Make Solar Great Again!

It’s a time of renewed public activism across America.

Case in point: We’ve just seen hundreds of thousands of people march in Washington to stop climate change, and just weeks before that, we witnessed the “March for Science”. Of course, these marches took place just months after the “Women’s March” and built upon the unbridled community activism that we see happening in communities from coast to coast with “Huddles” and “Indivisible” other vestiges of renewed political and community organizing.

If there’s one thing that’s been proven since the election in November of 2016, it’s that people from all political persuasions have been activated and motivated.

But after the marching is done, and the signs are put away, many people are left wondering, “What else can I do? Besides marching, how can I actually help be a part of the climate solution?”

Well the folks at Yale University, Duke University, the US Department of Energy, the Connecticut Green Bank and my non-profit organization SmartPower, have a way to channel that energy. Recently we released a groundbreaking study that makes it easy for all Americans to go Solar.

Solarize Your Community is the road map that allows each of us to turn our passion into action.

So as we leave these various marches and return to our homes, we can commit to, a-hem, “Make Solar Great Again!”

First some background:

The “Solarize” program was created back in 2007 in Portland, Oregon, where one visionary and enthusiastic homeowner gathered nearby friends and neighbors to aggregate their purchases of solar energy. The City of Portland and the Energy Trust of Oregon joined to support the outreach effort, and the result was a near tripling of the number of solar installations expected. This model was later refined with great success by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Subsequently, my nonprofit, SmartPower, after modeling a successful solar outreach effort in Arizona, teamed up with the Connecticut Green Bank and brought Solarize to Connecticut. We are well on our way to perfecting the model.

The Solarize model starts with selecting communities and identifying the “Solar Champions” within those communities. Then, together, through a competitive process, we select a contractor that will serve as the approved and “vetted” solar installer during the time-limited Solarize Campaign. During the campaign we provide outreach and education through town volunteers, solar ambassadors, and local community groups and organizations — all coordinated and managed by SmartPower. Typically, the campaigns run between 16 and 20 weeks in each community.

Over the years we’ve realized that Solarize is so successful because it addresses several of the key barriers to residential solar deployment identified in consumer research:

1. Cost. Solarize offers a reduced initial price because of the “group purchase”. 
Add in zero down financing thanks to companies such as San-Francisco-based Dividend Solar and cost becomes less and less of an issue.

2. Reliability. As a program sponsored by a municipality and/or state, Solarize gives residents the confidence they need to move forward with a pre-selected, pre-approved installer using pre-vetted equipment; 

3. Complexity. We’ve removed the confusion and complexity in buying solar because the pricing and the installer for Solarize campaigns have been screened and competitively selected; the consumer is not overwhelmed with technical details and financial confusion.

4. Inertia. Finally, every retailer knows a good “Sale” drives in customers. So our campaigns create a clear end date that ensures consumers are motivated to take action, shortening the decision making process. 

Which brings us to the release of this Guidebook. Solarize Your Community is the result of three years of intensive on-the-ground testing and implementation in cities and towns across Connecticut. By tracking SmartPower Solarize Campaigns throughout the state, Yale University economist Kenneth Gillingham and Duke University marketing Professor Bryan Bollinger have pinpointed the most powerful levers for boosting residential solar adoption. With the learnings of this research, we created a proven model — a “recipe” for success, if you will — that any city or town in the nation can replicate.

This research has revealed that a well-run Solarize program triples the number of rooftop installations in a community and reduced the average cost of residential solar by 20-30 percent. And as if that weren’t enough, Solarize also creates local jobs and streamlines what has traditionally been a cumbersome permitting process.

Further, Gillingham and Bollinger found that customers in Connecticut’s Solarize program were overwhelmingly satisfied with their installations, and more than 80 percent would recommend (or have already recommended) solar to others. This helps to explain why 20 percent of those who chose to go solar under this model had never before thought about acquiring solar power. Solarize helps “break through” to the next tier of American consumers. In other words, these campaigns increase residential solar market share beyond those who are naturally inclined towards purchasing solar to those consumers who haven’t traditionally considered themselves “Green”.

Pretty remarkable.

At the heart of the program’s success is the “contagious” property of solar installations—the way that neighbors’ installations influence peers. Over a six-month period, the presence of one solar rooftop project increased the average number of installations within a half-mile radius by nearly 50 percent. Let that sink in – 50 percent! This peer influence effect proved even stronger if the panels were visible from the street.

And it makes sense. If neighbors see someone else on the block, someone they know and trust, installing solar panels, then they’re more willing to take the leap themselves. So through Solarize we are are able to build a “Tipping point” for residential solar, street by street, community by community, and city by city—faster, and cheaper, than ever imagined. And we can do this with huge amounts of customer satisfaction.

Now it’s your community’s turn. With this guidebook there’s no excuse for not going solar.

In this age of renewed activism among the American people, “Solarizing” seems to be the perfect way to pass the time between “marches on Washington”. So download the guidebook here – and let’s Solarize!

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