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According to a study published last month, the cost of solar power has reached an all-time low, with a reported new average of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). The study, conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, demonstrates a decline of 70 percent in PPA prices since 2009, among other stats highlighting the cost and efficiency of solar energy.

The Findings

Each year, the Berkeley Lab publishes a Utility-Scale Solar statement, which reports new findings about utility-scale solar projects based on vast amounts of empirical data. Utility-scale refers to large, ground-mounted solar projects of more than 5 megawatts (MW).

Here’s a roundup of key findings from this year’s Utility-Scale Solar report.

1. The cost of installation has decreased by more than 50 percent since 2009.

2. Efficiency of new solar technology has increased from an average capacity factor of 24.5 percent in projects completed in 2011 to 29.4 percent in projects completed in 2014.

3. The new low average price of 5 cents per kWh has made solar power a competitive option in states outside of the Southwest, where solar power is most widely used. Notably, Southeastern states Arkansas and Alabama are seeing more solar development than ever before.

What This Means

For Consumers

While this new low average price can be partially attributed to improved project performance and lower installation costs, the standing 30 percent federal investment tax credit incentive will fall to 10 percent after 2016. As such, solar technicians are rushing to build projects before the upcoming tax credit decline. Smaller-scale solar companies are competing for space with larger installers, as evidenced by an increase of more than 50 percent for solar panel installation in 2014.

To put these findings in perspective, standard electricity providers earn an average of slightly less than 11 cents per kWh, as of the September update from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The price is lowest for industrial applications, with an average of 7.3 cents revenue per kWh. Ultimately, this makes solar power a highly competitive option for utility-scale applications.

For the Economy

Scientists have long advocated the advantages of a widespread move toward solar energy, stating it will provide jobs and other economic benefits in addition to helping stabilize energy prices nationwide. In contrast to wildly fluctuating fossil fuel prices, renewable energy technologies – like solar – operate at a consistently low cost after installation.

For the Environment

Fossil fuels like oil and coal remain the largest source of energy, even though they are finite resources. Solar energy, on the other hand, is available in abundance. As such, the new low costs and competitive, widespread installation of solar technology also points to environmental benefits, including reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a 2009 UCS report predicts that an increase to 25 percent national renewable electricity standard by 2025 would drastically lower CO2 emissions from power plants by around 277 million metric tons per year.

Some analysts are thinking even further ahead. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, global warming emissions could be reduced by as much as 81 percent with a move toward renewable energy, which ideally would comprise 80 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050.

Where Solar Works Best

For parties interested in making the switch to this form of renewable energy, it’s important to know how solar energy works. Most solar systems are grid-tied, which means they connect to the utility grid for backup energy during nighttime hours and on overcast days. A successful switch to solar depends on large-scale variables, such as proximity to the equator, as well as smaller-scale variables, such as the specific environment surrounding the property. For example, trees and tall buildings create shade, which hinders the efficacy of solar technology.

If you’re deliberating making the switch, take the big picture into account. You’ll want to consider factors like installation costs, federal tax credits and the amount of sunlight your region receives on average – and consulting an expert can definitely help. It’s also a good idea to look at the projected timeline for federal incentives, especially because tax credits are projected to drop significantly within the next two years.

Ultimately, the data points to solar power as a highly viable option, and the low current cost means greater energy savings. For many consumers, this will eventually pay for the cost of installation and then some.

Photo credit Alan Levine

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



Newer, more efficient solar panels and inverters have been in the news recently, but advancements in solar technology aren’t limited to standard equipment. Energy storage is also moving closer to mass-market adoption, and more installers are offering solar batteries (a.k.a. solar-plus-storage) as an option for homeowners. Solar-plus-storage systems include a battery that captures and stores the excess energy generated by the system’s solar panels, opening up the possibility of going “off the grid” – a tempting proposition for homeowners who want to sever their connection with utility companies by using renewable energy.

Since solar battery technology is relatively new to the solar market, there isn’t significant solar storage capacity deployed in the U.S. That won’t be the case for long though: between utility and residential installations, solar battery deployment is expected to increase twelve times over in 2015. As solar batteries become cheaper and more accessible for homeowners, more people are wondering, “Can I use solar batteries to go off the grid with my solar panel system?”

What Does it Mean to go “Off the Grid”?

Installing solar panels on your roof doesn’t mean that you’re off the grid. Most solar systems can’t consistently generate enough electricity to be a home’s only power source, which is why the vast majority of solar homeowners maintain a connection with their utility company.

