VA SUN supports Virginia homeowners who want to go solar by using a solar co-op model focused on community engagement. This model is installer-neutral and financing-neutral (cash/loan/lease/PPA). Building strong relationships with solar installers is critical to our model’s success. Toward that end, we are committed to sharing data and lessons learned from each solar co-op experience with installers. Everyone is welcome to participate in the solar co-op process.
- How do I get notified of upcoming RFPs?
- Why does VA SUN organize solar co-ops?
- How are installers involved in the process?
- What’s the solar co-op process?
- What information do you collect about the co-ops?
- Why so much community engagement and homeowner involvement?
- How do I get started in the solar industry?
How do I get notified of upcoming RFPs?
If you’d like to hear about upcoming solar co-op request for proposals (RFPs) join the RFP notification list or sign up below:
Why does VA SUN organize solar co-ops?
We help homeowners organize co-ops to:
- Educate consumers on the benefits of solar electric power,
- Support consumers throughout the process,
- Help homeowners get a discount on solar, and
- Connect participants to a larger conversation in Virginia to increase local renewable generation.
How are installers involved in the process?
The solar co-op model can only be successful in the long-term if we:
- Advocate for and support homeowners as they go solar,
- Help homeowners get a good discount as a group, and
- Provide good business opportunities for participating installation companies.
With that in mind, we actively encourage installers throughout Virginia to provide us with feedback on how the solar co-ops are conducted (educational materials, RFP process, etc.) and the challenges you face in your business. We want to hear from you! Any feedback we receive will be kept in confidence and won’t impact your ability to be selected as an installer for a co-op. The co-op participants make the final selection, not VA SUN.
What’s the solar co-op process?
1. Building the group and homeowner education
The co-op grows through word-of-mouth, social media, and partner-driven promotion each solar co-op grows until it reaches critical mass. Usually this is around 30 to 40 homeowners with qualified roofs. During this stage a homeowner will:
- Hear about the group and sign-up online,
- Have their roof screened by VA SUN, and
- Receive regular updates from VA SUN as the group grows.
VA SUN holds several information sessions for the public as part of the outreach and education process. These sessions are about 90 minutes in length and cover the basics of solar technology, financing, and incentives as well as the solar co-op process. We find these events to be lively interactions with engaged homeowners asking good questions. We make ourselves available after the program for one-on-one questions until all questions are answered. If homeowners are unable to attend an information session, we have also a recorded one for them to view online. Come join us for an info session sometime! Installers are welcome to attend.
Information sessions are a key component in our efforts to make sure homeowners are educated energy consumers by the time they receive a proposal from the selected installer.
2. The RFP and selection process
Once the group has reached critical mass, VA SUN will release an RFP and response template available on its website. (Example RFP, Response template) It will promote this RFP to installers in the area. If you’d like to hear of these opportunities you should join the RFP notification list. The RFP and Selection Process are as follows:
- Release and promote RFP to installer community.
- Solar co-op selection committee forms.
- VA SUN receives proposals and compiles review spreadsheet for committee members to use while reviewing bids.
- Committee members sign confidentiality agreements (example) to not share your proposals outside of the committee
- Selection committee receives proposals and review spreadsheet for their review.
- Selection committee meets in one evening, reviews proposals as a group and selects winning bid(s). VA SUN facilitates that process and answers questions, but selection committee makes the ultimate decision as to who their installer(s) should be.
- As part of the selection process, the committee will contact the designated bid representative for each selected finalist for a brief 10 minute phone or video call during a pre-arranged call window and then make their final selection.
- VA SUN works to finalize an award letter with the winning installer(s).
- VA SUN connects winning installer(s) with homeowners in co-op.
3. Installation and follow-up
After the group selects the installer(s), VA SUN and the installer(s) conduct weekly check-in calls to follow group progress. VA SUN continues to promote the group to the general public to build group size through the sign-up deadline.
When promoting the group to the general public, VA SUN does not disclose specific pricing provided in the bid but rather discusses the approximate discount members can expect to receive by going solar with the group.
Our expectation at this stage of the process is that the chosen installer(s) will keep on top of site visits, track interactions with participants, and provide excellent customer service. In exchange, VA SUN works with the co-op members to move them through the process, answer questions, and troubleshoot. We stay involved throughout and support your sales process. We’ve found that this approach means significantly more signed contracts than a traditional solarize program. In general, a successful co-op will have a 50% customer conversion rate, and we’ll work with you to help get to that number.
4. Wrap-up and celebration
Many homeowners are excited for the successful install of solar so as the group winds down we help them celebrate! We also conduct a wrap-up call with the selected installer(s) to allow the installer and VA SUN to provide feedback to one another on what worked and what didn’t throughout the co-op process. These opportunities for feedback provide us with insight on how we can better prepare homeowners to be educated and prepared solar customers.
What information do you collect about the co-ops?
During and after the solar co-op, VA SUN works with both the installer(s) and the group members to track key metrics such as:
- Member participation in information sessions,
- Survey responses from homeowners about their VA SUN and installer experiences
- System sizes, and
- Customer service milestones (site visits scheduled, proposals provided, contract closes, and install dates)
We use this data to help us support solar co-ops more effectively. We also share what we learn from this data and our experiences supporting homeowners with participating installers.
Why so much community engagement and homeowner involvement?
Unlike many other approaches, such as solarize programs, our model involves significant community engagement. Our goal is that homeowners become good energy consumers, go solar, and in turn, become good energy advocates. Solar co-ops belong to their members. Because of this, it is critical for the homeowners themselves to select the winning proposals for each group. We provide the technical and administrative support to make this process easier for the homeowners in the group who choose to participate in the selection committee. What’s unique about our co-op members is that they are educated, pre-screened, and ready to go solar!