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Strategies and Tools for Driving Solar Costs Down

When you put 75 solar installers, policy makers and advocates in a room and ask them to discuss policies and tactics for reducing the local cost component of solar energy, what do they say?

We tried it at the end of May at the American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) annual conference SOLAR 2010, and here is what we learned.

Building Customer Demand

Reducing Cost of Customer Acquisition

  • Use Social Media: Explore all low cost methods of reaching networks of individuals. We all know solar must be “sold,” and the more personal connections a potential solar adopter has to others who have already gone solar, the more likely they are to join in. Encourage your customers to share their experience on facebook or twitter.
  • Empower Contractors: Contractors are still the most important factor in creating customers that will become solar ambassadors. Cities and firms need to ensure that contractors have the education/ tools they need to be an effective first point of contact. Contractors need to encourage each of their customers to continue to spread the word about the process and benefits of going solar.
  • Support Solar Converts: Nobody makes a better solar evangelist than a happy solar customer. Encourage, or help facilitate, solar socials” or other community building events.
  • Solar Donations to a High Profile Site: Some projects get more attention than others, and tap into networks and individuals. Consider donating a system to a church, YMCA, or other community group/organization. Such a donated system will help raise the visibility of solar throughout the community & generate a direct channel to members of that organization/entity.
  • Hands on Demonstrations: Consider hosting hands on activities to show potential customers how solar works. Set up a display at a farmer’s market, or a busy neighborhood park. Show people how to assemble a panel, or use a panel to power a small appliance (blender, sewing machine, etc).

    case study: Community co-op in Ontario, Canada

Reducing Overhead

Increasing Efficiencies in Installation Companies

  • Automate your business: Consider switching your business to an online platform with integrated products and services to efficiently manage solar sales process.
  • Truck Check-list: The profitability margin in residential systems is tight, and even small inefficiencies in the project may wipe away that margin. Does your company require organized check-lists that must be met before a truck can leave the lot? Small improvements in organizational efficiency lead to surprisingly valuable outcomes.

Streamlining Solar Permitting

Reducing time and money spent on permitting

  • Encourage the Adoption of the Solar ABC’s Expedited Permitting Process: Want to encourage your city to adopt solar permitting best practices? Encourage your city to implement Solar ABC’s Expedited Permitting Process. The guidelines simplify the technical requirements for PV contractors submitting the application for construction of a new PV system while also facilitating the efficient review of the application’s electrical and structural content by the local jurisdiction awarding the permit.
  • Use Vote Solar’s Project: Permit Toolkit: See how your city measures up against best practices on Vote Solar’s interactive permitting map. If you don’t see data entered for your city, please consider helping us gather the information. If your hometown has high fees or long turn-around times, check out our online toolkit. You’ll find resources to help you work with city officials to make improvements.
  • Encourage Statewide Permitting Standardization: Encourage your state to follow Arizona’s example by passing statewide legislation requiring all cities to implement standardized fees, with quick turn around times.
  • Reaching Building Code Officials: As a solar community we need to tap into networks of building inspectors to educate them on the importance of streamlining solar permitting. Start with One City, then Expand: Identify a high-profile city in your state that is in need of permitting improvements. Help make code changes there, and then use that success story to influence change in other locations across the state.

Resources abound to help you try this at home. First, pursue the Vote Solar website under “Local Initiatives” and “More Resources.” Also check out the Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities guidebook for a list of local solar policy recommendations and samples.

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.