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The Solarize Option

Paul Kando

Solarize is a solar photovoltaic (PV) group purchasing program that aims to lower installation costs for residential and small business solar systems. It is a cost-effective way for communities to increase the number of residential and small business solar installations. The first Solarize campaign took place in 2009 in a Portland, Oregon neighborhood whose residents decided to band together to increase their solar purchasing power. Their “Southeast Uplift” initiative soon grew into a citywide solar bulk buying program.

Solar PV panels on a police station
photo credit: watertown-ma.gov

“Solarize Portland” delivered 20% cost savings to participating customers. In the first six months more than 300 home owners signed solar installation contracts. Other communities took notice and launched their own Solarize programs. Across the country, Solarize campaigns have been introduced on the neighborhood, municipal, county, and regional level, creating jobs, lowering energy bills, and decreasing carbon footprints.

At its core, Solarize is a community-focused marketing campaign that combines four main characteristics:

  1. Tiered discount pricing. Pre-negotiated group buying discounts increase as more people sign up, i.e., the more people go solar, the lower the price for everyone who participates.
  2. A community-driven outreach that may include personal interactions, social media, educational forums, town meetings, and booths at community events.
  3. Pre-selected Installer. The community selects an installer to service the area through the duration of the Solarize campaign. This reduces the installers’ marketing costs and spares the consumer from having to shop around for a reputable, price-competitive installer.
  4. Limited-Time Offer. A limited-time offer motivates customers to act quickly, or risk missing the window of opportunity to install solar PV at a reduced cost.

The cost savings of a Solarize program result from coordinated education, pro-motion, and outreach efforts provided by local volunteers, along with discounted pricing made possible by reduced marketing costs. These savings are passed along to home and small business owners, creating a compelling reason to sign up.

Solarize campaigns have taken different forms in different locations, but they are all group purchasing initiatives. Few restrictions have been placed on the use of the word “Solarize.” In some places, for example, independent neighborhood or installer-driven efforts have used the Solarize label. Many of these informal initiatives have been successful. However, having an organized, systematic, municipally or state-backed Solarize program can add legitimacy to a group purchasing arrangement.

Solarize Connecticut and Solarize Massachussetts are two successful state-driven Solarize programs in New England. There are also successful efforts in Vermont and New Hampshire. Maine has no statewide “solarize” – or other -- solar program. However, there are several local initiatives in the making, including Solarize Freeport and our own Solarize initiative soon to be formally launched by the Damariscotta/Newcastle Twin Villages Energy Committee, in collaboration with the Midcoast Green Collaborative and ReVision Energy LLC. Details are still in the works. The signup period is expected to run from late August through December 1, 2015. Early expressions of interest are welcome. To be kept abreast about this unfolding project, email Paul Kando.