Especially motivated green consumers may be willing to pay a little more for clean energy sources, but most balk at the existing cost delta between renewable energy and power generated by dirty sources.
That's why we're intrigued to read about early results for Solarize Massachusetts, which promises program participants a lower price for solar than for traditional energy sources.
For example, residents and businesses in Newburyport, one of 17 participating Massachusetts communities, now pay an average of $0.12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for solar versus the statewide average of $0.15 cents for power generated by coal-fired, nuclear or natural gas generation options.
The program focuses on reducing the soft costs of solar installations by creating a structure where people can aggregate their purchases - which reduces installation charges by up to 30%, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), which is running the program with the MA Dept of Energy Resources.
In Newburyport, for example, residents and businesses have gotten together to contract for 12 solar systems with a total capacity of 71 kilowatts (kW).
The more solar a community buys, the lower the price. Participating communities have seen savings of 13-22% off the cost of an average solar installation, says MassCEC.
In Boston, where SolarCity handles installations, customers can expect to pay $20,000-$23,000 for a 5 kW rooftop system compared with the $27,000 they would pay outside the program.
The deadline for signing up for the program is September 30, 2012, but we're likely to see similar initiatives in the future as Massachusetts seeks to install 250 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity by 2017. Programs like Solarize Massachusetts and other incentives have helped it get more than halfway to that goal, with 143 MW installed in the state to date.
With smaller solar systems now accounting for almost 40% of the existing US project pipeline, bulk purchasing programs, leasing and other efforts supporting community or collective investment are taking on more importance.
The downside is that a lot of education and marketing is needed for these programs to work, since many US homeowners and businesses still equate rooftop solar with expensive installations.
Community solar purchasing efforts are also controversial with utility companies. California's recent attempt to pass legislation supporting community solar systems was thwarted after lobbying efforts by PG&E, although supporters say they will try again in the next legislative session.
For more about community aggregation initiatives: