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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

(Solar) Power to the People!

Pictured: Donald Moreland

by Noah Chen

There’s no doubt, technology is impacting industry. To quote Donald Moreland, founder of Solar Crowdsource and one of the brains behind 2018’s Solarize Atlanta campaign, “You no longer have to go to the bank to borrow money or go to a hotel for a place to stay or get a taxi to catch a ride. Technology is doing a lot to allow more distributed resources.”

Moreland sees solar power—the utilization of the sun’s energy to power technology—as a similar sort of disruption to the ways we buy power.

“For the first time, we actually have a choice of how we generate electricity and how we consume it,” says Moreland, who is excited about the prospects of clean energy. He admits, however, that historically, not everyone can afford the switch to solar.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of good options for low-income households right now,” says Moreland. “Other states have policies that make it easier for low-income families to share a solar plot and have more rewarding incentives for going solar. But Georgia is a bit slow to adopt such policies.”

That’s why, in 2015, Moreland, along with organizations including Southface, Environment Georgia and the Atlanta Office of Resiliency, decided to bring more affordable solar energy to Atlanta. The effort became the Solarize Atlanta campaign.

“The more we can educate people about the benefits of solar, the more grassroots-level organizing we can do to get change in the legislature,” explains Moreland. Organizers want to build a voter block to try and pressure legislators and public service commissioners to do things that are more solar friendly.

The Solarize Atlanta campaign, which ran from April 2018 to December of that year, was designed to connect residential buyers to suppliers at a cost set lower than the industry standard. Moreland describes the Solarize Atlanta operation as consisting of three pillars, or goals.

The first pillar is “a lot of education, informing people about the benefits of solar,” says Moreland. “The second pillar is reducing the cost by bulk purchasing and getting competitive bids from contractors.” Purchasing in bulk allows everyone to get a discount. The third pillar is overcoming barriers to the use of solar power.

Overcoming Barriers

As for the first pillar, Moreland and his team needed to increase public awareness of the benefits of solar energy, including its clean and renewable nature, and the fact that excess energy can be sold to power companies. This educational push would help bring about enough interest in the Solarize Atlanta campaign to procure the discount.

After the educational phase was done, completing the mandate of the second pillar—lowering prices—was simple, as the combined order of panels for 148 households was sufficient to secure a price-per-watt-generated well below average.

Joshua Gassman is a midtown resident in one of the 148 households that went through with the solar purchase. “I did this partially for economics, partially for resilience, partially for politics and partially because it was the right thing to do. But in the end, it had to make some economic sense,” he says.

Gassman is an architect who has advised clients on going solar before.

“If I had a client come to me and say, “What should I budget for a solar system?’ I would say they should budget about $3.50 per watt,” Gassman says. That price is in watt-per-hour generated.

Through the Solarize Atlanta campaign, however, Gassman was able to build a system with a set price of around $2.60 per watt. Even so, Gassman’s full system, which is designed to provide “75 percent of my power use on an annual basis,” and includes a 13-kilowatt (kW) battery, cost him approximately $30,000 and will take about 10 years to pay off.

The third pillar is all about working around obstacles. One obstacle involves Georgia’s metering policies. Excess solar energy can usually be sold back to power companies at a 1:1 price ratio via “net metering.” So, if you’re paying 10 cents a kilowatt, the power company will buy back your excess power at 10 cents a kilowatt.

But Georgia uses “bi-directional metering,” which is similar to net metering except that Georgia Power will only buy the energy at less than half of what customers paid, reducing the incentive for solar. Gassman takes this into account when he says his system will take 10 years to pay off.

Moreland hopes that his work at Solar Crowdsourcing and Solarize Atlanta will put pressure on legislators to help change those policies.

In the time Solarize Atlanta was active:

  • Solar production capacity on residential buildings in Atlanta doubled
  • 148 contracts were signed
  • 890kW of new solar capacity was created
  • More than 1.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of additional clean, renewable energy is generated annually
  • 533 kWh of battery storage was added
  • Every year, production of 1.7 million pounds of carbon dioxide is avoided
Moreland hopes to start a new Solarize campaign in the future but says it probably won’t happen until 2021 or so. Still, he is excited about its prospects.

What people are witnessing now “is the democratization of energy,” says Moreland. “There’s a whole paradigm shift that is going on. And it’s doing so while creating clean and renewable energy at the same time! It’s just a really exciting time,” says Moreland, “and I can’t wait to see where things will go.”

For questions regarding purchasing solar panels, contact Moreland at [email protected].


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