By Erica Flock
I was walking through my neighborhood in Washington, DC last month when I noticed gleaming new solar panels on someone’s roof.
“Good for them,” I thought. “At least one neighbor made the switch.” But days later, I noticed freshly installed solar panels on another neighbor’s roof. Was this a coincidence? Why were my neighbors suddenly going solar at the same time?
I grabbed a brochure from outside one of the homes and learned that an organization called DC SUN had assisted over 150 homeowners in my part of the city go solar through something called solar bulk purchasing.
Here’s how bulk purchasing works: a resident or two decides they want to put solar panels on their home, but the cost might be a little too high, or they’re daunted by the thought of going through the process without assistance. So they get a group of neighbors in the same room to talk about going solar together. Maybe it’s a dozen people, maybe it’s a hundred. In any case, the group shares resources and solicits bids from solar installers, picking the one they like best. Then each participating homeowner signs a contract with the selected installer and saves up to 30% on their photovoltaic (PV) system.
Anya Schoolman has popularized bulk purchasing in Washington, DC. Back in 2009, she started the Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative with her teenage son and his friend after they had seen An Inconvenient Truth.
“If we’re going to go through all the work to figure out how to go solar, we’re going to do the whole neighborhood,” Anya said of the initial project. Now the concept is taking off in every ward of the city and Schoolman’s organization Community Power Network is assisting other states too.
People from Arizona to Massachusetts have discovered that bulk purchasing is a win-win. Not only do households get to install less expensive clean energy, installers get the assurance and convenience of a guaranteed customer base.
So how much does a solar system cost?
In Washington DC, the sticker price of a modest 3 Kw system is about $13,500. After tax credits, bulk purchase discount and a year of clean energy generation, the system costs a little over $3000. Over time, residents will earn the cost of the panels and installation back as low electricity bills become the norm. Some homeowners opt to lease their solar panels through a “power purchase agreement,” avoiding up-front costs entirely. Each state has different incentives so check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) to learn about policies in your area.
There’s something empowering about switching to clean energy with other people in your community. And the sight of multiple homes with rooftop solar normalizes clean energy in a way that nothing else could.
When it comes to renewable energy, you don’t have to go it alone. Want to learn how you can go solar with your neighbors and save money too? Check out this list of existing bulk purchasing programs or read this handy guide for how to start your own!