Group buying is moving into the commercial clean energy space thanks to Solar@Work, a program designed by San Francisco’s Department of the Environment to make solar panels more affordable for business owners. Businesses have three options for acquiring solar panels through the program: Purchasing, leasing, and securing a loan. A federal grant covering 30% of installation costs is also on offer.
Solar@Work hopes to sign on at least 20 building owners in the San Francisco area by the end of the year, which could translate to as much as 2 megawatts of solar power.
While the program is innovative in simplifying solar for commercial buildings, it is not the first to harness group buying power for solar. 1Bog has a similar model for home-based solar installations, and SolarMosaic provides a crowdfunding platform for bringing solar to community buildings such as schools and churches.
The group buying model could discount the panels by 10-15% and reduce the cost of administrative fees by as much as 75%. That doesn’t sound like a steal by consumer group buying standards, but given the price tag on solar panels, it could add up to significant savings. The city says the high upfront cost of solar is the main barrier to entry into solar for most commercial property owners.
San Mateo’s SolarCity won the bid to provide the panels, and participating businesses are expected to pay less for solar than what they pay for power from the grid. Currently, commercial buildings fewer than four stories are eligible to participate in the program. If the pilot is successful, it could be expanded to other parts of the country, or even globally.