Solar United Neighbors – Over a Decade of Supporting Solar Communities

Solar United Neighbors began its work over a decade ago with five simple words: “Mom, can we go solar?” This was asked of our Executive Director, Anya Schoolman by her then middle school aged son Walter, after he and his friend Diego had just seen “An Inconvenient Truth” an Oscar-winning documentary about the environment and the pair were motivated to take action.  Up to the challenge put upon her by her son and his friend, Anya looked into going solar, but at the time it was expensive and complicated. Anya also quickly realized that if she was going to put in the time and work into making her own home solar, she might as well do it for the whole neighborhood. So, Walter and Diego canvassed their block and successfully got about 50 neighbors on board over a period of a couple of years and the first solar co-op was born. Word of this effort spread about this project around Washington, D.C and soon other neighborhoods followed suit.  Fast forward to today, Solar United Neighbors helps thousands of homeowners across the country go solar each year. 

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In the U.S. alone 2.7 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) capacity was installed in the first quarter for 2019 increasing the total installed capacity to 67 GW, enough to power 12.7 million American homes. This represents an impressive year-over-year increase of 10%.  In saying that, the total installed U.S. PV capacity is expected to more than double over the next five years and by 2024, more than 15 GW of PV capacity will be installed to the growing total installed capacity annually.  This month Spotlight on Business spoke with Carra Cheslin, Director of Engagement and Ben Delman, Communications Director of Solar United Neighbors about the non-profit that started in Washington, D.C. back in 2007 after a simple question about solar that now supports communities in 13 states and has overseen 4,100 installations for a total of 32 megawatts of electricity.

So how does Solar United Neighbors help people make the switch to solar energy?  According to Delman,  “First it is to educate people about solar energy and the benefit of going solar,” Delman goes on to say, “then it is about helping them go solar, whether that is installing solar panels on their home and or business, or having them participate in a community solar project, it is all about building a community of solar supporters.”  You understand when speaking to Delman the importance of having a community of supporters who are not only excited about solar, but that are also educated and engaged with their communities.  “They make a real strong and compelling group of advocates for solar energy and the benefits that can be had for everyone as more and more people make the switch to solar energy, “say Delman.

Solar United Neighbors through education and helping people go solar, allows homeowners and businesses to take control of where the electricity comes from and one of the great ways that we do that is through their solar co-op program.  These programs empower solar supporters to join together, and fight for their energy rights and be an advocacy for better government solar energy policies and promote energy independence sharing the vision of an energy system with rooftop solar at the cornerstone, which allows people to save money by producing their own power while creating good industry jobs, improving the strength and reliability of the nation’s energy systems and helping to reduce pollution and protecting the environment.  

Solar United Neighbors provides the technical expertise and consumer advocacy for people, business and communities going solar, they are not a sales company, they do not sell solar energy systems.  However, they work closely with partners to spread the word about solar and help you make the switch to solar as easy as possible.

Solar energy benefits us all. For individuals, organizations, and businesses, going solar can create real opportunities for cost savings and community development. This is especially true for municipal governments. Given their high electricity costs and access to sunny real estate, municipalities are uniquely primed to take advantage of the benefits of going solar.

Solar United Neighbors helps individuals, organizations and businesses go solar.

“If you go to the Solar United Neighbors’ website, you will see that we have created a directory of businesses that have gone solar,” Cheslin, goes on to say, “Many have been featured on the site so that you can learn more about the businesses and their solar energy systems.”

The directory helps solar energy supporters connect with and support businesses in their community that are solar advocates in their own right. 

Solar United Neighbors works to grow the community of solar supporters in many ways. Two of these are Brews from the Sun and National Solar Tour.  These events allow businesses and homeowners to spotlight solar energy systems along with their commitment to solar and the benefits of going solar for others that are either interested in making the switch or have made the switch themselves.

Solar United Neighbors’ Brews from the Sun competition brings together two growing industries; craft beer and solar energy. 

The Brews from the Sun competition allows craft beer enthusiasts and solar energy supporters celebrate the many craft breweries across the nation who have made the choice to go solar in the pursuit of unique and flavorful beers.  The craft brewing supporters very much like solar energy supporters believe in community and making a difference for the people they service in the neighborhoods.  That is why for the last two years, solar-powered craft breweries from across the country compete in a six-week completion during the spring to receive votes and be crowned America’s Favorite Solar Craft Brewery of 2019 in one of three categories; Brewpub, Microbrewery and Regional Brewery.

