Cheaper Solar by the Dozen: The Benefits of Group Purchasing

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Group solar purchasing continues to help reduce costs — and headaches — for residential customers. While some say they’re in it to help the environment as well as their pocketbook, it’s always a benefit to be able to do well while doing good.

Group purchasing for solar, like any group purchasing, brings the obvious benefit of saving money by buying in bulk. It also helps homeowners navigate the often complex process of going solar. And it brings the solar industry — and by extension, the environment — the benefit of encouraging more people to go solar. That happens not just because they’ll save money. Social proof is crucial in solar adoption; it’s been shown that people are much more likely to go solar when their neighbors do.

While it’s not new, the idea seems to be catching on more. We’ve been seeing a number of stories recently about communities pooling their resources to go solar.

One of the first, and most successful, solar group buying programs dates from 2007, when Anya Schoolman started DC SUN. At the urging of her son and a friend of his, she looked into installing solar, only to find it was expensive and complicated. But her son and his friend managed to quickly sign up a large group of neighbors to tackle the challenges together, and they’re still helping DC neighborhoods go solar.

Another grassroots effort, the Solarize program, began in 2009 in Portland, Oregon. Within six months of starting their campaign, the first Solarize group signed up more than 300 residents and installed solar on 130 homes. The program has since spread to other communities.

It’s not just about saving money. The city of Greenfield, Massachusetts, wants to reduce its carbon footprint. While a new group buying program there does aim to reduce costs, some Greenfield residents have gone so far as to say they like the idea of generating clean energy from the sun even if it costs more.

The Utah Valley Community Solar Program is already in its second phase, after a successful initial group purchase there resulted in 40% savings on solar for participating homeowners and businesses. While there, as in Greenfield, some say they’re in it to reduce pollution as much as to save money, a major focus of group purchasing is always the savings. It just adds to the appeal that you can do well while doing good.

Many more solar group purchasing programs are springing up around the country — from obvious places for solar, like California, to those you might not necessarily associate with generating power from the sun, like Milwaukee.

And more resources are coming online to help homeowners start similar programs. The American Solar Energy Society provides a list of great tools and resources to help homeowners go solar through group purchasing. And the Community Power Network, which DC SUN is part of, helps groups around the country share resources and provide information to homeowners.