When you generate more power than you use, your utility gives you a net metering credit on your electricity bill. When you need to, you can then spend your credits to supplement your solar power with electricity from your utility company. If/when you don’t have credits, you’re simply charged the going rate for electricity at that time. For the average solar homeowner, this process typically means you’re generating more power than needed during daylight hours, and less than needed at night.

If your solar panels can generate over 100% of your home’s electricity needs, then the credits you receive from your excess power generation could theoretically cover the costs of electricity needed in low-sunlight periods. However, this process requires that your home still stay connected to the grid. By truly going “off the grid,” you would need to sever your connection to your utility company. By doing this, you would lose the ability to purchase electricity from your utility in low-sunlight periods. This is why your home would need solar batteries installed to stay powered at night.

Can I Use Solar Battery Technology to Take My Home Completely Off the Grid?

The battery storage technology that makes it possible to go off the grid does exist. If you install sufficient battery storage along with your solar PV system, you can store any excess electricity at the time of generation and then draw from it as needed later. In practice, however, going off the grid is more complicated than you might think, particularly if you live in an area with significant climate variation.

Residential-scale solar batteries on the market today can store the energy generated during the day for your home to use at night. This can be particularly beneficial in areas where net metering caps have been reached, or in areas where utility companies don’t have good policies for compensating homeowners who generate excess solar electricity.

The trickier proposition is capturing excess electricity generation in the summer, when solar power generation is highest, to use in the winter, when it is at its lowest. According to EnergySage marketplace data, the average solar shopper offsets 86% of their electricity use with their solar system – a significant amount, but not enough to go off the grid. Preventing total power loss in the event of a winter snowstorm or extended overcast days would require a lot of storage capacity, a very large solar panel system, and a significant financial investment to install.

While it is technically feasible to go off the grid with solar batteries, it’s rarely cost effective. In some places, particularly in remote areas, off-grid solar battery systems are the best (or even the only) option. More often, solar shoppers maintain their connection with their utility company, even when they choose solar-plus-storage solutions.

The Good News: With or Without Storage, Solar Panels Can Still Save You Money

While you might not be able to completely go off the grid, solar panels are still a strong investment, and solar battery technology is becoming cheaper every year. With $0-down solar loans and solar leases, you can save money on your electricity bills as soon as your solar system is up and running, and you may even be able to get rebates or production-based incentives for switching to solar energy.

To learn more, use a solar calculator to get an instant estimate of what solar can do for your home. And as with any other major purchase, be sure to comparison shop for solar equipment and financing options before selecting the ultimate installer you plan to use.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



If you want to install a solar energy system on your property, one of the first questions you’ve probably asked is, “How will I pay for it?” There are many financing options available today for homeowners who want to enjoy the benefits of solar. In many areas, an increasingly popular option for home energy improvements like solar is property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

How Does PACE Financing Work?

Property owners who aren’t able to or interested in buying solar panels in cash can finance their solar energy system with a solar loan or a solar lease or power purchase agreement. PACE financing is a special type of secured loan that is available in areas where the local government has allocated funds.

Here’s the general process for using PACE financing to install solar panels on your property:

1. A county, local, or municipal government passes legislation that establishes a PACE program and makes funds available to investors, usually through the sale of municipal bonds.

2. Authorized financial institutions provide those funds to property owners who want to make clean energy improvements, like installing solar panels on their home or business.

3. Property owners repay the financial institution through an assessment attached to their annual property tax bill.

If you are a residential or a commercial property owner, you can use PACE financing to pay for new heating and cooling systems, insulation, and other energy efficiency upgrades in addition to solar panels. 

What Makes PACE Financing Different from Other Loans?

While PACE financing provides homeowners with funds to make upgrades to their home, it is different from other home improvement loans in a few important ways:

1. Instead of repaying the loan in monthly installments, property owners pay the loan back once a year for a fixed term (10-20 years) through an assessment that is added to their property tax bill.

2. When you install solar panels using PACE financing, you immediately begin to enjoy the financial benefits of your solar panels without having to pay anything upfront. Because the amount of money that you save in electricity costs throughout the year will be significantly greater than the annual increase in your property taxes, you will always benefit from the net gains of your solar investment.

3. If you sell your property before your solar energy system is completely paid off, the rest of the money owed transfers to the new property owner. Unlike most other loans or leases where transfers are negotiated separately, PACE loans are attached to the property itself, not the owner – simplifying the transfer process. Plus, the new owners won’t mind, as they’ll immediately enjoy the financial benefits of solar panels on their new property!

