Groupon and One Block Off the Grid Solar deal!

I like Groupon. I think the concept is great and I've purchased a few items from them over the past 2 years.  But lately I've been a little annoyed that it seems the only Groupon customers are people interested in facials, pedicures and massages.  So I was pleasantly surprised last night when I saw a Groupon for a solar deal from One Block Off the Grid in Atlanta!

I've known about One Blog Off the Grid (1BOG) for awhile now and I think it is an excellent concept.  Basically, 1BOG does the following:

  1. Finds a bunch of people in a community interested in solar
  2. Educates them on the basics of installing solar on their home and financing the purchase
  3. Helps to pick the right installer
  4. Gets low install rates based on economies of scale

The Groupon deal enables Atlanta residents to put $1,100 dollars toward their solar installation for a purchase of $99.  The groupon lists this as a 91% discount, but since the purchase price of a solar system will be much higher than $1,100, the discount is going to be less, but still nice.

My biggest question had to do with how 1BOG got paid, and thankfully they address that on their FAQ page:

One Block Off the Grid is free to all participants! The reason it works as a business is that all solar installers pay fees in exchange for customer referrals. When we take a whole community and give a solar installer access to everyone in that group, they are getting a lot of new customers, and they pay us a referral fee per home.

The referral fee is the same regardless of which installer wins, so it does not affect our selection decision. Our interests and our members’ interests are always aligned. No money changes hands between us and the members, and the fee is a small fraction of the actual discount. Any price we quote in a campaign is the price you see, and the referral is already worked into it.

From my own research, I know solar installers are willing to pay a nice sized referral fee just for those interested in solar, but 1BOG is offering something better to installers: those ready to plunk down the money to buy solar! My only question on this is that if 1BOG negotiates discounted install fees with an installer to begin with, does the installer then:

  • Take $1,100 off the final price they were going to give the customer without the Groupon.
  • Raise his install price by $1,100 dollars knowing that it is going to be taken away?

Referral fees are nice, but I don't think they're on the order of thousands of dollars (much of the cost of a solar installation is in hardware and labor, so there isn't that much profit to give as a sales commission/referral fee), so I doubt 1BOG has the margin to give that money back to the customer, unless they just want to operate at zero-profit in order to gain entry into the market?  Since each install will be different, there really isn't a way to know if a customer with the Groupon is really going to be getting a good deal in the end (unless two customers had the exact same system on the exact same roof).

My advice if you are interested in a Groupon for solar installation: Do some solar research on your own and contact some solar installers in your area for a quote.  Or if you don't want them to come out to the house, take a few pictures of your roof and a few basic details and shoot them an email asking for a basic cost estimate (you can even tell them why you are doing this).

My next question had to do if the job went out to multiple installers, or just one, and they also answered in the FAQ for the question, "Do you always pick giant solar installers?":

We usually make it a winner-take-all program to keep it simple and have it be the most effective. That means we need an installer that’s big enough to handle the One Block Off the Grid group. This is the way we do it right now and our goal is simply to get as much solar on as many roofs as possible. We hope that this rising tide lifts all ships in the market. As we get older, we’re going to start some market development programs where we’ll partner with several smaller installers.

I've done some work with a solar installer in Atlanta, and let me assure you there are no "giant" installers here.  It is mostly operations consisting of a few full-time employees and where the install work is contracted to people they trust.  But maybe a solar installer in Atlanta will use the 1BOG to ramp up!

I can't wait to see how 1BOG progresses in my community and if 1BOG hasn't made it to your city yet get a campaign started!


