I just returned from the ASES National Solar Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was struck by the rise of community purchasing models for both solar hot water and solar electric.
The most powerful referral that any company or product can receive is from friends, neighbors or family of a happy customer. This is particularly important for technologies in the beginning stages of the adoption curve like solar hot water and solar PV.
I attended a forum at ASES that demonstrated how motivated local homeowners have banded together to educate themselves and their neighbors about solar technology, help streamline the acquisition process and significantly reduce the up-front cost of putting solar hot water or PV in their home. If solar is going to get off the ground in the US, the community-led approaches I heard discussed hold as much promise for dissemination of useful, trusted information as any top-down model.
The Washington, DC metropolitan area – home to Sunnovations – is fortunate to have a number of such community-driven programs. Northern Virginia is the base of Arlington’s Solar Raisers solar hot water and the District of Columbia boasts ten neighborhood solar co-ops, led by the Mt Pleasant Solar Co-op.
Two of the more sophisticated programs highlighted at ASES were Solarize Seattle and the Sunshares program in San Jose, CA. The forum made me realize how widespread and well organized the community solar movement is. Both Solarize Seattle and Sunshares have published detailed “how-to” manuals to help other communities to organize their own co-ops.
While I retain hope and continue to work towards this end, it is apparent that our national leaders are proving not up to the task of formulating a coherent national energy policy. If we are to get renewables past the point of being niche technologies and dispel the many canards out there, then grassroots efforts like these deserve all of the attention and support we can give them.
Sunnovations is a cleantech client of 4GreenPs.