Community Solar #01 – Community Empowerment Through Collective Bargaining

Are you one of the 1 million Aussie households with solar panels on the roof? Or have you hesitated due to uncertainty about the costs, value and processes or simply because you dont’ have a roof? (I’m sure you can work that one out…)

If you’re not confident of going it alone, there is another community-based avenue which, when combined with the emerging ‘collaborative consumption’ movement, might appeal.

Two avenues in fact:

  • Collective Bargaining – where a large number of community households convene what is effectively a ‘purchasing cartel’ to unlock bulk-purchasing power; and
  • Community Solar – where a community group pools resources to invest in a large consolidated solar installation, and receives dividends.

The Portland Sustainability Institute directed me to a great collective bargaining benchmark in Solarize Portland, a solar panel volume-purchasing program set up by local neighbourhood associations.

The approach is pretty simple – a large number of neighbourhood residents pool their bargaining power and strike up the best deal possible on a bulk purchase and installation. This approach gives the vendor and installer economies of scale and surety of sales, so they can drop their prices… often by a lot. It puts the power (sorry) back in the hands of the community, whilst avoiding more complex community ownership structures and legalities… it’s basically group purchase and install, then the group is disbanded.

The Solarize Guidebook from Solarize Portland has a number of good examples of community solar purchasing schemes in the US, plus a simple graphic showing a timeline template of how to go about setting one up. (click on the image below)

solarize timeline

This community option, like all such ideas, needs a catalyst in the form of someone with enough energy (sorry again) and time to get things set up.

I’ll let you know how I go.


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