'Solarize' program gives rise to new business models
By Lee van der Voo
The "Solarize" program, which spread from Southeast Portland nationwide, is prompting new approaches to buying solar and running solar businesses.
A couple of trend-setting businesses are popping up in a space created by Portland’s former Solarize pilot, the community-driven effort to help solar customers pool their residential solar purchases for better pricing and smoother logistics.
Solarize recently wrapped up its program after five years testing bulk-buying in the residential solar market.
The program was developed by residents in Southeast Portland and quickly caught on in other neighborhoods. Its growth was ultimately stewarded by the city of Portland with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and support from the National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado. Solar Oregon and Energy Trust of Oregon were partners.
Solarize collected solar-interested customers together through its program, opening timed enrollment periods in selected neighborhoods, then lowering costs for buy-in by teaming up with installers that could discount rates through their own savings on marketing and education when handed hot leads. Solarize helped smooth the buying process by hosting competitive bidding for a contractor and tackling logistics.
Through its active life, the program installed 1.6 megawatts of distributed solar —panels on a variety of rooftops — on 576 buildings through six neighborhood campaigns in Portland, said Andria Jacob, a clean energy manager with the city and overseer of the program.
Solarize meanwhile cut costs by 30 percent for buyers, and is credited with creating 50 jobs. The program has since sunset, but not before distributing federal grants to 13 other Oregon communities to replicate its model and helping the National Renewable Energy Lab develop a Solarize Guidebook. Since the guidebook’s first publication in 2011, dozens of communities, companies and contractors around the nation have pressed the collective-purchasing idea forward.
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