Solar companies eye boom-bust business in the post-'Solarize' era
By Adam Worcester, Contributing Writer
Portland’s Imagine Energy installed solar electric energy in more than 150 homes during the first two Solarize campaigns.
Over the past four years, the Solarize movement has inspired thousands of Oregon homeowners to adapt solar electric energy.
But even as Solarize spreads nationwide, many initial participants wonder whether its business model has reached the point of diminishing returns.
Decreased solar-energy prices, attractive rebates and increased marketing savvy have combined to offset much of the movement’s innate appeal.
“In Portland, Solarize has kind of run its course,” said Lee Rahr, a former city staffer who contributed to the Solarize Guidebook, a community guide to the collective purchasing of residential solar electric systems.
The premise of the grassroots movement is that a community, bargaining collectively, can overcome market barriers of price, complexity and consumer inertia.
In the beginning, that proved to be the case.
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Prior to the first Solarize campaign in Southeast Portland, the average upfront cost to install a 3-kilowatt residential solar electric system was about $27,000. By utilizing tax credits and utility incentives, and leveraging marketing savings by negotiating through a single contractor, that cost shrunk to about $2,000 for participants in the first Solarize installations.
Community workshops, supported by nonprofit organizations, the city of Portland, and Energy Trust of Oregon, helped campaign members hurdle the complexity barrier. Group dynamics overcame inertia.
The inaugural campaign eventually resulted in 239 solar installations, and the Solarize model spread quickly to other Portland neighborhoods.
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