KrepelLarge[3] (1)

The City of Urbana has partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) and Prairie Rivers Network to coordinate a third solar group buy in Champaign County, building on the success of the first two iterations of Solar Urbana-Champaign, which took place in 2016 and 2017. 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.

The rebate is 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.

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 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.


The solar installer for this program was selected through a competitive Request for Proposals in early 2018.

“StraightUp Solar is a regional leader in experience and industry expertise founded in 2006 with over 45 employees to meet your solar needs. We are a full turnkey solar installer with a reputation for excellence. We are the only solar installation company to offer a 10 year workmanship warranty to protect your investment, and a Sunrise to Sunset production guarantee to make sure that your system produces electricity the way we promised. This is in addition to the warranties and guarantees that come with the equipment we offer. StraightUp Solar is proud to be  a certified B Corp, which means we put people and the planet over profit. That is why we have been trusted to install more than 16,000 solar panels on homes and businesses like the St. Louis Zoo, Melville School District, Washington University in St. Louis, and many more.

Finally, we have 5 NABCEP PV Installation Certified Professionals, 2 NABCEP Technical Sales Professionals, and 9 NABCEP Associates Professionals (the solar industry’s national accrediting organization) that will install and service your system. We are local and here for the long haul to make sure your solar system is operating and functioning for its entire life.”


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!