Home > environment > Save money with group solar purchasing

Save money with group solar purchasing

[Guest post from Mitch Trachtenberg.]

One Block Off the Grid is a grass roots organization that started in the Bay Area and organizes communities for solar group buys. They say they just need three more signups in Humboldt to organize our area.  If you want to add yourself to their  list, you can go to this link.

Here’s some information from their web site:

One Block Off the Grid makes it easier and more affordable for homeowners to go solar by organizing group discounts, vetting solar installers, and providing you with objective information and advice along the way. Our solar advisors don’t work on commission. Their salary is the same whether you end up going solar or not, so the information you receive from One Block Off the Grid is always 100 percent unbiased. Should you decide to go solar, we simply receive a flat fee from the installer, but that fee is the same no matter which one we choose, so we remain neutral in our selection process. The fee is also a fraction of the group discount you receive, so it’s a win-win for homeowner and installer alike.

Reviews of 1BOG on the web suggest that, if you have the time, you should definitely shop around in addition to getting their quote… but if you are pressed for time and just want a good quote and a vetted installer, these folks will be fine.
  1. WhatNow
    September 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Great project!
    Thanks for posting the article, Heraldo.

  2. The Big Picture
    September 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

    What’s needed is to have alternative energy generation plants in every community, maintained by those communities. But, the public remains uninformed on the dire necessity and government investment in well-known technologies isn’t happening.

    Although it’s more inefficient and costly, programs like this is all we have and could, hopefully, lead to community energy plants.

  3. Anonymous
    September 8, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    40,000 acres = land needed to construct a 1000 megawatt solar plant.

    This community purchasing deal better have some big dollars behind it. Otherwise, sounds like more high-minded, first-worlder hypocrisy.

  4. tra
    September 8, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    40,000 acres = land needed to construct a 1000 megawatt solar plant.

    Which is why rooftop solar makes so much sense — no need to cover new raw land.

  5. Mitch
    September 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Hey 2:14,

    Chilll out. Woof! Roof! Roof!

  6. Anonymous
    September 8, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Solar panels are ugly. Solar shingles look okay.

    How many decades until realizing a ROI in a sunshiney place like Eureka?

  7. skippy
    September 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    There’s certainly room for the installation of solar panels in Humboldt County.

    Yesterday, yours truly was on top of a sunny Fortuna hill looking down on the 40 residences below. Those outfitted with solar? 0. And overlooking the 20 Garberville residences– and a portion of the business district– on the searing 100* day? 1 solar installation only.


    The price must come down and installation be made accessible and affordable. With its upfront costs, solar just doesn’t pencil out for the majority— yet.

    The nationwide company One Block Off the Grid organizes homeowners in cities across the nation and negotiates with solar installers and manufacturers for reduced group rates. Once 100 people in a city sign up, the group evaluates the area, determines the best solar technology in terms of efficacy and cost, then negotiates group prices to get affordable solar power on rooftops.

    We are able to lower the cost of solar about 15 percent by aggregating hundreds of interested customers to get a group discount,” explained CEO Dave Llorens.

    At the company website, consumers can evaluate how good their location is for solar and get an estimate of the cost, taking into account state and federal subsidies. Once a sizable number of people show interest, One Block Off the Grid will take bids from solar installers. At that point, homeowners can get bids for the work. One Block Off the Grid charges a fee to installers once a job is completed.

    “The whole goal is to scale up the use of solar energy to power homes,” said Llorens. ”The problem is that even when people show some interest, it’s hard to get a good idea of what’s entailed in installing panels or the cost. Installers, meanwhile, are reluctant to share pricing information, in part because the price for solar panels is high–anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 before rebates, depending on the size,” he noted.

    Depending on the state incentives, homeowners can get about half of a solar panel installation paid and then make money from renewable energy certificates.

  8. tra
    September 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    With its upfront costs, solar just doesn’t pencil out for the majority— yet.

    The upfront costs are the key, because over the course of a few decades, solar actually does “pencil out” quite well.


    So financing is the key. Just as most people cannot afford to buy a home for cash (which is why we have mortgages), most people cannot afford to pay cash for a solar installation. The rebates are great for those who get them, but it would require a huge amount of federal money to provide rebates for the hundreds of millions of American households that could really benefit from going solar.

