We have some exciting news to share.
GroupEnergy, an organization that facilitates group solar purchases, is joining us as a non-profit project of Vote Solar.
We believe this will advance Vote Solar’s mission of bringing solar energy into the mainstream in a couple important ways. It gives us a new way to tackle the challenge of solar soft costs head on, effectively lowering customer acquisition costs and reducing complexity. It will also strengthen our grassroots advocacy on other key policy issues by making engaged solar supporters out of non-traditional constituencies.
How group solar purchases work
GroupEnergy programs pool the buying power of established groups (e.g. employees of a company or local government organization, parishioners of faith groups, etc.) to reduce the cost and complexity of their individual solar purchases. Allowing the solar industry to serve an aggregated group rather than many small residential customers lowers customer acquisition costs for solar companies, and results in lower pricing and attractive terms for participants. Think of it as Groupon for solar, but with a twist.
GroupEnergy’s approach is different from other existing group solar purchase models. Rather than focusing on a geographic area, this program focuses on an organization’s workforce or membership and utilizes the existing communication network (i.e. company emails, newsletters) to connect with participants. From the sponsoring organization’s perspective, GroupEnergy is offered as a benefit that supports employee engagement, sustainability and corporate social responsibility program goals. For program participants, GroupEnergy helps them understand the solar value proposition and manage the group purchase process. The program issues Requests for Proposals to solicit competitive bids from the solar industry and then works with an evaluation committee, made up of representatives from the participating organization(s), to score proposals based on a suite of criteria. GroupEnergy acts as an technical advisor to the committee during the proposal review process but does not play a role in the selection of the winning bidder. This unbiased role in the purchasing process helps us at Vote Solar maintain our impartiality with the solar industry. Everyone wins.
In 2012, GroupEnergy’s programs with entities such as the City of Denver, State of Colorado, City of Tucson, eBay, Adobe and Genentech resulted in over 2 MW of residential solar. We’re excited to see what we can do together in 2013.
How this helps advance Vote Solar’s mission
- Reducing soft costs: This is a great way to significantly reduce the cost of going solar in the U.S. Analysis shows that in the U.S., the cost of PV panels — the hardware — is no longer the biggest component to the total installed cost of a solar system. According to a study by LBNL, customer acquisition costs are $0.62/W higher in the U.S. than for comparable projects in Germany–that’s almost as much as the cost of modules! Through GroupEnergy, we believe we can help lower costs in ways that make solar much more accessible to many more American energy consumers.
- Building the movement: We want to give our members more ways to make a difference. GroupEnergy will allow us to expand and rally a larger base of people that care about solar. We hope to be able to strategically engage new solar supporters in ways that will enhance our advocacy strength. For example, we’d like to organize projects with schools and faith based organizations in politically strategic places.
- Catalyzing campaigns. We hope to combine group solar purchases with campaigns to improve the local business environment for solar. For example, if we were to organize a campaign with municipal employees, that could also be used to trigger an improvement of that municipality’s permitting and interconnection procedures.
- Expanding the market. Based on our survey of existing programs, we are convinced that these types of programs reach people that otherwise would not consider solar. Similar programs in Massachusetts have driven adoption rates by a factor of 20. Every solar company Vote Solar has talked to about this new project has been enthusiastic and confident that the GroupEnergy program will help effectively grow markets – adding to the overall size of the solar pie. A big part of our focus will be doing solar in hard-to-do places. Our goal is to make new things happen.
This is a big move for us at Vote Solar, and you can be assured that we did a lot of careful due diligence before making the move. As a guiding principle, we are looking to create sustainable, long-term business environments that create new opportunities for solar market participation and growth.
We are super excited for this new venture. Jessie Denver (the founder of GroupEnergy) and Kevin Armstrong are long-time solar professionals, highly respected in the solar community, and some of the nicest people you will ever meet (if you haven’t already). We are psyched to have them on the team and get to work with them every day.
The more we play around with the possibilities, the more excited we get. If you have thoughts or suggestions for where a GroupEnergy project might be helpful, please let us know.