Energy Retrofits Meet Group Solar Organizers

buildingsolarIf group purchasing of solar systems reduces costs, the same should be true for home energy retrofits. We’ve learned that two San Francisco-based startups, building retrofit firm Sustainable Spaces and community organizer 1 Block Off the Grid, have launched a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area and neighboring Sonoma County that promises to make home energy retrofits more accessible and affordable. 1BOG will search for and find customers grouped in neighborhoods, essentially carrying some of the marketing burden for Sustainable Spaces, and the energy retrofiter can then pass those cost savings onto home owners.
Sustainable Spaces, which raised $6 million in venture funding last year, conducts energy audits for homes and commercial buildings and then implements retrofit measures such as sealing air ducts or adding more energy-efficient furnaces. 1BOG, an initiative of Quest Venture Partners-backed Virgance, has made a name for itself essentially as a community organizer for solar installations — the company aggregates customers by neighborhoods and then collectively bargains with solar installers on their behalf. The two outfits now want to try this type of partnership in the home performance retrofit industry.

Sustainable Spaces hopes the program will bring new customers — founder Matt Golden said he’s expecting more than 30 leads per month once the pilot is running smoothly. The relationship should also help Sustainable Spaces educate home owners about performance retrofits, what Golden says is one of the most time-consuming aspects of the industry. In its projects, 1BOG has put a lot of energy into education. The group offers free webinars, organizes community-based house parties to discuss the projects, and is developing videos about solar energy. 1BOG intends to do the same around home performance retrofits, Marketing and Development Manager Brad Burton said.
For 1BOG, which on Monday launched solar projects in the Colorado cities of Denver and Boulder, the partnership marks its first foray outside the solar market. Burton said it’s a test to see if the group’s community organizing model works in other industries. At first, 1BOG will approach home owners who previously expressed interest in the group’s solar projects but didn’t follow through with installations — maybe their roofs had too much shading. But if successful, 1BOG might eventually roll out home performance retrofit projects in other cities and expand into other “green” industries like electric vehicles, Burton said. The group has typically negotiated discounts of 10 percent to 15 percent with solar installers, and Sustainable SpacesIndustries has agreed to give 15 percent discounts on retrofitting work to any 1BOG participant.
The great benefit of 1BOG’s community organizing model is that it helps solar installers — and now home performance retrofitters — tap into large numbers of customers in concentrated geographic areas. This promises significant savings in marketing costs for these companies, whose expertise and value is in the technical side, and lower costs for consumers. In the United States, cost is always king, but even more so in today’s economy.