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Solar Takes America Block By Block
Green Futures, 8 Apr 09
Article Photo

by Claire Baylis

So you think small-scale solar remains the preserve of die-hard environmentalists? Think again. A new movement gathering momentum in the US could make photovoltaics a common feature on residential streets.

‘One Block Off The Grid’ (1BOG for short) groups local residents together to negotiate better deals on solar. The idea, born out of conversations between Dave Llorens, now General Manager, and Co-founders Sylvia Ventura and Dan Barahona, is designed to create a ‘tipping point’ in renewable energy adoption.

By grouping people together, Llorens says, participants can enjoy an average 15-20% reduction on the market rate. Combined with government subsidies, this eases the pain of investment. Meanwhile, 1BOG takes a fee from the chosen installer: “the same fee, regardless of whom we choose”.

The set up also makes the process simpler and solves the trust issue – another hurdle holding people back, he says. “You know you’re getting the best deal, from a vetted, great solar installation company.”

The first pilot ran in June last year and 1BOG has now officially launched in 20 US cities, but people are signing up further afield. There’s an incentive to get more people into a group because it boosts negotiating power. “So you’ll get friends, family, people pulled into the mix who wouldn’t [be part of such a scheme] otherwise.”

The name is “kind of stupid” admits Llorens, in that it’s not one block at a time or taking people off the grid – almost all systems in the US are ‘grid tied’ he explains, so you can get credited for any unused energy sold back to the grid. “It’s metaphorical: our goal is to take one block of homes’ worth of energy and pull that out of the system.”

1BOG is owned by Virgance, who have also snapped up CarrotMob [see 'Bring in the CarrotMob']. When the scheme first got going, Llorens explains that they were ‘wavering’ over whether they should be a non-profit or for profit set-up. But ultimately, approached by Virgance, they “decided for-profit made the most sense; it allows us to cause the most change, to grow the fastest”.

They are considering extending the offer to solar thermal systems and, eventually, to green home improvements. Though there are no set plans as yet, 1BOG could hit the UK: “Our sign-up process is engineered to handle global addresses,” says Llorens.

Leonie Greene of the Renewable Energy Association would welcome this: “Far too little has happened at the household level in the UK; the funding framework and planning definitely hasn’t helped. The UK has less than 100,000 microgeneration installations in total when Germany installs many times that every year”.

Green Futures is published by Forum For The Future and is one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.

Photo credit: flickr/Powerhouse Museum, Creative Commons License.

related posts: Locavolts or Super Grids? Where to Source Clean Energy?

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A great model. This is exactly the kind of mentality that businesses should be searching for as ways for a new economy built on sustainability that also has manages to tie communities together. One can only wonder if the model were scaled up to include businesses joining together, or companies. City blocks instead of suburban blocks. Hopefully it will become a trend.

Posted by: T. Caine on 8 Apr 09

What kinds of solar thermal systems are they considering? I know there are some compact designs that use Sterling engines. I wonder if they're employing those.

Posted by: jOSE on 9 Apr 09

Does this mean the community must form a green community association with the plan to build, install and maintain a smart grid solar structure of some kind grid-tied between members of the associations' homes with a centralized master utility grid tie-in owned by a private corporation?

Sounds good in theory, but what does this plan look like in a practical way? Will the community resident associations own and control the solar services and products they are paying for or is this just another way to milk the homeowners of more of their hard earned money by diverting the utility cash flow away from public owned and controlled utilities and into a national private for-profit corporation, like the free solar leasing plans do now?

This is got, "pay us to solve all your problems" and "we'll control your lives forever", written all over it.

Robert Grothe
TCM & Associates, Inc.

Providing Resources for a greener tomorrow!

Posted by: Robert Grothe on 16 Apr 09

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