The Young-Cupery family installed solar in Shorewood through our group buy in 2015.

A group of Wauwatosa residents has teamed up with Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and the Grow Solar Partnership to coordinate a solar group buy in Wauwatosa. The advantage of a group buy is the power of volume purchasing, which can significantly reduce the up-front costs of installing solar on your home or business. You do not need to be a Wauwatosa resident to participate – the group buy is open to all Milwaukee area residents and commercial property owners. 

Since 2013, the MREA has worked with the City of Milwaukee’s solar program, Milwaukee Shines, on limited-time solar group buys in the area. Milwaukee Shines’ goal is to increase solar education and installations in City of Milwaukee through a group purchase and competitive bidding process. This year, the Solar Wauwatosa group buy is being led  by the MREA concurrently with Milwaukee’s efforts.

Dozens of solar group buys have been completed across the country in cities like Portland, Milwaukee, and Chicago, and in states from California to Vermont. Among all of them, there have been some common elements that led to success: competitive contractor selection, community-led outreach with a trusted community partner, and a limited-time offering.

Competitive Contractor Selection: Solar Milwaukee / Solar Wauwatosa’s advisory committee is comprised of representatives from the MREA, City of Milwaukee, and residents of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. They issued a competitive Request for Proposals and selected a single installer to help carry out the program. This way customers get the simplicity of a single installer, plus the confidence that the selection was made from a number of competitive choices.

Community-Led Outreach: The program would not be possible without the strong support of the City of Milwaukee and local organizations. Are you part of a neighborhood association, nonprofit organization, school, or workplace that is excited about solar? Help us get the word out by distributing flyers or hosting a Solar Power Hour! Email to get started.

Limited-time Offering: Nothing motivates people like a deadline. The time-sensitive nature of the group buy adds urgency into the mix, and helps bring the price down for everyone. How? Read on.

PRICING

The key ingredient for most participants is the pricing for the group buy. The competitive bidding process ensures the program achieves a price per watt lower than any individual would generally be able to get on the market. In addition, the price comes down for everyone when certain benchmarks are surpassed.

How is a solar installer able to offer such low prices through the program? There are two important factors: strong customer education and an economy of scale. 

Strong Customer Education: Crucial to the success of the program is the community outreach and education we do. The MREA, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that does training and education around renewable energy, works with local organizations to schedule and facilitate a number of 1-hour-long Solar Power Hours around the community. These events help interested home and business owners determine whether solar is right for them. We’ll go over the basics of solar, market trends, financials, how to tell if your site is ready for solar, and how to participate in Solar Tosa. Getting well-informed participants to the table saves the installer hours and hours of marketing and education they would otherwise have to do themselves, and in turn saves you money.

Economy of Scale: Just like in a buyers club or co-op, the more people participate, the lower the cost is for the service provider (in this case, a solar installer), and the lower the prices are for participants. Your participation matters, and it always helps when folks talk to their friends and neighbors about the group buy.

ABOUT THE INSTALLER

Photo Credit: SunVest

SunVest Solar was established in 2009, stemming from customer demand for net-zero energy homes, and Current Electric has been in business since 1983 offering a variety of solar installation and electrical services.  Since their inception, both companies continue to provide residential solar photovoltaic (PV) services and have expanded to also include large-scale commercial and industrial PV systems.  SunVest’s experience totals over 14MW of installed PV (over 600 projects) and Current has installed over 125 PV projects.  As a partnership, these two companies successfully implemented two 2016 group buys:

  • Sokaogon Chippewa Community in Mole Lake, WI—49 residential and 19 commercial PV systems were installed for a total capacity of 890kW.
  • SolarRACINE in Racine and Kenosha, WI—18 residential PV systems were installed for a total capacity of 83kW.

This partnership offers a diversity of expertise, credentials, and industry partnerships, including:

  • Professional Engineer
  • North American Board of Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Certified PV Installation Professional ™
  • Master Electrician
  • MREA PV Technical Sales Certification
  • Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) Member
  • Renew Wisconsin Member
  • Sustain Dane Member

WHAT NEXT?

Now that you’ve become familiar with how the program works, the next step is to become informed about purchasing solar. Click here to view the schedule for our upcoming Solar Power Hours and updates about the program. We’re excited to meet you and get started!