Similar programs in Utah have been very successful, with one in Summit County resulting in five times more solar capacity being installed than in the previous year.

 

The University of Utah is helping promote the program, using part of the funds from a program started 10 years ago to reduce fossil fuel impact. Students at the university put a dollar into that program  each semester. And the university stands to benefit from the campaign, which includes an unusual feature: participants in the U Community Solar program can give the renewable energy credits associated with their solar panels to the university, helping the university achieve its carbon-reduction goals.