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Awesome write up, Chris. Thanks so much! We look forward to helping Atlanta homeowners go solar! As we said on the Groupon comment page, we really love your advice to comparison shop around for solar, because there really is a lot of variability in solar pricing out there. We, for instance, only work with really experienced/seasoned installers who have a track record of success, positive customer reviews, and a corporate structure that makes it likely that they’ll be around in 25 years to service our members’ warranties. There may be contractors out there who will quote a homeowner what seems like a bargain rate, but we feel confident homeowners are most likely to get both a high quality installation and a great price from One Block Off the Grid. To help homeowners comparison shop for a solar installer, we’ve come up with this list of handy questions: If you'd rather not do the work of comparison shopping around for a solar installer, we recommend you simply buy the Groupon and let us do all the work. We’ll make sure you're getting a great deal, and if you decide not to move forward for any reason, there’s a “no questions asked” return policy. Thanks again for your awesome blog, Chris, and your solar savvy! Any readers who have questions are welcome to email us at the email address below. Best, Shannon Coulter Director of Community One Block Off the Grid |
ckmapawatt's picture
Shannon, Thanks for your comments. Again, I'm a big fan of 1BOG, but I'm still not sure if the Groupon deal is as good as advertised (not that it's not a good deal). But the only way for it to truly be objective, is if the solar installer quoted the job without knowing that the resident has the Groupon deal or if the $1,100 discount doesnt come out of the solar installer's price, but instead comes out of 1BOGs. Is either of those the case?
I'm really interested in any sort of collective work to get solar out there. Things I've seen: * <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">A solar co-op run by a family in DC, getting neighbors fired up</A> * <A>Community Solar (pdf)</A> - community donated time &amp; money to put solar on a <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">local ice cream shop</A> * <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">Solar Gardens</A> - own some solar located <i>off</i> your property The DOE has <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">lots of info</A> on similar things too ... 1BOG is great, established, efficient. But they won't (probably!) get solar on every roof in the US. I'm really glad to see all these other approaches out there as well. (And Chris, I have to say, I'm with you on the slight skepticism on the Groupon, it seems like a well-meaning gimmick to me) :)
ckmapawatt's picture
Great list of other community efforts!
We are about to have a GROUPON Feature for our company SOON,so I am excited to see these posts. Im the Founder of US Power Solutions, an ATLANTA BASED Company! We are PROUD TO BE the only Wholistic Solar &amp; clean energy management and conservation company in the deep South, meaning we prescribe custom solutions to lowering your KW usage before sizing up your solar system saving our clients on average $12,462 on each Solar PV electrical or Geo-Thermal heating and cooling systems.(which makes the ROI shorter by 30% typically) We train our Energy Specialists to focus on making the "switch" to Green,Clean and COOL Solar PV electrical or Geo-thermal as cost effective and efficient as possible. We achieve this holistic approach by analyzing the building and listening to clients needs and future maybes (babies). So, by the implementation of our patented NASA grade FOAMSEAL and simple services like duct sealing(99$),or radiant barrier insulation(stops 97% attic heat gain) instead of selling the biggest system up front (most just look at usage and sell you the biggest system that can fit on your roof)) we like to make the ROI better so our clients will be clients for life,and it makes sense. FYI: With the federal 30% no capp on LABOR and Materials tax credit on solar &amp; our GA 35% or $10,500 capp residential tax credit combined and the fact that solar is now 3x cheaper than 1996 there has never been a better time to make the switch, and make CLEAN ENERGY from HOME. Also as the demand rises so will cost, simple business laws. In this global economy companies and organizations like 1bog and its only helping by harnessing the interested masses which creates buying POWER. To answer the skeptics question about the inflated price idea , NO way they are true discounts. Yes,you buy them for a small fee but it is a true discount to the purchaser.FREE discounts are inflated . THINK about it! (my company gives whole n'borhoods a 1$ per kw discount off their sytems if more than 15 n'bors sign up, it helps you and us!) It also helps the planet and continues the next revolution, the "GREEN REVOLUTION". ***Our Groupon should be featured VERY SOON,it is similar however it's a discount per kw sized system installed (we have standardized pricing on our systems per kw), so if your home needs a 5KW system to get your meter "spinning backwards", you'll get the same percentage off than the smallest system would and you cant buy a bigger discount!We use standard factory direct pricing priced per KW of a system and since no home is exactly the same in terms of electrical usage,it's only fair to price the system by the KW size needed or wanted by our client. Personally, I thought the first solar discount for 1bog didn't make since and as a owner I saw the numbers from another viewpoint and it would not entice someone to get a bigger system , 1kw system got a 12% to 14% discount (based on national price average per kw installed of 9$) though a 10kw system got a 1% discount! Groupon Is an Awesome Company that gets the end user a true &amp; GREAT discount , its a win -win for ALl involved. We look forward to rewarding Atlanta and the rest of the country with the benefits of FREE ENERGY and streamlining the "follow the Joneses" bandwagon, and riding THE GREAT GREEN REVOLUTION by social media ,referrals and of course the greatest marketing idea Ive seen in 5 years GROUPON. From a cheesecake to a ATM MACHINE on your roof with a US Power Solar PV system Groupon does it right, and they WANT all to be satisfied! BTW see our site or fill out the form for a free clean energy and conservation analysis and put in the comments (I read Andy's Post on ill email you our Green Advocate Program(free of course), which pays YOU to refer other treehuggers or moneyhuggers LoL Thanks for Reading ,Happy Easter. FaceBook search for Bill Eliminator, youll get a kick and great info on solar from there too! Hey mapawatt, sign me up! Andrew "Andy" Moore Founder/CEO US Power Solutions email:
Thanks for a good read. I agree that it can take a while before your investment in solar panels returns. But on the other hand, it is a very positive thing for our environment and it really helps!
ckmapawatt's picture
Andy, Thanks for the advertisement. I notice you guys sell power factor correction devices. We're not a fan of those here because they don't save homeowners near as much energy as advertised. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this article:

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