Get Your Community Together! Interview by Willi Paul
This is a type of broker business model?
To be honest, One Block Off the Grid is actually the reverse of a broker. Brokers generally connect a customer to a service provider and tack on a fee, adding cost to the transaction. We connect customers with service providers, yes, but in the process make the transaction less costly. We remove expense from the transaction, so we really can’t be considered a broker.
Your outreach strategy looks like a political campaign approach? Why this model?
We do indeed like to think of ourselves as operating on a political campaign model. We believe in the strength of the neighborhood as an agent of organization and self-improvement, and aim to engage neighborhoods and communities in increasing the adoption of residential solar. We have paid canvassers who go door to door to talk to people, and have volunteers who host house parties in their living rooms to get their neighbors together to discuss the advantages of going solar, and the advantages of doing it together. We’ve found that people are very excited about working with their neighbors to add value to their communities and reduce their energy consumption, and we’re happy to help them continue to do that with our program.
What experience does a Field Organizer need? Is this a staff position with some compensation?
The requirements for becoming a Field Organizer are minimal, but it is a task that requires some time commitment and dedication to the community. Generally, our Field Organizers are folks who want to do something to help add value to their home as well as the homes of their neighbors, and who have a pre-existing interest in solar and renewables. Field Organizers aren’t paid, but do receive education and training from our Field Director, as well as access big discounts on solar for themselves and their neighbors.
What is experience in the solar industry? What lessons have you learned?
Before founding One Block Off the Grid, I worked for several years in the solar industry, both as a sales consultant and the author of Solar Power Rocks, an influential solar blog. Since 1BOG has been in operation, we’ve gained extensive industry insight and knowledge, and are lucky enough to have direct channels of communication with the CEOs of every major installer in the nation — our knowledge and network are vast.
Can roof top gardens and solar panels co-exist?
To the extent that the gardens won’t create shading that impacts the productive capacity of the solar panels, yes. There isn’t any reason why they couldn’t co-exist, as long as the gardens don’t block the panels from the sun.
Tell us about the current slate of rebates etc. That 1Blog.org utilizes. This is arena changing from last year?
Rebates vary from city to city and state to state. There is, of course, the 30% federal tax credit that exists everywhere, but the status of local rebates can be a tricky situation to navigate. The largest rebate we’ve encountered so far is in Louisiana, where the state rebate pays for 50% of the cost of the installation. Paired with the 30% federal tax credit, Louisiana residents can get up to 80% of their system paid for. That’s defintiely a very significant price reduction, and we’re hoping to see big increases in the uptake of solar as information on those numbers is spread. Rebates do periodically change so yes, these numbers are different from last year. Specifically, the 30% federal tax credit became much more attractive last October, when it became 30% uncapped — it had previously been 30% up to $2,000.
How are rates set for selling back power to the grid?
Selling power back to the grid is a complicated subject. There are very few places in the United States that will actually pay you cash for the power you provide to the grid, but most utilities will credit you for it. Think of the grid as a battery. You store electricity that you’re not using on the grid until you need to use it. Once you start using that stored electricity, you have free access to it. Again, this can vary from utility to utility, but as a general rule of thumb, you’re credited for the electricity you supply to the grid at the same rate as you’re charged when you pull it off the grid.
Are you involved in lobbying?
We’re not directly involved in lobbying. The numbers of people we engage is big enough that it can influence legislation that comes down the pike, but again, it’s not our primary focus. We keep a close eye on legislation that concerns the solar market, since our business is clearly affected by changes in laws that are passed, but we think that by continuing to grow our member base, we’ll be able to influence legislation by virtue of our numerical might rather than by participating directly in lobbying.
Please tell us about a recent “critical mass” event; where and now it it take the community to reach it?
A great example of a recent critical mass event is New Orleans. We’ve long stated that if we develop enough interest in any given city, we’ll run a program. New Orleans jumped out at us and surprised us with their enthusiasm and interest, and we couldn’t have been more excited to get involved. New Orleans, as we all know, is undergoing a period of rapid re-building and re-imagining, and has demonstrated really admirable openness to the value proposition of solar. We’re in the process of growing the solar market there to never before seen volume, and it’s all a result of people there spreading the word and wanting to learn more about the value of going solar.
Who is your competition?
To be honest, we don’t have any direct competitors. There are many instances of neighborhoods or groups of friends trying to do something that approaches the 1BOG model, but that requires an extreme amount of time and dedication to working through the details of all of the technology, rebates, installers, etc. to figure out for themselves what deals and technologies make the most sense. Basically, they have to do all the legwork to educate themselves from the ground up. We’re working to make this process more scalable and effective so that individual neighborhoods don’t have to continually reinvent the wheel to find the best deal on solar installations.
Dave is the mastermind behind http://www.solarpowerrocks.com, and is actively involved with the San Francisco community and governmental initiatives concerning renewable energy. Dave pioneered the model for getting solar on renters in San Francisco, by working with specialists in both tenant law and tax law. As a result, he was able to bring solar to potentially tens of thousands of homes in San Francisco.
For the past year Dave worked as a solar specialist for a local solar company where he was involved with the back end side of solar system integrations. He managed every aspect from site assessment, to designing solar energy systems, to educating customers on how they operate. His knowledge of state specific incentive structures and energy policy is essential as we roll out new 1BOG cities. This hands-on experience makes Dave an important asset. Dave joined the 1BOG team late this past summer and is responsible for the development of 1BOG campaigns nationwide. Dave is a graduate in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois. He likes to play a game or two of poker, he dreams of making the final table in the World Series.