SolarCity has a plan for Santa Monica. Known as the Community Purchase Plan, it has been tried successfully in several Northern California cities. The San Francisco-based solar power company recently held a meeting at the Santa Monica Library to outline the plan and explain the details of solar energy systems to potential customers.
The Community Purchase Plan is based on the concept that everything is less expensive when bought in bulk. Normally, a customer buying a solar system pays a high price for the equipment and installation. Under SolarCity’ s plan, groups of people band together to buy SolarCity systems. If 50 or more customers buy into the plan, each customer receives a discount.
“The more people sign up, the more the prices will go down,” said Laura Berland-Shane, Los Angeles Director of Sales for SolarCity.
Berland-Shane displayed a diagram on PowerPoint that showed how the SolarCity power system works. When solar panels are installed on a site, they convert sunlight into power during daytime hours. An inverter converts this electricity, which is measured in DC wattage, into more commonly used AC power. An electric panel at the site receives the electricity while a meter keeps count of the usage. When excess power is generated by the solar panels, the meter will run backwards. The excess electricity is then sold back to the customer’s electric grid.
During daytime hours, when electric usage is higher, the accumulated energy from solar systems is sold back to the utility companies at higher prices, resulting in credit to solar customers. Eventually, a solar customer may pay a low electric bill or no bill at all, as the excess power accumulates.
“All types of buildings are eligible – residential, commercial and nonprofit,” said Berland-Shane. She noted that solar power increases property values and that federal tax credit is available for solar users.
In addition, SolarCity has introduced the Solarguard monitoring system, under which performance data from solar systems is transmitted to SolarCity’s servers every 15 minutes. SolarCity customers will be able to check on their usage via the Internet, while SolarCity technicians will be able to track problems (such as weather and accidents to solar panels).
Audience members had questions: How big are the solar panels? Berland-Shane replied that they are usually 9 x 5 feet and usually black or navy blue in color. Could the marine layer that is prevalent in Santa Monica in the spring months affect the solar power collection? Not a factor – especially as the marine layer tends to burn off in the afternoon.
Berland-Shane said that solar panels work best on a roof’s south or southwestern exposure (where the sun hits strongest). Also, some roofs are more difficult to work with than others, slanted and tile roofs being the biggest problems. SolarCity is offering free site evaluations as part of the Community Purchase plan, and will assess the needs and possibilities of each property.
What about apartment houses? Berland-Shane admitted that “it’s harder for them” to convert to solar, especially when different tenants are under different energy plans. Tenants would have to persuade building owners to look into the possibility of conversion.
The Community Purchase plan for Santa Monica is being offered by SolarCity through July 31, 2007. The first 30 customers to sign up will be entered in a sweepstakes to earn an additional $3,000 discount on the cost of their systems.
“We can only afford to do this in one community,” said SolarCity’s Dan Burtt. “Santa Monica has the mind-set. They have an education about solar.”
To find out more about the SolarCity Community Purchase plan, call 888.sol.city.