The City of Urbana has partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and Prairie Rivers Network to coordinate a fourth solar group buy in Champaign County, building on the success of the first three iterations of Solar Urbana-Champaign, which took place in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
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 City of Urbana resident to participate – the group buy is open to all Champaign County and Piatt County property owners.
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 Urbana-Champaign’s Advisory Committee is comprised of residents of Piatt County and Champaign County. MREA issued a competitive Request for Proposals and the Advisory Committee 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: Solar Urbana-Champaign would not be possible without the strong support of the City of Urbana 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.
The key ingredient for most participants is the pricing for the group buy. The competitive bidding process ensures Solar Urbana-Champaign 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. For example, once the participants of the group buy collectively reach 50 kW of capacity, everyone gets an additional reduction of the price of their array. An additional reduction of price happens at the 150 kW mark, again at 250 kW, and a final reduction above 350 kW.
In Solar Urbana-Champaign 3.0 (2018), the rebate was volumetric, based on $.03/W discounts at each benchmark 50, 150, and 250 kW, and then a final $.01/W discount above 350 kW. For example, the home pictured at right has a 7.8 kW array (about 10,000 kWh production per year). If they installed that array through the program, the homeowner would get a rebate check at the end of the program depending on the overall program results. If the program total reached 50 kW, the homeowner would get a $234 rebate. If the program total reached 150 kW, $468. And if the program total reached 250 kW, $702. At 350 kW, the discount is $.01/W, so the final discount on a 7.8 kW array would be $780. These discounts come off an already lower-than-usual price.
Two important factors allow solar installers to offer lower prices through the program: strong customer education and an economy of scale.
Strong Customer Education: Community outreach and education are critical to the success of the program. 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 the Solar Urbana-Champaign. 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
The solar installer for this program will be selected through a competitive Request for Proposals in early 2019.
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!