Employee group buy program reduces cost of residential solar, increases renewable energy deployment in the Bay Area

Launched in March 2013, the San Francisco SunShares solar financing program is open to over 80,000 San Francisco employees and retirees who live anywhere in the nine Bay Area counties or Sacramento.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment is leading the San Francisco SunShares initiative, in partnership with Business Council on Climate Change (BC3) member companies. “The SunShares program makes installing solar convenient and more affordable while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Melanie Nutter, Director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Among the participating organizations include the city’s three largest employers: the City and County of San Francisco, the University of California at San Francisco, and Pacific Gas and Electric, along with Blue Shield of California and South San Francisco-based Genentech.

Already, 44 installations are under contract totaling 173 kilowatts (kW). In total, 685 participants have signed up to receive free, no-obligation solar site assessments. The program is open through end of July.

With an initial investment of $8,000 after federal tax credits, a Bay Area resident participating in the program could save $45,000 on their utility bills over the 30-year life of a 3kW system, offsetting 90% of their annual energy use.

“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. “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 program is administered by GroupEnergy, a non-profit project of the Vote Solar Initiative, which helps organizations develop employee solar group purchasing programs, providing educational workshops, technical advice, and due diligence on vendors.

“San Francisco’s SunShares program demonstrates how aggregated solar purchasing partnerships can be a win-win for everyone – participating homeowners, the solar industry, employers, local governments, and the environment,” said Jessie Denver, GroupEnergy’s director.

REC Solar was chosen as the SunShares program vendor by a selection committee comprised of volunteers from participating organizations. In partnership with Sunrun, REC Solar offers financing options for participants, including monthly Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs – similar to a lease) to help homeowners overcome some of the upfront costs associated with solar. At the same time, homeowners benefit from performance guarantees, online monitoring, and ongoing maintenance.

“Residential system installation prices continue to drop in strong solar markets like ours, which makes going solar easier for a wider range of homeowners,” said REC Solar Regional Sales Manager Jay Hermon. “Programs like this only help to further drive down those costs, for both us and our customers. Add this to the obvious benefits of going solar – reducing your monthly electric bill and your carbon footprint – and it just makes sense for a lot of residents.”

The 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.

This week, Governor Brown and Mayor Ed Lee welcomed attendees to the week-long InterSolar North America Conference held at the Moscone Convention Center, which will host an expected 29,000 attendees.

“Thanks to the leadership of Governor Brown and Mayor Ed Lee in promoting renewable energy such as solar, San Francisco is well on its way to achieving the goal of becoming 100 percent renewably powered,” said Nutter.

“We’re happy to host the solar industry this week, and showcase San Francisco’s innovative solar policies and programs,” Nutter added. “Local government can play an important role in building solar markets, and group buying models such as the SunShares program are one of the strategic ways in which cities, employers, and the solar industry can partner for mass deployment of residential solar.” 

More information on the program and how to sign up can be found at: http://mygroupenergy.com/group/sfsunshares