    And given the continuing improvements in solar technology and the rising prices for other kinds of energy, a straight-up subsidy approach, such as rebates, may not really be necessary. Given that the solar systems will recoup their costs within a fairly predictable number of years and then start saving people a huge amount of money on their energy bills after that, it seems like some kind of low-interest loans might be enough to get the job done — helping people spread out the prohibittively high up-front costs so that they can take advantage of the substantial long-term savings.

    With so many Americans unemployed these days, it’s worth noting that a successful low-interest loan program to help people finance the upfront costs of solar installation would also be a great jobs program, since dollar-for-dollar, solar creates more jobs than any other energy source.

  9. skippy
    September 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    The Better Business Bureau gave the One Block Off the Grid company an A- rating in May, 2011. They have no complaints received; the minus derives from their short duration in business.

    Some random reviews from the Yelp website:

    1BOG GOT ME a good rate on the panels and a free Sunpower Monitoring kit to boot. 1BOG provided information and questions that we should ask as newbies. Thanks. The PGE bill dropped from $200 down to $34. Cool.

    ”I LOVED the concept of 1BOG but not the experience. Their marketing is all about getting groups of people together to get volume discounts on Solar installations. The reality is that the “base price” is lower than other installers but the full price (including all the required “add ons”) was much higher. The add-ons were all standard things that will be required in any solar installation. If you are going to have them give you a quote, make sure you get another quote as well.”

    ”I RECEIVED a call fairly promptly and got great information. The guy I talked to was very professional. I guess I don’t use enough electricity and my bill is too small to benefit much, because my ROI would be a long time coming.”

    “I LOVE the idea of 1BOG. They connected me with Luminalt (company). I liked the people, they seemed very knowledgeable. I got their quote. Then I got 3 other quotes from equally reputable, well known, and experienced solar installers who do a lot of work around the city and have great reputations. The Luminalt quote was the highest of the 3, even though the base price was the lowest. Unfortunately, 1BOG has a series of “adders” each of which increases the price until it is higher than their competitors. I am hurt that 1BOG’s idea of gathering a bunch of people together to get a better price turns out to be, at the least, ineffective. Buyers beware. If you use 1BOG, be sure to get other quotes.”

    ‘Shannon’ from One Block Off the Grid responded: “It’s interesting that the One Block Off the Grid price ended up being higher for you. We almost always hear the opposite from our members: that our price is dramatically lower than anything else they find.. sometimes $10k or more lower. Quotes can vary quite a bit based on the particular house (adders are an industry-wide thing not a 1BOG thing), and we actively encourage our members to comparison shop around, so good job finding the best price for your particular situation!

  10. Why?
    September 9, 2011 at 10:17 am

    The big picture,

    Why exactly is the solution a big government program?

    Instead of taxing money from me, under threat of arrest/beating/shooting by EPD… Why not an idea that involves free people freely choosing to come together as a group?

    I’m all for new ideas, but “tax and spend to produce magic results!!!!” isn’t a new idea.

    Similarly–tra– green jobs, strictly speaking, aren’t. Taxing and punishing people that are successful, to get money to fund one-time jobs that aren’t economically supported otherwise, but whose corporate supporters were big Obama donors, is not economic growth.

    Im totally down for new ideas and new approaches. But, if the component that makes your idea work is, “and then we tax and punish the people that are successful to pay for my idea because financially it isn’t viable”… You just have a bad idea.

    Right now, for better or worse, solar is a luxury for white people who have a need to show others their smug. If you really want more solar, then you should support the rollback of huge government programs that ate economic drains on society. Then, by increasing individual wealth, you make it more economically viable for persons to invest in solar (through purchase of panels or stocks/bonds).

    And, unlike “more big government programs!” it will actually result in 1) more solar in use 2) more solar in the marketplace 3) more tech research because consumers will be demanding more/better products.

    I like solar. Which is why I want to see it succeed. If you really like solar too, then it’s tine to start advocating for policies and approaches that actually work– small government and good economics.

  11. September 9, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Here’s why, Why.

    In a word, “externalities.”

