Site O' the Week: 1BOG
We were so impressed with 1BOG that we wanted to find out more about the company. We spoke with Brad Burton, Marketing and Development Manager, who gave us such a fine interview that we were inspired to make them Solar Snob's first SOW (Site O' the Week.)
(By the way, if you think your site should be a future SOW drop us a few lines, a link to your Website and how we can get in touch with you.)
We love the idea of organizations that are trying to make a difference on the planet like 1BOG. Tell us the basics (and what the name means.)
As far as the name 1BOG, it stands for "One Block Off the Grid". Our name is, admittedly, a bit confusing since we don't actually take people off the grid, and we don't actually work one block at a time. Makes sense, huh? Well, in any case, we feel like it's appropriately evocative of what our mission is all about -- encouraging people to adopt renewable energy at a previously unheard-of pace by working together with their communities. By banding together, we're able to reduce the upfront cost of renewable energy and share information, making the entire process more affordable and easier and more enjoyable to navigate.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea for 1BOG was born of necessity, really. Dan Barahona and Sylvia Ventura (two of the three co-founders) are a San Francisco couple who wanted to put solar on their home. After spending the better part of a year researching all of the technologies, rebates, and installers, they finally decided to install -- but they felt that the process had been more expensive and complicated than it needed to be. That combined with many of their friends asking them to share the information they had learned helped them realize that this was an idea that could be implemented on a larger scale, allowing more people get access to discounts and information. Group people together to negotiate for better deals collectively, while at the same time allowing for information and knowledge to be shared among the group. That's the basic idea.
Your site is extremely detail oriented. How long have you been working on this?
Our site has evolved over the past year, and has experienced several very different phases. We've always had as a central objective the development of accessible, digestible web content that people can use to help them better understand the solar scene. So, working towards a site that has lots of details about how technology, rebates, pricing, etc. work is really important to us. We work at it literally every day.
How does one qualify for eligibility?
Anyone can sign up on our site and get information about how renewable energy can be part of their daily lives. Becoming qualified for solar is a slightly different issue, however, and we basically just want to help people understand how installation might affect their unique situation. We try to make sure that people who either have bills that are very low, or who have significant shading on their roof understand that installing solar might not pencil out in their financial best interest. We have other programs that we're piloting or developing that can help them green their lives as well. But basically, for us to recommend that installing solar is the right choice, their bill needs to be above a certain point (which varies depending on where they are), and their roof needs to have appropriate space and sun exposure.
How many participants does it take to become a group?
We say that it requires 100 qualified members to launch our program in a new city. Once we've launched our program in a new market, we run a new campaign there every 4 months.
The more there are in the group, the more they save?
Once we've established pricing in a campaign, that's the pricing that everyone gets. When we say that the more people who sign up, the more everyone saves, what we're speaking of is the strength of the program in general. When more people sign up with us, we all gain bargaining power with installers and are able to continue to negotiate for better deals all over the place.
How long does the entire process take?
As I mentioned, a campaign lasts for 4 months. During that period, we run a RFP process, grow our member base in the area, and allow time for the installers to do site evaluations. Once a contract has been signed between a 1BOG member and an installer, it's usually between 3 and 6 weeks for all the permitting, planning, and installation to be taken care of (which is standard for any solar installation situation).
How much can one save with 1BOG?
By going solar through 1BOG rather than by yourself, you can save between 15% - 20% from retail.
Can you help with financing?
We do have a partnership with a company called SunRun, which offers a new type of financing called a Power Purchase Agreement. The way a PPA works is that SunRun pays the upfront cost of installation, guarantees production for 18 years, and takes care of any ongoing maintenance that might be required. In return, you pay them a monthly fee for the electricity that's produced - it's a great way to lower the upfront cost and make solar a no-hassle investment. Otherwise, we don't offer financing ourselves, but can give information about what's available and what works best in any given situation.
Can you do something for individuals?
Individuals are obviously welcome and encouraged to sign up at our site, there's no requirement to bring a large group with you (though we love it when that happens) -- growing the group is largely our job. It's likely that folks who hear about us live in a city with an active campaign, so just by signing up on our site, they join our community and our group purchase. That's the beauty and simplicity of how 1BOG works.
We recently did a report about Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu. They are trying to go solar to save their existence. How about you try teaming with them? I think that they would all (10,000 of them) love the idea.
I've read a bit about the efforts in Tuvalu to power themselves entirely on solar, and I think it's a great initiative. I honestly hadn't really put much thought into how we could potentially get involved there, but that's certainly an extremely worthy cause, and one that we should look into.
How many cities are involved so far?
So far, we have active campaigns in 5 cities, with a 6th on its way within the month. Those include SF Bay Area, LA, San Diego, New Orleans, and Denver. Sonoma County is up next, launching very soon.
Have you ever tried to figure out how much of a difference you have made?
We've helped over 230 families go solar to date, which represents a very large single chunk of solar installations in the past year. In terms of how much carbon that has offset, or how many miles of driving it has offset, we're not certain in precise terms, but it's definitely nothing to sneeze at. As we continue to grow, these values will increase very rapidly.
What if a city isn't listed?
That just means that we haven't gotten enough traction there to launch our program. If people in cities where we're not yet active are interested in helping us establish ourselves there, we're extremely happy to help them figure out how to do that. We have a full-time Field Director here whose job it is to empower people out in the field to successfully engage their communities, and adding more cities to the list of our active campaigns is something we're always excited to be able to do.
Tell us about the launch of a new program.
Our campaign timeline operates on a 4 month cycle, therefore we're able to run 3 per year per city. In the first month, we release a Request For Proposal to interested installers in the area and take responses. We use that time to have question and answer possibility and to work out contract negotiation. During the second month, we aggressively grow our member base to make the program as large as possible. The final two months are reserved for the installer to complete site evaluations and present proposals and contracts. Once those 4 months are over, we repeat the process.
If something goes wrong with installation or other aspects, do you have a guarantee?
Any installer we partner with has a comprehensive installation warranty and guarantees the work they do. If there is ever a problem with how the work was done, they're on the hook for it. Making sure that the installer we work with is trustworthy and has a good track record and performance guarantees is an extremely important part of the vetting process that we do during the first month of RFPs we do at the outset of each campaign.
We mentioned Santa Monica recently and the fact that they restrict placement of solar panels. Do you make sure to adhere to those kinds of guidelines.
Again, this is on the installer. It's incumbent upon them to understand all local zoning and permitting laws and to perform their installations legally and responsibly.
Do you ever attend or put on events that are related to 1bog?
Absolutely. We make a point of presenting at HOA (Homeowners Associations) meetings, neighborhood council meetings, farmers markets, etc. We also work with homeowners to host house parties where entire neighborhoods can come together to talk about the benefits of going solar all together. Getting people physically together is definitely part of how we operate.
Even if they don't qualify, how can volunteers help your organization?
The most important way people can help us out is by spreading the word. That can mean posting on their Facebook profile, handing out flyers, or just reading up on our program and talking about it with their friends. There are a number of more involved ways that people can help spread the program, but we thrive on word of mouth transmission, so just educating oneself and speaking to friends about our program is extremely helpful.
How can people who are interested get in touch with you?
If folks want more information, they can find pretty much everything on our website, 1BOG. If they don't find what they're looking for there, they can
always shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or directly to me (email@example.com), Kanyi, our Field Director (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Dave Llorens, our General Manager (email@example.com).
Brad, thanks for taking the time for this interview and best of luck!
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Posted by Sheila Franklin at August 10, 2009 9:02 AM