Solar Companies Harness Power in Numbers0

Laurie Stark | Fri Oct 7 2011 |

Pottery classes, spa treatments, flower deliveries—you’ve harnessed the power of companies like Groupon or Living Social for strength-in-numbers discounts, but now groups across the country are applying this model to solar energy.

According to the San Francisco Department of the Environment, the biggest obstacles to solar energy for business owners are installation costs and a dearth of affordable funding. The solution to these challenges might lie in the new group buying craze. Investors and nonprofits alike are jumping on the bandwagon, but is this a revolution or a passing fad?

San Francisco’s Solar@Work hopes to reduce costs by combining 20 or more businesses into a single purchasing group, vetting solar companies to find the best value for the lowest price. Under this system, participating businesses are expected to pay less for solar power than they’d pay for electricity from the grid.

Going solar helps small businesses in many ways beyond the inherent environmental benefits.

A company with a similar dream is One Block off the Grid, which facilitates group discounts for homeowners who want to utilize solar power. SolarMosaic—a California-based business—is yet another group working the strength-in-numbers angle, but this time for community buildings such as schools and churches. Soltastic and WholeSolar are group buying ventures that serve solar professionals, securing discounts on solar components so companies can pass the savings on to customers.

Adam Gusse of H&H Solar in Madison, WI says solar panel prices have fallen as much as 60 percent in the past four years and are continuing to fall. The power of collective buying could lower those costs even more.

“Going solar helps small businesses in many ways beyond the inherent environmental benefits,” says Ivan Welander, owner of Active Solar in Bayfield County, WI. “It reduces energy bills and makes budgeting for future energy costs predictable.”

“They’re a hedge against rising prices,” agrees Lee Bristol, co-founder of Standard Solar in Rockville, MD. “You’ll get power for at least 25 years from solar.”

Illustration by Next Studio