Green for less: Group rates for solar installation for homeowners

solar panelsRecently, 83 homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area got together and decided to have solar power installed on the roofs of their homes.

While 83 homes in an area with more than 6 million people might not sound like much, together their 83 homes and combined 274 kilowatts would equal more carbon savings than 1.2 million miles driven in a car.

Actually, the homeowners didn't get together on their own. They were coordinated by, or One Block Off the Grid, a San Francisco company that takes groups of homeowners and works with a solar power company to get them a group discount.

Participants save 17% through the program, according to 1BOG, which started with getting cheaper solar power for 100 homes in San Francisco.

Sticker shock is usually the main obstacle stopping people from getting solar power installed in their homes. With $20,000 being the typical cost to enter the market, heavy electricity users benefit the most because their bills drop quickly with solar and it takes less time -- typically 10 years -- for the system to pay for itself in savings.

1BOG gets 25 cents per kilowatt installed, but the contractors aren't pushy. I asked for an estimate a few months ago as part of 1BOG's Bay Area installation drive, but was told it wouldn't be worth it for me to install solar power because my roof is shaded by too many trees behind my house and doesn't get enough sunlight to make it cost effective. I would have gone to cut the trees down, but they weren't in my yard, and besides, the contractor told me that it probably wouldn't be worth the cost anyway because my house doesn't use a lot of electricity.

That's one of the rubs in getting solar power. Because power companies charge higher rates to heavy electricity users, the light users wouldn't see their power bill drop as much as a heavy user would. My solar bill wouldn't drop much if I got solar power.

1BOG takes away the unknown when buying solar. Unlike a new roof or garage door, where you can easily find out the price by asking a neighbor or someone down the street how much they recently paid, solar installation is so new that homeowners don't have a benchmark for what it costs. By bringing buyers together and making the cost scalable with a group discount, everybody knows what everyone in the neighborhood is paying for the solar installation and shouldn't feel ripped off.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at

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