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US movement to bring PV power to the masses
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”. – Claire Baylis