This competition recognizes each brewery’s commitment to solar, whether it was to save money, be more environmentally sustainable, support their local clean energy economy, or become energy independent, there are as many great reasons for the 150 solar-powered craft breweries to go solar as there are great craft beers and this competition celebrates them both.

If you are looking to get more information or would like to get your brewery involved or just would like to see the brewers that have made the switch to solar check out their website at brewsfromthesun.org

Solar United Neighbors’ second major event is the National Solar Tour which officially takes place on October 5th and 6th. The National Solar Tour is organized by Solar United Neighbors in partnership with the American Solar Energy Society, along with the support and local organizing efforts of over 130 partner organizations and companies. The National Solar Tour is free and open to the public, as hundreds of people who have gone solar across the nation open their homes, businesses, non-profit organizations, municipal buildings, religious institutions, schools, and community solar gardens, hosting solar open house events to engage their communities around the power of solar energy.

This year’s National Solar Tour event currently has over 350 individual solar open house events, 50 locally organized multi-site solar tours and 45 states participating in solar open houses and local tours to help spread the word about going solar. You can see the full list of events on the National Solar Tour and RSVP to attend one or more of them at nationalsolartour.org/map.

“If you would like to host an open house it is not too late as solar owners can sign up to host solar open houses on the National Solar Tour through September 6th, 2019.  If you are interested in hosting an open house or learn more about where you can attend next year, please go to the National Solar Tour website at nationalsolartour.org to register,” says Cheslin.

If you do not wish to host an event as part of the National Solar Tour but you would still like to spotlight your solar energy system, then the “I Love My Solar” website at ilovemy.solar, which is a joint project between Solar United Neighbors and Vote Solar, is a great way for you to share your story about going solar.

Well if you do not want to wait for the National Solar Tour and you want to go solar now for your home or business but want to do it on your own it is as simple as becoming a member.  If you decide to make the change then you can do so with one-on-one help at your own pace from Solar United Neighbors’ knowledgeable members-only Solar Help Desk.  This support service offers real-time advice when and where you need it.  They are ready, able and more than willing to help you go solar, so you have the confidence and knowledge to get the right system for you and your needs.

Not looking to do it on your own then Solar United Neighbors offers a solar co-op project, which has helped thousands of people go solar each year.  Co-op programs will organize 50 to 100 neighbors in a group to go solar together, making it a true community approach.  Their knowledgeable experts support you through each stage of the solar process. Co-op members leverage bulk-purchasing power to get discounted pricing all co-op members sign individual contracts so that you are in control and have the right system for your home or business.

Solar United Neighbors helps individuals, businesses and organizations and also helps municipalities go solar as there are also many benefits for municipalities.  By generating their own electricity from solar power, municipalities can reduce their monthly electric bills.  And that means serious cost savings. Powering schools, libraries, municipal office buildings, and maintenance centers requires a lot of energy. For the typical local government, energy expenditures are the second largest budget item. So, saving money on electricity can significantly cut operating expenses.

The benefits of solar extend beyond saving money:[BD1] 

  • Job creation: The solar industry now employs more than 250,000 people. Solar jobs are diverse, ranging from installation to manufacturing to sales. installing solar on one or more buildings, municipalities can fuel solar job creation in their local community.
  • Local economic development: Installing solar panels on one or more of their buildings can help municipalities jump-start the local clean energy economy. You can leverage your community outreach resources to educate constituents about renewable energy systems during installation, growing the local customer base. Municipalities can boost local clean energy employment by opting to work with local contractors for installation. Municipalities can pair their solar installation with updates to their internal solar permitting practices. This can signal to the community that your municipality is committed to growing the local clean energy economy.
  • Sustainability commitments: Installing solar can help your municipality meet its sustainability goals by decreasing its consumption of fossil fuel-powered electricity and offsetting its carbon emissions.
  • Resiliency: As battery technology drops in price, many municipalities are considering solar plus storage to use during power outages.

It is easy to see how everyone benefits from solar energy either directly or indirectly and why people are so passionate about this growing sector of the energy industry.  Next month we will spotlight the National Solar Tour but, in the meantime, if you would like information on going solar or about how Solar United Neighbors can help you go solar or any of their solar events visit solarunitedneighbors.org

by Greg Rodman


 [BD1]I think this section shouldn’t just talk about the benefits of solar to municipalities, but the benefits of solar generally.