There’s power in numbers. In the marketplace, buying in bulk can bring greater discounts. And by reading the same book or losing weight at the same time, residents and neighbors connect with others and build motivation.
What happens when a handful of towns combine these ideas as a way to increase the number of solar home installations?
The answer can be found in Connecticut, where organizers say a 20-week community-based pilot program (in Durham, Fairfield, Portland and Westport) nearly tripled the number of contracted installations over the last seven years, and saved each individual homeowner $7,500 (with an accumulative savings of $2.2 million). More than 2.2 MW of new solar PV capacity was installed across all municipalities.
The results were detailed in a report recently released by SmartPower, a Washington, D.C.-nonprofit firm specializing in clean energy.
“When you look at the research, people are more likely to adopt clean energy if they know others doing it — when it’s become a new social norm,” said Toni Bouchard, vice president of SmartPower.
But key to the program’s success was eliminating traditional barriers that can trip up even the most motivated homeowner — from pre-arranging financing to eliminating the mystery of the installation process by inviting neighbors to drop in on one happening nearby, she said.
Dubbed SolarizeCT, the community education and group-buying program was launched in Spring 2012 by SmartPower and the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA). While SmartPower conducted community outreach with the residents and town leaders, CEFIA worked with a range of solar contractors interested in providing bids.
Here’s how it worked: First, a town hall meeting was held to kick off the campaign, give an overview of the solar installation process, explain the tiered pricing system, and introduce the contractors. Each contractor produced bids on five different tiers based on the number of houses whose owners opted for solar. The more houses that signed up, the lower the installation price.
While towns played a key role in selecting their own contractor of choice, Bouchard said, the three representatives of each town asked questions of the contracting bidders in a group.
“Sometimes it was someone from the clean energy task force, sometimes it was a construction professional, sometimes a businessman,” she said. By asking the contractors questions together, town representatives were able to learn from each other and consider elements they hadn’t thought about before.
SmartPower, CEFIA and the two foundations that helped to sponsor the program — the
John Merck Foundation and the Putnam Family Foundation — had evidence that the group-model buying model had merit. It was first tested in Portland, Ore. in 2007, and later in Massachusetts.
During the 20-week period, all four towns signed up enough homes — about 280 in all — to reach the highest pricing discount, Bouchard said.
“They were competing with each other to try and get the greatest number of contract installations,” she said.
By Kristine Wong