    Nothing exists in isolation. Right now, we are spending hundreds of billions to “secure” oil fields. We are also destroying the climate balance, in the opinion of the vast majority of climate scientists, by flooding the atmosphere with CO2. The cost to repair this damage, it is is reparable, will probably come in the hundreds of trillions.

    Current taxpayers are subsidizing the oil price through the cost of maintaining an armed forces that is far larger than needed for homeland security.

    Future taxpayers are subsidizing the oil price by being expected to pay to rebalance the atmosphere to historic CO2 concentrations.

    Current taxpayers are subsidizing the nuclear industry by covering its insurance, which would otherwise make nuclear uneconomic.

    Solar is an industry which could provide, at least, hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans while reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing our impact on the atmosphere. By subsidizing it, we might accomplish two things: we might enable the jobs to be created for Americans rather than Chinese, and we might speed its adoption. Sure, it might be adopted for pure economic reasons in twenty years or so, but we could make it happen now, before every American solar company is dead.

    As for solar being for white people… it boggles the mind. I realize you mean people with discretionary income, and I realize there are more whites with discretionary income than people of color, but for fucking jeezus, to talk about solar being for “white people?” If you want to talk about smug, you’ve won my vote for smug.

    No amount of “growing the economy” is going to make solar affordable today. It becomes affordable tomorrow through economies of scale that can only be created today with goverment subsidy and investment. And if you want to “grow the economy,” take 1/3 the military budget and put it in the hands of people with low incomes. If present strategies for “growing the economy” continue, even McDonalds is going to go bust from people not being able to afford a hamburger.

  12. September 9, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Just to add to my previous comment, if we have a “Department of Defense” that is in charge of defending us, what need do we have of a “Department of Homeland Security,” except to make an anti-fascist paranoid? And if we have a “Department of Homeland Security,” what is it that the Department of Defense is all about?

    Here’s a free hint: not defending the fatherland/homeland.

  13. Plain Jane
    September 9, 2011 at 10:58 am

    You are right Mitch. I read today that Walmart is bringing back their “lay away plan” for Christmas because people don’t even have credit to buy their cheap junk this year.

    As to the solar project, how long would it take to pay for itself when the prospective buyer has extremely low energy use? (under $40 a month for gas and electricity)

  14. September 9, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Solar prices are dropping on a monthly basis. Your payback period will depend on a huge number of variables. Solar electric is going to give you a longer payback period than insulation, solar hot water, or getting a car with better mileage. See below for a “payback period” discussion.

    For someone who is using enough electricity to already be paying a high rate for their “last kilowatt,” solar is probably attractive already, once you recognize that it’s an extremely low risk investment to put solar on your home. The main risk is that you’ll get an even better deal next year. That’s why the subsidies are so important.

    Here’s some decent info: http://solarbuzz.com/going-solar/using/economic-payback

  15. tra
    September 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Mitch is right on target — the payback period for solar varies according to a number of variables, including how much energy you use, the strength of the sun at your location, how much the non-solar electricity you get now costs, whether you’re tied into the grid or off-the-grid, and so on.

    And Mitch is also correct that other energy-saving investments like improving insulation, installing solar hot water, and getting a car with better mileage (not to mention driving less!), and other conservation and energy-efficiency items, may save you more money and energy more quickly and with less up-front investment than installing a photovoltaic solar system. But for those who have already taken those measures, solar is an excellent next step.

    Unlike 15 or 20 years ago, we are now at the point with photovoltaics where they CAN “pencil out” for hundreds of millions of American households — though the actual break-even point and eventual savings will of course vary depending on the factors listed above (as well as others).

    In my opinion, the main barriers to more rapid adoption of solar at this time are :

    (1) The widespread but completely mistaken belief that solar “just won’t pencil out” for most people. This is based on the situation 15 or 20 years ago, and becomes even less true every year, as the cost of solar continues to drop while the cost of most other energy sources continues to rise. But this situation of public perception lagging so far behind reality won’t last forever, and more people ARE beginning to become more aware of the viability of solar thanks to programs like One Block Off the Grid and other private-sector marketing efforts, as well as public education efforts by non-profit clean energy advocacy groups.

    (2) The significant up-front costs for purchasing and installing a photovoltaic solar system. As I mentioned above, it seems to me that a low-interest loan program could help a great deal, providing potential solar users with the up-front capital needed to purchase and install a system, and stretching the payments over a period of a decade or two, so that they can take advatage of the long-term savings they will get from their solar system.