4. While funding amounts and interest rates for traditional loans are determined by your credit, PACE loan amounts are determined by the tax capacity of your property (i.e., how much your property is worth). For property owners who don’t have good enough credit to access favorable loan options, PACE financing is a great alternative for receiving the financial benefits of solar with no upfront costs.

Why is Now a Good Time to Explore PACE Financing for My Home?

PACE legislation already exists in some form in 29 states plus Washington D.C., and is about to become even more accessible to property owners. At the end of August 2015, the Obama Administration announced new actions that will remove barriers for residential PACE financing for single-family households.

While the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) initially warned investors against buying mortgages with PACE assessments attached to them the Administration’s recent actions show it’s changed its tune, and is now encouraging more municipalities to pursue PACE financing legislation.

Find out if PACE financing options are available near you, and don’t forget to compare your financing options when considering solar power for your household. For more about PACE financing, visit the Department of Energy’s fact sheet about PACE programs. 

Read all of Vikram’s posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 


Caluclate Home Solar Costs

The benefits of owning a solar energy system significantly increase when you take advantage of available rebates, tax credits and incentives. This is because these incentives will reduce your upfront installation costs, and as a result accelerate your payback period – paying less up front means breaking even more quickly. These programs can reduce the upfront costs of your system by 30 to 50 percent, but vary state-by-state as well as city-by-city. Read on to see if your city makes the top 5!

Types of Financial Incentive Programs

Utilities and local, state, and federal governments have established a variety of financial incentives to encourage the installation of solar energy systems:

• The preeminent incentive today is the federal investment tax credit (ITC), which can reduce the cost of your solar installation by 30 percent.
• Some states also offer their own state tax credits. Popular examples include ArizonaOregon, and Massachusetts.
• Certain organizations (like utilities and nonprofits) that want to encourage solar installations will offer time-limited cash rebates; these rebates can further reduce your costs by another 10 to 20 percent.
• Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs)
 are another source of financial value, but only available in certain states.
• Net-metering 
allows for the possibility of selling excess electricity back to the grid, essentially sending your electricity meter backwards until you need the energy at a later point.
• Some utilities, like Austin Energy, will pay system owners per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for the electricity that their solar panels produce.
• Cities and states also offer subsidized loans, property tax exemptions, and state sales tax exemptions for solar energy system owners.

How We Ranked the Cities

EnergySage analyzed available incentive programs throughout the United States, and assembled a list of the top five cities where homeowners can reduce the costs of going solar. To do this, we first needed to approximate the average size and efficiency of a solar energy system in each city. We sourced the system size data from our marketplace averages, and used NREL data to gauge the electricity-generating potential of the panels. Next we had to look at what city and state incentive programs were available, and relied on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE). Because their data is pulled from many different sources, we standardized it for use in nationwide comparison.

The results of our ranking show the top incentive programs by city, assuming  standard electricity bill and home installation. Each city ended up in the top 5 because it offers healthy incentive programs to install solar and/or has high electricity costs that make solar more financially attractive.

The Results: The Top 5 Cities

These calculations are based on an average electricity bill of $100/month.

Austin, Texas — EnergySage calculated the average price for installed solar in Austin to be 25 percent lower than the national average price. Austin Energy offers an additional rebate for installed solar which, when combined with the ITC and property tax exemption, results in savings of more than 50 percent. Austin Energy will also credit system owners 11.3 cents per kWh of electricity produced by their system through its Value of Solar Energy Rate.

Seattle, Washington — While Seattle City Light has one of the lowest electricity rates in the country, the average price of solar installation also falls just below the national median price. The utility offers renewable production incentives of up to $5,000 per year, a state sales tax exemption and net-metering credits.

Charlotte, North Carolina — NC GreenPower provides a performance-based incentive for solar systems sized up to 5 KW. Additionally, North Carolina offers a state tax credit of up to 35 percent of the net cost of the system, with the maximum incentive varying between $1,400 and $10,500 (depending on the technology).

New York, New York — New York City’s Long Island Power Authority has one of the highest electricity rates of our analysis. The state provides two financial incentive programs: a rebate program with a residential incentive of $0.30/W, and a state tax credit that will reduce the net cost by 25 percent (up to $5,000).

Kansas City, Missouri — In addition to a below-average cost per watt of installed solar in Missouri, the state also has a rebate program that offers $1.00/W to homeowners who submitted their application in 2015—one of the highest rebates in the country.

