Solarize Boosts Installations and Transforms Solar Markets Across America

Solarize first came to life in 2009 when a Portland resident interested in installing solar power recruited neighbors to join them in “going solar” to get a volume discount. Once a group of interested community members had formed, they approached their local neighborhood coalition Southeast Uplift for assistance. Southeast Uplift reached out to the Energy Trust of Oregon for technical and program support, at which point Energy Trust saw an opportunity to test out their newly developed solar PV volume purchasing program. This initial Solarize campaign was successful, leading to additional campaigns being initiated by Portland’s Neighborhood Coalition network. Over several years Solarize continued to see success, which led to the creation of the Solarize Guidebook – a resource designed to help communities interested in replicating the model to create their own Solarize campaigns. A year after its creation, an updated version of the guidebook was funded by the US Department of Energy, leading to expansion of the program outside of Oregon. As Solarize continued to spread, efforts were made to conduct audience research through randomized field trials and residential surveys. While Solarize campaigns took several different forms, every campaign included these defining elements: (1) pre-selection of a competitively priced contractor to serve the target community, (2) framed as a limited time offer, (3) offered reduced price through bulk purchasing, and (4) involved local community groups to amplify the scope and scale of outreach. Some reported benefits of Solarize were that it was a great way to be involved in community action and accomplish a shared environmental goal, the overall risk to individuals was lower because it was a group action, and the decision-making process was simplified as a result of limiting the number of solar installers residents could choose from. Drawbacks included that finding the right installer could be time intensive, the quoted price given to residents was not always the actual price of installation, and by limiting the number of “approved” installers the campaign could suffer from a backlog of new home installations. Based on individual reporting by the organizations involved, the cumulative solar capacity installed through Solarize programs in the U.S.A. by 2021 had a capacity of at least 56,500 kW, or roughly 62,000,000 kWh each year.
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