Virginia community solar co-ops for home solar, EV home chargers succeed

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One method to expand access to clean energy and clean transportation energy is through solar co-op programs, which have worked in many regions successfully. The costs for solar and costs for electric vehicle (EV) chargers each include “soft costs” of system design, information, permitting and contracting that are similar. By pairing education and purchase activities for both technologies, partners can reach more people and help more communities become confident, informed and save money.

Sometimes labeled as ‘solarize’ programs, solar co-operatives organize dozens of neighbors in a group to learn about and potentially purchase for their homes or business together at discounted prices. The participants get vendor-neutral advice to make an informed decision from a non-profit organization and then obtain discount pricing.

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In the Southeast a robust partnership between a leading solar co-op program, Solar United Neighbors (SUN) and the statewide alternative fuels vehicle coalition, Virginia Clean Cities (VCC), has led to the exploration and partnership for information and accessibility to renewable energy production and low-cost EV charging. 

Recognizing that many solar owners were EV enthusiasts, and many EV owners are interested in solar energy, VCC and SUN partnered on the first solar co-op program in Virginia to pair EV chargers with solar installations first in 2018 in Arlington, Virginia.

This initiative showcased EV owners, answered questions and paired with capable solar installers who were able to also install seven EV chargers in a single Arlington, Virginia cooperative purchase. Coupling EV chargers with solar installations as part of the co-op model has gained momentum across the state.

SUN estimates more than 75 EV chargers have been installed as part of their co-op programs since 2018. This has grown to other states in which SUN operates and other Clean Cities states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The process involves wide outreach through community partners answering questions and providing neutral education events on both photovoltaic home electric energy and the technology of EV home charging. Interested homeowners can sign up, identify and even participate in selecting a local installer based on a competitive bidding process for both solar and EV charging. The installer will later do home visits to scope and present a nonbinding offer to install power generation and vehicle charging capability. Homeowners that choose to purchase through these programs often become ambassadors for the technology. 

The Virginia pilot program also coincided with an EV group buy program which at the time facilitated the lease and sale of 30 Nissan Leafs as low as $11,000 each after incentives.

EV charging programs that are partnerships with community partners like Clean Cities coalitions and solarize nonprofits like SUN can be a resounding success. This process can be repeated easily in different neighborhoods.  

These programs can offer new transportation and energy savings such as solar photovoltaic panels and EV charging programs in communities throughout Virginia and the nation. 75 Clean Cities coalitions operate in nearly most states and communities and SUN currently operates in 11 states. 

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