It’s important to note that financial incentive programs vary state-by-state and city-by-city, and homeowners are well served to utilize an independent 3rd party when assessing their options. Just because you don’t see your city here, doesn’t mean you’re not incentivized to go solar! Simply enter your zip code in the DSIRE database to find incentive programs near you. For more detailed results, enter your property address and electricity usage here to receive an instant estimate of your solar savings.

Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Solar power is taking the world by storm. People are not only using it to produce energy by placing solar panels on their roof, but they are starting to use the technology in new ways. Here are some other unique uses for solar power:

Heat Storage Tubes

These modern and sleek-looking tubes seem like something from the distant future, but they could be making their way into homes much sooner. They are cylinders made out of fiberglass and filled with water. As long as they are placed in a location that gets sun, the water will heat up and become a heat source. The nice thing is that with the right theme in your home, you can use these as room dividers or just as part of your home décor.


Source: 7 Ways to Use Solar Power Around the House

Solar-Powered Water Heater

Instead of wasting precious electricity and gas to heat up water in a water heater, you could use the power of the sun. A solar-powered water heater is perfect for those who want to conserve natural resources AND save money on their electricity or gas bill.

Worried about the winters? Don’t be! The unit will charge during the sunniest days of the year, and that will be enough to keep water warm through the coldest days.

Naturally-Heated Pools and Hot Tubs

Just like solar panels can heat water in cylinder tubes and water heaters, they can do the same for your pool and hot tub. Many people don’t get a heated pool or hot tub because of the cost of heating it, but with solar energy, it would be free. There are special units that sit in the water that will generate heat from the sun, which will make your pool and hot tub a comfortable temperature. 

Solar Vehicles

Solar cars aren’t travelling down the streets of the U.S. just yet, but they will likely be showing up in a few years. Solar panels can be placed on the roof and even the sides of the cars to generate the energy they need to run. What’s great about this is that you don’t have to fill up on gas or plug in your car for charging.


Source: Stella, The First Four-Seater, Solar-Powered Vehicle Hits the U.S. Road

It won’t be too long before we start to see other solar-powered vehicles such as trucks, tractors, and other agriculture equipment. This will end up saving the environment even more by cutting down on pollution and the use of fuel.

Solar Paint

Solar paint is another invention that may not be too far away from being much more common. With solar paint, all you have to do is paint it on your home, and the solar cells will start to generate energy. It’s a less expensive and practical way to switch over to a renewable energy source.

With these unique ways to use solar energy, it’s likely solar-powered products will be becoming much more commonplace very soon. This is such good news considering that our natural resources are being depleted at alarming rates. Look out for the latest advancements in solar energy to ease yourself into a new way to power your home and office.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


 Transmission Line Dinosaurs

Click here to read Part 1 of The Wise Grid Series: Smart Meters are Not Smart by Camilla Rees.

A 150-mile transmission line project proposed in 2012 costing up to $1.3 billon is a “dinosaur” that is still haunting the Hudson Valley, even though the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has more recently embarked on a new and truly “revolutionary” re-thinking of its entire energy strategy — the “REV” or “Reforming the Energy Vision” proceeding.

The REV, begun in 2014, has put on the table the idea of moving the State rapidly toward renewable distributed generation that is safe, reliable, resilient, sustainable, and more democratic.

Rooftop solar energy, battery storage, and community microgrids can replace the ancient, costly, and vulnerable centralized generation and transmission electricity system that has dominated New York and the entire nation — and advanced little technologically — for over a century.

A technical conference on the proposed transmission project was held by the PSC in Albany in July, and more hearings will be scheduled for the fall. The transmission project should have been pre-empted by the REV, which is far more in alignment with society’s values for sustainable renewable locally-generated energy.

Why the obsolete monster is still staggering around is not entirely clear. The ongoing capital spending trajectory of the utility industry, aiming to waste billions on obsolete and unneeded infrastructure, places it on a collision course with the technology and economics of distributed renewable energy — the path to an abundant, clean energy future for NY State and the nation. Considering large new transmission is precisely the wrong approach.

Key Issues with the ‘Energy Highway’ and National Utility Energy Generation

The “Energy Highway” transmission dinosaur project needs to die. Here are some reasons:

• A need for additional power lines to serve New York City is not supported by measurable evidence or by any independent determination of need. This was well documented in a report by Gidon Eshel (2014), Hudson Valley Transmission Line Plan: Assessing Need and Alternatives.

