Thanks to the launch of a new grassroots campaign in South Carolina, the longtime solar laggard could be poised to triple its installed capacity among homes and small businesses.
Today, clean energy nonprofit group SmartPower officially kicks off a Solarize bulk discount buying program. Solarize South Carolina aims to inflate South Carolina’s solar capacity among homes and small businesses from 11 MW (enough to power 1,000 homes) to 33 MW in the next 18 months.
“New policies within the state have made it more attractive,” said SmartPower president Brian Keane, referring to legislation passed in June 2014 that gave the green light to third-party leasing — and required investor-owned utilities such as Duke Energy and South Carolina Energy & Gas to increase its distributed energy resources. The utilities will also pay businesses and residents that are producing their own renewable energy.
“There’s enough changes happening for it to make financial sense for consumers to go solar,” Keane said.
The Solarize model — which has been widely implemented across the U.S. in cities such as Portland, Seattle, Asheville and Raleigh — aims to quickly ramp up residential solar capacity on a citywide and neighborhood level by working with solar contractors offering discounts that are proportional to the number of residents who take the solar plunge.
But unlike most other Solarize efforts, Solarize South Carolina marks one of the first times that an investor-owned utility has expressed an interest in becoming an official partner in the campaign, according to Keane, who said that his group is currently working out how South Carolina Energy & Gas will be involved. San Francisco-based Dividend Solar, a residential financing company, is another partner.
The first phase of Solarize South Carolina will be rolled out at community events (such as farmer’s markets, book clubs and civic organization gatherings) in Charleston, West Ashley, James Island and Mount Pleasant.
“We’re basically going where the people are,” Keane said of the decision to launch the campaign in these areas. “I believe that there’s this pent-up demand for those who want to go solar.”
The Charleston chapter of the Rotary Club will host Thursday’s launch event. At that time, the city will be given an incentive: If 69 residents sign up for solar systems, it will receive 5 kW of donated solar.
After the first campaigns get off the ground, Columbia and Greenville are next on the list.
Yet despite a widespread awareness of solar, Keane says there are still challenges.
“It’s getting people to walk that last mile from awareness to installation,” he said. “You just don’t walk into a store and get solar. But we’re bringing the solar store to you.”