How solar co-ops select an installer

By Ben Delman on May 3, 2018
Selection committee meets to choose an installer.

One Minnesota solar co-op has grown to the size where the group is ready to search for and select an installer. Several others are close! Solar co-op participants drive this process.

When homeowners join a solar co-op, we ask participants what they are looking for in an installer. This might be an installer who is based locally, or can offer longer warranties, or installs a certain type of panels. We use these responses to develop a request for proposals (RFP).

Once the group is large enough, about 20 or so homes with good roofs, we open the RFP and a response template up to solar installation companies. The RFP and response template are designed so that the proposals the solar co-op receives from the installers are easy to compare to one another. Installers generally have two to three weeks to respond to the RFP. Any installer is eligible to make a bid.

After the solar co-op receives the installers’ bids, Solar United Neighbors convenes a selection committee composed of solar co-op participants. The selection committee is open to all solar co-op participants. Solar United Neighbors provides technical assistance, creating a side-by-side comparison of each bid. It is solar co-op members themselves that make the selection. Selection committee members weigh each proposal against the solar co-op members’ selected criteria.

This ensures communities have maximum ownership and control over the decision. It also allows Solar United Neighbors to remain a neutral consumer advocate. This process is one of the distinctive aspects of the solar co-op model.

While many private-sector solar companies strive to educate potential customers, Solar United Neighbors acts as a customer advocate rather than a sales company. We provide neutral, unbiased advice and technical assistance, and do not partner with any particular companies or service providers. This makes us a trusted partner for potential solar customers, filling a critical gap in the solar marketplace.

We prioritize local participation and leadership in all of our solar co-ops. Community partners provide input throughout the planning and implementation process. They can play a large role in shaping the co-op audience and priorities. Local leadership is important and makes solar co-ops more successful. Recognizing and customizing the solar co-op to address local priorities and recruitment avenues helps maximize the project’s impact and encourages as many people go solar as possible.