    (3) Ironically, the fact that solar is improving so rapidly and steadily does somewhat reduce the incentive to buy now, as Mitch alluded to. And I agree that the benefit of reducing fossil fuel dependency and greenhous gas emissions as soon as possible, and helping to support the further development of the industry so that costs can continue to come down as economies of scale go up are reasonable justifications for the “rebate” – type subsidies that are offered at the moment. (To those who are opposed to subsidies in general, I’m sympathetic, but my response it go and get all the subsidies to the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industries removed, and then we can talk about the relative pittance given to solar subsidies).

  16. Anonymous
    September 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Panel prices are decreasing because Chinese manufacturers dump solar waste and don’t protect their employees from exposure.

  17. Mitch
    September 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm


    Panel prices are *plunging* because of Chinese competition. Panel prices would be decreasing anyway.

    I’ve followed the sad story of Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts for some time. This company had great new technology reducing the amount of raw material it needed for its wafers. Its business plan called for a dollar a watt (formerly the holy grail) sometime around now. They were making fine progress, had put in a very automated factory that used American labor, had subsidies from Massachusetts for producing all those jobs, and had developed a great worldwide reputation.

    First, one of the banksters made off with a big chunk of the company during the Lehman Brothers collapse.

    Then, the Chinese companies ate their lunch using inexpensive labor, and the US government with President Obama in charge wasn’t even on the ball enough to toss them some orders for post office roofs or something.

    As long as this is what happens to companies with advanced technology and US workers, we’d better be prepared to put up with Chinese working conditions and labor laws in a few years. And I’d bet it’s our “job creators” (the new Foxword for the wealthiest tenth of a percent) who are investing in the Chinese slave labor startups.

  18. tra
    September 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Of course the cheaper-labor-overseas thing this is by no means a new problem, and it is certainly not a problem unique to the solar industry. A friend who worked as a skilled laborer in the oil industry in Alaska for many years told me that even back during construction of the Alaskan Pipeline (in the late 1970’s), most of the steel parts were already being shipped in from Asia because the U.S. steel industry no longer had the capacity to produce those large-diameter pipes and fittings. (I’m not sure where those items were produced back then, I’m guessing probably Japan and/or South Korea, since China was not yet a major exporter of industrial goods back then.)

  19. skippy
    September 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    The price of solar is dropping. In the next two years, the efficiency and cost is expected to drop towards more moderate means and be within the reach of many, experts believe. Most households will be outfitted to solar during the next 10 years. It’s here, it’s happening, and will soon be the norm.

    Perhaps you caught the major solar news today?

    ”…(The) $1 BILLION SolarStrong project will put solar on the homes of service members living on base across all branches of the U.S. military. Under the expansive project, 160,000 homes on military bases across the country will soon have solar systems under the SolarStrong project, which will likely be the largest residential project in the world.

    “THE U.S. DEPARTMENT of Defense is the world’s largest energy consumer, and it’s working to make sure that the energy it uses is greener and produced domestically. Such efforts can be seen in this project and its recent $500 million contract to install solar across it’s installations in Hawaii. The move isn’t being made to please environmentalists. It’s being made as a matter of national security, and to reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy.”

    You can read more here: SolarCity military solar project could be world’s biggest residential contract

  20. WhatNow
    September 9, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    that’s very sweet window dressing but it will be an insignificant dent in the military’s energy use.
    It’s petroleum and high octanne fuels necessary for running their death machines that consume the vast amount of the resources.

  21. skippy
    September 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you for pointing that out, WN. The post was meant more to emphasize the significance and value of PV use. Being “the largest residential project in the world… of 160,000 homes,” it represents a major milestone in solar application.

  22. Mr. Nice
    September 9, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Mono fucking crystalline solar 25 year mono panel.

  23. skippy
    September 14, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Uh oh. Not related to One Block Off the Grid here, (thanks, Mitch) but bad news nonetheless for the state of solar and California today.

    “A congressional investigative committee on Wednesday grilled officials from two agencies that backed a $535-million loan package to failed Northern California solar panel manufacturer Solyndra…”

    More information here and here.

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