• The proposed power line project only serves the financial interests of utilities and suppliers increasing their bottom line, since all costs can be charged back to ratepayers. Billion-dollar electricity industry investments should advance the economic interests of residents of New York City and NY State, as with renewable energy and distributed (local) generation, not try to save an obsolete electricity system.

• New York utility customers paid 40 percent more for electricity over the past decade while the price of natural gas, the principal fuel used to generate it, has dropped 39 percent. One reason for this irony is capital spending by utilities, primarily on generation and transmission — $17 billion in that same period. Rates in New York are estimated to go up another 63 percent in the next decade. This rate trajectory is unsustainable and unjustified, both in New York and in the nation.

• The proposed transmission line project would renew a commitment to centralized electricity generation (largely fossil fuel-based) for yet another half-century, exacerbating the risks of climate change and global warming.

• Alternative investment encouraging local, distributed generation can move New York State toward sustainable long-term clean energy independence and abundance at a reasonable cost.  Such investment can also improve economic competitiveness, preserve natural resources, enhance national and community security, reduce potential health risks, improve resiliency from severe weather events, and help forestall the threat from man-made global warming.

• Renewable generation, especially solar PV, and “distributed” (locally-based) grid technologies are just as efficient at either small or large scale. By adding information technology, distributed (local) systems can actually be more efficient than conventional centralized systems and should be what we are investing in now.

• The nearer electricity can be produced to where it is used, the lower the transmission losses can be. With distributed solar within the distribution grid, long-distance transmission losses are completely avoided. With on-site generation and storage, even the local distribution losses are eliminated. Thus, the entire system could enjoy an efficiency improvement of 8–15 percent with localized generation and storage.”

• A structural transformation of the energy economy is underway — a shift in how and by whom energy in all forms is produced and consumed — and NY State would be wise to not resist it. “When considered within the context of the urgency brought by climate change and global warming, it is clearly possible that solar and other renewable energy could soon bring about an abrupt end to the age of fossil fuels.”

• The concept of a future grid based on centralized control of renewable energy, called an “Integrated Grid” by the Electric Power Research Institute, is not advised. It makes no sense to maintain centralized control of an inherently decentralized and simpler technology — to try to control a technological transformation where “distributed” should imply a more independent, democratic, community-based, smaller, simpler, and scalable electricity system.  The solar age has arrived.   The transformation underway should not be impeded by the excess baggage of a progressively obsolete and superfluous centralized grid.

• The New York Public Service Commission’s REV initiative— Reforming the Energy Vision — should be the principle focus of NY State for now. The program offers the opportunity to take a fresh and comprehensive view of New York’s energy future, establishing a platform to review technical and policy approaches for providing electricity in an economical, safe, secure, resilient and democratic manner to all people in NY.

• By New York State focusing on developing a clean and sustainable electricity system, a range of other risks from the proposed “Energy Highway” can be successfully avoided, responding to the increasingly vocal concerns of constituents. These include preventing wildlife habitat fragmentation; tourism decline; property devaluations; grid reliability issues with large, complex systems; financial waste from technological obsolescence; and the eyesore of large transmission lines, a “gratuitous industrialization of the natural landscape.”

• There are many promising technical and policy alternatives for developing local distributed renewable electricity generation and storage resources in New York. These include small-scale pumped hydro, river flow hydro, water main flow hydro, rooftop water tank-flow hydro, small scale wind, solar gardens, solar parking lots/structures, solar trees with electric vehicle charging, and community grid and commercial/industrial site storage with “flow batteries”, etc.

• A potentially important emerging technology known as Transactive Energy (TE) can help solve problems such as the variability of solar and wind generation in local electricity grids.  Now under development in Department of Energy labs, TE is a technique that can use advanced Internet communications to automatically and equitably balance supply and demand by trading electricity among homes, businesses and industrial users generating some of their own power.

• Now is an opportune time to build a new electricity distribution system based on the Five Pillars of Energy Democracy proposed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Farrell, 2015), bringing an end to the rationale of utilities as “natural monopolies.” The five pillars are flexible, efficient, low-carbon, local and equitable. Today’s system, in contrast, could be considered intransigent, wasteful, polluting, remote and unaccountable.


In summary, the old proposed “Energy Highway” attempts to prop up investor-owned utilities by awarding generous cost-of-service rates and profitable guaranteed capital cost recovery without regard to societal priorities and with high potential for significant negative impacts.

