SunShot Awardee Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Solar Challenge: There is (Solar) Power in Numbers
As members of retail warehouse clubs have long known, the cost per item is often less when buying in bulk. The six jurisdictions and two nonprofits that make up the Salt Lake City Rooftop Solar Challenge team (the Wasatch Solar Challenge) have brought big bulk discounts to the rooftop with a group purchasing effort that yielded a 40% discount on the total installed price of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems for more than 60 participants.
Taking part in a first-of-its-kind opportunity in Utah, local residents who joined the Salt Lake Community Solar Program successfully demonstrated the power of bulk purchasing. Participants were able to take advantage of pre-determined tiered pricing offered by the local contractor selected by the citizen Steering Committee; as more participants committed to solar, the price continued to decline. Participants were also able to choose from three pre-selected PV systems to find the one that best fit their needs and preferences. After the final commitment deadline, all participants received a substantial discount, with systems ranging in price from $3.35 to $3.50 per watt, which included a U.S.-made option. (At the onset of the pilot program, the average price for residential solar in Utah was around $5.90 per watt, according to February 2012 state data.)
“We knew this model worked in other places, but we weren’t exactly sure how it would be received in Salt Lake County. Our goal was to add 175 kilowatts of rooftop solar through this pilot program, so we were thrilled with the huge interest from the community and the 232 kilowatts of solar committed through this program,” said Sara Baldwin, a Senior Policy & Regulatory Associate with Utah Clean Energy and Project Lead for the Wasatch Solar Challenge. “Now the goal is to replicate this model in more communities with a toolbox of information, resources, and lessons learned.”
During the remainder of its one-year project, the Wasatch Solar Challenge team plans to initiate a bulk purchase effort in another area community and identify the necessary resources to spread the program’s success beyond its initial launchpad.
“We will do a lot of information sharing through the end of our current grant,” said Baldwin. “We have hosted several peer-to-peer forums, so we are already starting to see diffusion happening—not only with the bulk-purchase effort, but with improvements to local permitting processes.”
The need for unified programs and standardized processes is not limited to Utah, nor is it limited to financing options. Much of the team’s work to date has focused on adopting the Solar ABCs Expedited Solar PV Permitting process. With all six local governments on board with adopting this approach, several building officials are now working toward additional improvements, such as expanded online permitting and adopting standard fee structures.
And that’s not all the Wasatch Solar Challenge team is up to. They will be launching a one-stop shop for expanding local solar markets throughout the state and across the country. With the click of a mouse, jurisdictions will be able to access a Community Solar Toolbox that includes sample documents like an RFP model template as well as other relevant permitting and zoning information resources.
“We believe that making solar installations faster and easier is a huge win for jurisdictions, installers, and constituents,” said Baldwin. “We hope that the movement for simplified and streamlined solar will continue to spread among other communities, across Utah, and throughout the western region.”
Salt Lake Community Solar was recently honored as a 2013 Finalist for the Governor’s Excellence in Energy Awards. It also received the 2012 Utah Business Magazine Sustainable Business Award in the Social Impact category.