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1BOG Takes On Residential Solar with Online Brokering Service

One Block Off the Grid (1BOG), whose business model once was pooling communities together to buy into solar energy GroupOn-style, has embarked on a new strategy that shifts to a one-stop online shopping service matching residential solar customers with the solar project that makes the most sense for them.

It's not exactly a new concept: trying to be an Expedia/LendingTree/Orbitz-type of comparison shopping service to "demystify" solar energy for residential customers and make it as easy as possible to convert them into solar customers. Like EnergySage which launched earlier this year, 1BOG gets information from users about their location, their utility bill, propensity to own a system, and how soon they want it. 1BOG quickly follows up (Stern says the goal is a phone call within two minutes) to expand the information about the customer's home, credit score, etc. to determine if they're qualified, and then pair them with a "solar consultant" to walk through the different options and zero in on a solar contract that seems right for them.

But there are key differences between 1BOG and EnergySage, points out Chris Stern, cofounder and VP of business development with Pure Energies which acquired 1BOG last summer. EnergySage lets users upload their information about property, energy usage, and electricity payments, then installers browse and submit quotes, and ultimately the customer and installer seal the deal. 1BOG, though, gathers up the options for the customer and makes the match between the customers and installers, PPA, etc. — "we close them to a contract, we don't sell a lead to a contractor who tries to sell to the customer," Stern said, calling it "brokering" rather than matchmaking. "We don't sell the lead, we sell the contract."

And that's another key difference: how they make money. EnergySage gets a per-watt commission from the installers that win a contract, 1BOG gets paid by closing the contracts, taking a commission off of closed deals/won contracts, like a reseller getting paid by solar suppliers. "If you sell and don't close, you never get paid," Stern points out. A company rep confirmed that 1BOG is profitable, without disclosing numbers or margins.

One might assume there's a lot of market competition to sign up new solar customers, but that's not really the case. "A lot of installers just want to install; the customer acquisition side of it is something they don't want to get into," Stern said. 1BOG is tapping smaller installers through PPA partner Clean Power Finance while also working with "five of the top solar companies in the U.S.," including SolarCity, SunRun, SunEdison, and OneRoof Energy. "In terms of other larger installers that have their own acquisition models....some don't, actually," Stern said. "In fact, we have a better closing rate than [SolarCity] for their own product." And there's plenty of room for everyone in the solar customer acquisition world; Stern identifies a million homes in the U.S. that qualify for solar right now and for whom it makes economic sense, but the industry "can only do 200,000 homes this year — so the market is five times as big as we're able to fulfill," he said. "There are enough customers to go around."

The 1BOG service is available in 15 states: seven cities/areas in California, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Delaware, Texas (Dallas), Colorado (greater Denver), and Arizona (Phoenix/Tucson). A sixth PPA provider will soon add another five states to that, according to Stern.

Lead image: Map with red houses and sun rays via Shutterstock

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