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Salt Lake City Buys Solar in Bulk


Taking a cue from retail warehouse buyers' clubs, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) system buyers across the country are realizing substantial cost savings by joining group efforts to purchase and have rooftop solar PV systems installed.

By buying in bulk, the more than 60 participants who signed up for the Salt Lake City (Wasatch) Rooftop Solar Challenge team's program -- one of 22 regional teams participating in the Dept. of Energy's (DOE) Rooftop Solar Challenge –- have saved 40 percent on the total installed price of their PV systems, the DOE announced in the January 16 edition of its SunShot newsletter.

Rooftop Solar: Cutting the red tape

Looking to spur residential PV installations nationwide by cutting through the red tape and streamlining the process of having them installed, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu launched the DOE's Rooftop Solar Challenge in December 2011, awarding $12 million in funding to regional Rooftop Solar Challenge teams.

The DOE followed that up a year later, announcing a second, $12 million round of Rooftop Solar Challenge funding opportunities. Twenty-two regional teams are now up and running. The DOE estimates that the population encompassed by their geographic range of coverage includes some 51 million Americans.

“Up to 40 percent of the cost of installing solar panels onto your home or business isn't related to hardware at all, but rather due to complications from 'soft costs,' like permitting, zoning, and hooking your system up to the power grid,” according to the government's Rooftop Solar Challenge website.

“In fact, according to a report released earlier this year by SunRun, local permitting and inspection processes alone add more than $2,500 per residential installation nationwide. To add to the problem, permitting and other processes are often complicated and vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In order to make solar energy competitive with other types of energy, it will be critical to reduce these barriers."

Homeowners benefit by accepting the SunShot Rooftop Solar Challenge

The DOE's initiative is producing results, and they're sharing their experiences via the SunShot Resource Center in order to speed the spread and adoption of best practices.

The more than 60 participants in the year-long Salt Lake City (Wasatch) Rooftop Solar Challenge have been able to take advantage of bulk buying discounts based on pre-determined tiered pricing offered by local contractors chosen by the Utah Community Solar Program steering committee to save 40 percent on the installed cost of their rooftop PV systems, according to the DOE's SunShot newsletter report.

Participants were able to choose the solar PV system that best suited their needs among three options offered.

Installed PV system costs declined as more people signed on to the program. “After the final commitment deadline, all participants received a substantial discount, with systems ranging in price from $3.35 to $3.50 per watt, which included a U.S.-made option.”

By way of comparison, the average installed cost of a residential solar PV system in Utah was around $5.90 per watt, according to state data, the DOE notes.

“We knew this model worked in other places, but we weren’t exactly sure how it would be received in Salt Lake County. Our goal was to add 175 kilowatts of rooftop solar through this pilot program, so we were thrilled with the huge interest from the community and the 232 kilowatts of solar committed through this program,” commented Sara Baldwin, a senior policy and regulatory associate with Utah Clean Energy and project lead for the Wasatch Solar Challenge. “Now the goal is to replicate this model in more communities with a toolbox of information, resources, and lessons learned.”

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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