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Bringing solar to the masses

Ages ago, Grist ran an interview with Anya Schoolman, a neighborhood activist who organized her Washington, D.C., community into a solar co-op. By forming a coaltion, the group was able to run a daunting gauntlet on the way to installing solar panels on 50 homes. Together, homeowners successfully lobbied for changes in local regulations, forged an agreement with their power company, performed outreach and education, and negotiated reduced costs with equipment suppliers.

It’s an inspiring story, and now it’s also a business model. One Block Off the Grid — aka 1BOG — organizes homeowners into collectives and uses their aggregate purchasing power to pry lower prices out of equipment manufacturers. 1BOG also handles all the messy red tape, in return for a commission on the installed solar capacity.

The start-up is small, but business is good:

> “Over the course of 2009 we put in about 550 solar systems, which probably puts us on par with the top five installation companies” in the nation, [co-founder David Llorens] said. “We want 2010 to be the year where we bring solar to the masses…

> In its northern New Jersey campaign, the company got a group discount rate of $5.45 per watt, which it says is a 16 percent reduction over standard rates for solar in the region.

> In Los Angeles, the company said it got a 23 percent discount for homeowners.

> While solar-power brokering may be its bread and butter, 1BOG is looking to extend its group purchasing approach to other offerings. The company recently launched a campaign in the San Francisco Bay Area to get people to sign up for discounted Prius plug-in hybrid conversions.

It’s an innovative scheme for bringing down the entry costs of clean energy. 1BOG is most active in California, but has done installations across the country. You can visit their web site to see whether solar might make sense for you.

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