Green Benefits: Companies Now Offer Solar Energy Programs for Employees

Vote Solar may be best known for our work advocating for state-level policy, but we’ve also been hard at work helping tackle solar soft costs head on through our GroupEnergy program. Our take on the solarize community purchasing model focuses on helping existing groups — think coworkers, clubs or congregations — pool their collective buying power to go solar at home.

We’ve seen particularly strong interest from major employers who want to take sustainability beyond the boardroom and into their broader communities. Participating companies get to offer a great employee benefit (solar), the employees get to navigate the process of going solar together (making it easier and more affordable), and the solar industry gets to serve a group of customers at once, reducing those nefarious customer acquisition soft costs. It builds solar awareness and lowers solar’s price tag in one fell swoop.

It’s more than a bright idea — we’ve seen strong real-world results. In 2013, we administered programs in Northern California and Colorado. These programs helped more than 2,000 people evaluate whether powering their homes with sunshine could be a good fit. In our view, this educational component is one of the most exciting outcomes of a GroupEnergy project. Whether or not they end up going solar now, program participants come away armed with the information they need become solar educators and advocates in their own right. All told, the two programs resulted in nearly a megawatt of new residential solar capacity in just a couple months. And by going solar together in bulk, participants were able to secure solar pricing that was 20 percent less than local average residential installation costs at the time. 

The Northern California SF SunShares partnership proved so successful that the City and other partners are now back for more. The 2014 participating employer organizations include some of the city’s largest workforces including the City and County of San Francisco, Arup, Genentech, Salesforce, the San Francisco Unified School District, the University of California at San Francisco, United Airlines and Virgin America.

“The SunShares program makes solar more affordable and accessible for San Francisco’s employees and retirees,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “The group purchasing aspect empowers employees to be part of a greater effort to protect the planet.”

“Installing solar on my rooftop through SunShares was a no-brainer for my family,” said William Lee, the first participant to install a system through the program in 2013. “While we had been considering installing solar energy for a while, the cost incentives and convenience of the program encouraged us to jump on this opportunity.”

“The San Francisco SunShares program is a prime example of how San Francisco companies are working together to create local solutions to climate change,” said Michael Parks, Director of the Business Council on Climate Change. “The program is especially innovative because it helps employees power their own homes and lives with clean energy, creating an impact that extends beyond the workplace.”

Vote Solar administers the program, providing due diligence on vendors, maintaining the program’s website, conducting educational workshops, and providing technical advice to help make the process of going solar easier for San Francisco SunShares participants. Since we value our impartial relationship with the solar industry itself, it’s worth noting that, Vote Solar does not play a role in the selection of the winning solar vendor. That selection is made through a competitive process by a committee of volunteers from the participating organizations themselves. 

In the case of SF SunShares’ 2014 program, the selection committee chose locally-headquartered Sunrun as the vendor. “Home solar installations in the U.S. continue to grow rapidly, more than doubling in the last two years alone as Americans demand cleaner and more affordable energy,” said Lynn Jurich, chief executive officer of Sunrun. “We are pleased to partner with the San Francisco SunShares program — it is increasing access to renewable energy in the Bay Area by making the process of going solar even easier and more affordable for consumers.”

The San Francisco SunShares program is also contributing to regional solar market development and State distributed generation goals, including Governor Brown’s goal of 12,000 megawatts of distributed renewable energy generation by the year 2020.

More information and registration information on the program can be found here.

Lead image: Office interior via Shutterstock

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Rosalind manages media, member and donor relations for Vote Solar, a non-profit working to make solar energy a mainstream resource across the U.S. Prior to joining Vote Solar, Rosalind spent five years directing and implementing PR campaigns for all manner of clean energy and sustainable business innovators. She has a degree in Environmental Science and Mass Communications from UC Berkeley.

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