Solar Bulk Purchases

What is a solar bulk purchase or group purchase?

A bulk purchase is when community members form a group and use their collective buying power to save on the total cost of going solar.

There are a number of ways to structure a solar bulk purchase. Typically, a group of homeowners or organizations goes through the process of purchasing solar systems together. The group selects a single contractor to install systems on each of their buildings, but each participant owns their own system and has their own contract with the installer.

Another approach is for a group to purchase a batch of solar panels in bulk solar a bulk directly from the manufacturer. They can then contract an installer to install the panels, or complete the installation themselves.


Why a bulk purchase?

Save money

  • Economies of scale enable the installers to purchase panels for less
  • Larger projects attract more bids, increasing competition and driving prices down
  • The group has more negotiating power because they’ve created a larger project for installers to bid on

Make it easier to go solar

  • Have support of the other organizations, or neighbors throughout the process
  • Don’t have to navigate multiple bids and scenarios independently, you can share work as a group and take advantage of the different strengths, skills, and background of group members.
  • A group has more political leverage, if necessary, if you run into challenges with permitting, local incentives or other project impediments.

Increase fundraising potential

  • Large projects attract the attention of donors and press
 
This video from the Department of Energy give a good overview of the benefits of a Solarize program and how communites around the country and starting their own projects. An article on Virginia Solarize programs from The Energy Collective also gives a great breakdown of some of the benefits of bulk purchasing.

How does the process work?

The approach will vary depending on the number of participants and how the projects are structured. In general, you must first:

  • Identify a group of homeowners, businesses, or organizations that are interested in going solar. Group should be similar in size, type and location.
  • Screen each organization to ensure that their roof is a good fit for solar. (You can use this screening guide for solar for schools to get a general idea of what makes a good solar roof.)
  • Have each group sign a letter of commitment or some other form to ensure they are committed to going solar and will follow through with the installation once you’ve received bids from installers. This is a sample letter used in DC SUN’s bulk purchase.
  • Develop and issue a Request for Proposals from local solar installers. This will allow you to have multiple project bids to compare, to ensure the group is getting the best price. Your group can also insert social criteria such as local or minority owned business into the RFP, if desired by the participants.
  • As a group, review the bids and select an installer.
  • Fundraise for some or all of the capital costs of the systems, if applicable.
  • Have systems installed.
  • Celebrate the newly installed solar systems with a party, open house, press announcement, or other approach. Share your experience and inspire others to follow. 

Can I organize a solar bulk purchase with my neighbors?

Yes! Many people are often interested in going solar but need help with the process. By spearheading a solar bulk purchase in your neighborhood you can save money on your own installation AND jumpstart other solar projects in your community. 

Check out this powerpoint on how to organize a solar bulk purchase program or this guidebook on organizing a bulk purchase. You can also see some of the examples of bulk purchase programs below. There are many ways to organize a group purchase, so don't be afraid to get creative!

Community Power Network also has experience helping communities develop and implement solar bulk purchase programs. We've worked closely with our DC program, DC SUN, over the last seven years to help take a number of neighborhoods in the District solar. We also partner with organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, to provide technical assistance for their bulk purchase programs. If you're interested in working with us to organize a bulk purchase program in your community, let us know


Resources


Examples of Bulk Purchase Programs

Know of other programs that we haven't listed? Let us know! Email emily (at) communitypowernetwork.com and we will update the list. 

Solarize Washington,a project of Northwest SEED, has partnered with grassroots sustainability groups and local installers to help take neighborhoods solar.

  • Participants can attend a workshop to learn about the group purchase, or sign up to participate in a bulk purchase for their specific neighborhood. 


DC Solar United Neighborhoods (DC SUN), a project of Community Power Network, recently organized a solar bulk purchase for nonprofits and small businesses in the Washington, DC area.

  • Check out their website here.
  • Download the informational handout and powerpoint that they provide to groups interested in participating in a bulk purchase.
  • Download the Letter of Commitment that groups sign when they are ready to commit to going solar through the bulk purchase.
  • Download the Request for Proposal they issued to solicit bids from installers in the D.C. area.
  • If you’re interested in doing a similar bulk purchase in your community, or want to use DC SUN’s RFP tool to issue an RFP, contact Emily@communitypowernetwork and she can provide more information about the project.


Cooperative Energy Futures is in the process of organizing a residential bulk purchase.

  • Check out their website and more info here.
  • Read a press release about the program here.


The Solar Riverwest program is a new solar group buy program that can help residents invest in lower cost solar installations through the power of volume-purchasing. The program is led by Riverwest Cooperative Alliance with support from the City of Milwaukee’s solar program, Milwaukee Shines, and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

  • Click here to learn about how the program works, or access fact sheets about solar basics.

The City of San Jose, California, helped put together a San Jose Employee Solar Group Buy program, in which a group of 130 city employees and retirees negotiated a group purchase.

  • The San Jose Credit Union partnered with the group to provide low interest loans for the participants.

 


The Utah Valley Community Solar Project is a small group residential solar program organized by Utah Valley Earth Forum, a local non-profit in Utah County, Utah. The group has complete their second round of sign ups and has exceeded our last year's total of eleven homes. They found that a little volunteer organization can issue a statewide RFP and select a big commercial solar installer to organize publicity and sales events, while still provide recommendations in ads and meetings. For more information, go to Intermountain Wind & Solar their solar contractor for the program. 


The Willy Street Co-op Group Solar Purchase project is being organized by a food coop in Madison and rives coop members the opportunity to go solar at a discount.

  • Click here to view the group’s enrollment form.
  • Click here to view the RFP the group issued to solicit bids from area installers. 


Summit Community Solar is a community bulk-purchase solar initiative overseen by Utah Clean Energy, and a volunteer Steering Committee.

  • The project is designed to help homeowners in overcome the logistical and financial hurdles of going solar.  
  • Click here to learn more about the program.


Smart Power, a leading non-profit marketing firm dedicated to promoting clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency, has helped to implement a number of group solar purchase programs around the country. Their programs include:


SolarizeMass, a partnership of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Green Communities Division of the MA Department of Energy Resources, is helping home and business owners go solar and save money. The program encourages the adoption of small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects by deploying a coordinated education, marketing, and outreach effort, combined with a group-purchasing model that provides increased savings as more people in the community go solar.

  • Check out program information and download handouts here. RFPs for the program are also posted on this page. 
  • This powerpoint gives an overview of the program and provides metrics on installed capacity and price through the program in 2012.


Suncommon is a Vermont-based B-corporation that grew out of a very successful VPIRG community solar project. The company offers discounted solar to residential customers in specific neighborhoods. By focusing their business in specific communities, they are able to achieve economies of scale and offer significantly lower prices.


Solarize Santa Ynez Valley is a program implemented the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance (SYVA) and Community Environmental Council (CEC). It is designed to make it easier and more affordable for local homeowners to go solar. Our group purchasing model helps local homeowners install solar electricity through a streamlined and hassle-free process, at a discounted price.


Solar Benefits Tucson is a new employee solar discount program offered by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA. Pima County and other large employers throughout Tucson including Ventana are participating in this innovative program to help their employees’ pool their buying power and go solar.


Solarize Brooklyn is being implemented by Sustainable Kensington Windsor Terrace (SKWT)and Sustainable Flatbush (SF).  SKWT and SF are grass-roots neighborhood organizations whose common missions are to build community through education and actions that reduce our environmental impact.  The Solarize Brooklyn program seeks to educate homeowners on the benefits and implications of solar energy and help homeowners save money on their solar installation costs by negotiating a volume discount on behalf of the community. 

Solarize Brooklyn logo