Solstice Makes it Easy to Sign Up for Community Solar

By Forrest Watkins

Solstice was founded on the knowledge that nearly four out of every five Americans can’t get access to rooftop solar, and the belief that community solar―a central solar installation to which nearby residents can subscribe, in exchange for renewable energy and electric bill savings― can bring affordable renewable energy to each of those households. This new model for solar energy is already helping many new households go solar, especially those with shaded or poorly-oriented roofs or that can’t afford the upfront costs of rooftop solar.

A BlueWave Solar community solar project in Oxford, MA. Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

A BlueWave Solar community solar project in Oxford, MA. Photo Credit: BlueWave Solar

Solstice’s Approach to Increasing Solar Access

Solstice makes it easy and straightforward for community organizations and residents to sign up for community solar.

This work is urgent. Climate change is already disrupting American communities and communities around the world, and air pollution kills 5.5 million people every year. These impacts disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. Making affordable renewable energy available to every American citizen is the only way to ensure a prosperous and just future for all.

Most media coverage of climate change focuses on storms and sea level rise, but one of the most significant threats it presents to humanity is lost food production.

Most media coverage of climate change focuses on storms and sea level rise, but one of the most significant threats it presents to humanity is lost food production.

Research from Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication suggests that Americans overwhelmingly support expanding solar energy use. To us, this means one thing: that Americans will switch to solar energy if given the opportunity. For the millions of households that can’t install rooftop solar, community solar can deliver renewable energy that saves money on their electric bill.

That’s why we work hard to make signing up for community solar as easy as possible. We take the time to help people understand all of their options and to walk them through every step of the signup process.

The first question we usually get from our customers is “What is community solar?” So while we love working directly with customers and communities, we also know that to maximize the impact of community solar, we need to spread the word.

Network Effects Amplify Our Impact

Solar is quantifiably contagious: According to a Yale study, the number one reason why people go solar is because they have a friend or neighbor who went solar. So, instead of going door to door and talking to strangers--the way residential solar has always been sold--we help entire communities go solar. We work with businesses, local community organizations, and houses of worship, enrolling both the organization and their members in local solar gardens. This magnifies our collective impact and allows local communities to take leadership on climate change, and it creates stronger ties between these local institutions and their communities.

This approach allowed the First Parish Unitarian Church in Bridgewater, MA and many of its members to go solar. The church had long been committed to social justice, and had been searching for a way to go solar for over a year. Unfortunately, the church's status as an historical building prevented it from installing panels on its own roof, so church leaders opted to pay an additional fee to get renewable energy from the church’s electric utility.

Then, this past spring, we reached out to church leaders and informed them about community solar. By enrolling with Solstice, the church would save 10% on its electricity bill ($8000 in total savings) and avoid additional fees. The congregation voted to join the community solar program, excited to both save money and support local clean energy.

The Bridgewater First Parish Church―powered by community solar!

The Bridgewater First Parish Church―powered by community solar!

Once the church had approved the measure, the pastor and individual parishioners also signed up their own households for community solar. We trained congregants to take leadership in pushing for more renewable energy adoption in their community, and they began informing their friends and neighbors about community solar. Leveraging these community organizing techniques to accelerate solar adoption can save money for both solar developers and customers, and it expands the impact of community solar around the country.

Technology Drives the Adoption of Solar

Our founders honed these community organizing techniques through work on the Obama campaign and at advocacy organizations. Those experiences taught them that technology can amplify the viral effect of community organizing, and Solstice has leveraged these insights to craft a superior online customer experience. Solstice is the only company that pairs these grassroots community organizing techniques with a scalable customer management digital platform. By using technology to make the customer enrollment and management process as simple as possible, we can spread community solar to more communities.

Next Steps: Fulfilling the Promise of Community Solar

Even as we work to enroll people in existing solar gardens, we know there is still work to be done to make community solar work for every American. 20-year contract lengths and stringent credit score requirements can make difficult for renters and low- and middle-income households to access community solar. To remedy this, we are working with our partners to develop shorter contracts and alternative qualifying metrics that will work for Americans with lower credit scores. (Keep an eye out for a blog post with more detail on this work!)

At Solstice, we believe that community solar will be the force that brings renewable energy to every American. We are working hard to educate people about community solar and to make it easier to enroll in local solar gardens, lowering costs for community solar developers and bringing savings to our customers.

WANT TO GO SOLAR? LET US KNOW!