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Will Solar Group-Buy Programs Go Mainstream?

By November 9, 2016 No Comments
Solar Group-Buy Programs

A large regional solar installer in the Los Angeles area found that installations in the same neighborhood cut his costs by 21%.

A whole community going solar at once has some obvious advantages; bulk discounts on the equipment, lower labor and transportation costs through clustered installations, and offset marketing costs by the community spreading the word. The concept has some similarities to shopping at wholesale retailer like Sam’s Club or Costco and is a trend catching on nationwide. But why has it taken so long?

In 2007 the first solar group buy was launched by SolarCity. That year could be considered the birth of the rooftop solar industry. The economics were not nearly as attractive as they are today, even with massive incentives, and the concept of generating your own power was completely new. It was a concept that left many homeowners skeptical. In order to make the economics more feasible, SolarCity knew they had gain steam quickly to spread out overhead and operation costs over more projects. SolarCity chose a location close to their headquarters, Mountain View California, and launched the first solar group buy. Several months later, they launched a second group buy for the same community.

SolarCity no longer runs these programs today. It could be assumed that after they penetrated a market and established operations, these programs were no longer needed to sustain growth. The communities became familiar with the idea of solar allowing SolarCity to continue to gain market share through referrals, without the need for massively focused marketing campaigns. It should also be noted that as solar adoption accelerated, more competition popped up in the market – meaning SolarCity’s product offering lost its lust to competition (see SolarCity MyPower Review).

Although the market leader no longer felt the need to run these programs, it does not mean the programs stopped. An online sales organization called 1BOG picked up where SolarCity left off. They ran similar group buy programs in California and other areas throughout the country, in some instances still having SolarCity do the installation work. Essentially they would partner with the lowest bidder to install the projects. But again, that program fizzled out in 2012. The industry was still very young, and the available technology likely caused operational and user experience issues.

Today, solar group buy programs are more prevalent than ever. Most of these programs are run by non-profits with an environmental focus. Solar is at a point where homeowners will pay less for a solar payment than they would to their utility, and these environmental organizations want to educate their communities on this to push forward the adoption of solar. One of the most popular group buy campaigns that has seen vast success in the northeast is called Solarize. This program saves communities money in going solar, bolsters adoption, and brings economic activity to the region .

However, these programs still face challenges. Non-profits are not sales organizations and do not have specific domain experience on how to size and design a system, let alone put together a production simulation and potential savings. They either leave these details very vague where the homeowner might not know what they are getting into, or they will have the installer send representatives out to interested homeowners, causing additional costs and hassle. In addition, these non-profits struggle with installer selection. Price is not everything, especially when you are putting your organization’s name behind a rooftop solar installation that an outside company is responsible for doing correctly. These programs have run into issues regarding quality and customer service.

Pick My Solar has put together a new solution combining several models that have been attempted in the past. But what differentiates it even more, is the ability to leverage existing technology and vetted installer networks. Pick My Solar analyzed system pricing and installer interactions of thousands of rooftop solar projects to help craft the next generation of solar group purchase programs called SolarUP. By continuing outreach through non-profits, but also providing a full service solar expert to virtually assess each individual home’s unique circumstances, consumers won’t feel like they are just a number in the group buy.

Pick My Solar has leveraged its proprietary bid analysis technology to produce dynamic solar proposals for homeowners to compare options side-by-side, and view different loan terms or down payments. Non-profits running these solar group-buy programs often struggle with these details. For SolarUP, this results in upfront, locked in pricing, far more competitive than conventional group buy programs can achieve. In addition, the SolarUP program requires a commitment by the homeowner of less than 30 minutes.

Currently SolarUP is offering its group buy program exclusively to the San Gabriel Valley in Southern California. The program includes over 45 cities with discounts of 20-30% below market. To find out more, refer a friend, look at rates, or request a SolarUP movement in your area, visit www.SolarUpSanGabriel.com.

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