To secure its energy future, New York State must rise to its potential for clean energy abundance, lowered energy costs and sustainable economic competitiveness through investment in distributed (or locally generated) electricity using renewable energy technologies. The PSC’s REV proceeding has the opportunity to do just that.  But, the people need to get engaged and help their PSC do the right thing, else the REV will just get hijacked by the utilities as has so often happened in the past.

New York State would be making an enormous and costly, wasteful, and strategic mistake to allow the Hudson Valley transmission project to proceed any further. It is time to put the dinosaur bones in a museum and to move from the past to a clean energy future.

Find Out the Full Story

For the full story, your can read my 40-page policy paper, The Hudson Valley “Energy Highway” transmission project: An idea whose time has passed?, published by the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy (NISLAPP) in Washington, D.C.

Timothy Schoechle, PhD is a Senior Research Fellow with the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy (NISLAPP) in Washington, DC, and Boulder, Colorado.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


You’ve probably seen yard signs for Solarize campaigns around your neighborhood. But what exactly does it mean to solarize? Is it really a new verb? Here we’ll explain the basics of a Solarize program, plus what the pros and cons are for your community.

What is Solarize? Community Solar? Group Solar?

Solarize programs can go by a variety of names; all are in essence a means by which groups of buyers can secure a lower price for solar installations through bulk ordering. A municipality, employer or other local organization chooses one company in the area to serve as the solar installer for their community’s Solarize program. Due to volume discounts, the solar installer can negotiate a price that’s often lower than what individual homeowners could achieve. In fact, the price tends to fall as more and more people join the program. To bring in as many homeowners as possible, the community organizer and solar installer typically launch a six-month campaign to educate community members about the benefits of going solar. After the educational campaign is finished, the installer then spends the next six months installing all the solar energy systems for homeowners who participated. Vote Solar, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the Connect Green Bank have all organized Solarize programs for communities in the past.

The Pros of Solarize Programs

Great Way to Be Involved In Community Action. Being involved in a Solarize program can be a great way to take part in a larger movement within your community, and work with people who share similar goals.

Reputation Boost for Chosen Installer. Solarize programs are a great accolade for the installer that is ultimately chosen by the community. Many solar installers will use their selection for a Solarize program in future marketing materials.

Good Way to Accomplish a Shared Environmental Goal. If a town or municipality has a renewable energy or environmental goal, launching a Solarize program can be a great way to help them achieve it quickly.

Lower Risk to Take Action as a Group. As the expression goes, “there’s safety in numbers”. This is the driving idea behind Solarize programs, as larger groups tend to have better leverage in price negotiations with installers and outside parties.

Limited Choice Makes Decisions Easier. If you only have a few options when evaluating solar energy systems, then choosing the best one for you is a much shorter, simpler process.

The Cons of Solarize Programs

Unnecessary Restriction on Consumer Choice. Working with only one installer restricts the choices that consumers would otherwise have in terms of design and equipment. What’s right for your neighbor’s house or budget may not be right for yours, but using only one solar installer in a community restricts the options available to consumers.

Discourages Competition. Solarize programs were necessary when it was hard to find qualified installers, but now there are generally several well-established and reputable solar installation companies in each community.

Time Intensive to Find the Right Installer. Finding an appropriate installer can cost the organising body time and money, as it usually involves a lengthy review process. This is money and effort that could be spent elsewhere.

The Price You’re Quoted Isn’t Always the Actual Price. In most cases the price negotiated by the community organization is for the installer’s most basic solar energy system. The homeowner should expect higher costs if they want different panel types or colors, a higher efficiency inverter, or any sort of change from the basic package.

Backlog of Installations. The community education process often lasts six months, and during this period a backlog of new home installations can build up. This buildup can have an adverse effect on both the installer and homeowner. For the homeowner, by the time their installation takes place the price of a solar installation may have already dropped below the price they originally agreed upon. For the installer, having a boom and bust cycle in terms of installation volume can force them to hire and fire workers at irregular intervals.

Solarize programs can be a great way to motivate a community to achieve a common goal, and played a valuable role in the early days of solar. But the solar energy industry has matured rapidly over the last few years, and there are often more efficient ways to achieve one’s solar installation goals. Online solar marketplaces offer much more choice and transparency to solar shoppers, and $0-down solar leases can provide an alternative for cash-strapped homeowners. We recommend that interested parties weigh the pros and cons of Solarize programs carefully, given the restrictions it places on consumers, pressure it puts on installers, and time it demands of community organizers.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.