San Francisco Launches Solar@Work: Innovative Model Creates Breakthrough in Solar Affordability for Small Businesses

More than 2 Megawatts of new solar installations expected, making solar power accessible to businesses in the Bay Area without local rebates Registration open July 13, 2011 through October 14, 2011.

The City of San Francisco launched Solar@Work, a new program that offers solar energy systems to businesses in the Bay Area through an innovative group purchase model. The new program makes it possible, for the first time, for small- and mid-sized businesses and commercial property owners to pay less for solar power than they pay for electricity from the grid, without local rebates. This can allow some business owners to save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifetimes of these solar power systems. As the first major commercial group purchase of solar power in the United States, Solar@Work will bring together interested participants to buy more than 2 Megawatts (MW) of solar power over the next 6 months.

The Solar@Work model was developed by the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment (SF Environment), in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Optony. SF Environment found that the main barriers keeping San Francisco businesses and commercial property owners from purchasing solar energy were upfront costs and lack of access to affordable financing. With American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities program and support from U.S. DOE SunShot Initiative, SF Environment proposed the Solar@Work “aggregation” approach, which combines multiple participants into one solar purchasing group, along with a standardized solar equipment lease. To help make this a reality, the program’s stakeholder group, led by the World Resources Institute (WRI), negotiated with solar vendors who could address the unique needs of businesses and property owners in San Francisco, and selected winning vendor, SolarCity.

“The city has the ambitious goal of meeting its electricity needs with 100 percent renewable energy, so we need to do everything we can to make sure our local and regional building owners have the ability to install renewables with minimal up-front investments,” said Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. "Solar@Work represents a major evolution in the available funding options and will result in a cleaner, healthier environment while creating new jobs across the Bay Area.”

“Programs like Solar@Work will boost our economic competitiveness, create American jobs, and help reach the President's goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years,” said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Program Manager, U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. “The SunShot Initiative will help spur American innovations to reduce the costs of solar energy and make solar an attractive energy solution for commercial buyers nationally.”

SolarCity, a national solar integrator with more than 15,000 projects completed or underway, is headquartered in the Bay Area, and is an approved installer with the San Francisco GoSolarSF program. SolarCity expects to hire more than 400 new workers in the second half of 2011, including 100 in the Bay Area. “We believe Solar@Work will provide the most affordable solar options available to small and medium-sized businesses in San Francisco,” said Erik Fogelberg, SolarCity’s director of commercial projects. “SolarCity is honored to have been selected for this important project.”

WRI, with technical assistance from NREL and Optony, used its Collaborative Solar Procurement model to create a suite of highly competitive financing options with SolarCity, including an operating lease that can eliminate the upfront cost of going solar. Solar@Work is expected to create more than 2 MW of solar power capacity through installations in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. As a group discount model, the more businesses that sign up, the lower the prices will be for the entire buying group. All participants will receive a significant pre-negotiated discount, and the largest reductions will be available if the group purchases more than 3 MW by the end of 2011.

Solar@Work is a major milestone in bringing down the cost of solar power for previously underserved small- and mid-sized businesses by leveraging companies’ combined buying power,” said Alex Perera, Director, Business Engagement in Climate and Technology, World Resources Institute. “WRI has piloted collaborative group solar purchasing and found that this model can significantly lower costs and minimize time spent navigating the complex process, which is why it was an ideal solution for San Francisco.”

Several options for installing solar power are available to businesses and commercial property owners through Solar@Work: cash purchase, solar lease, capital loan, as well as others. Participants may not be eligible for all options, however the program will help match the buyers with appropriate financing.

“This program was rigorously designed and implemented to create a market-leading solution that has support from the solar industry, government and most importantly the potential buyers of solar systems. We look forward to increased adoption of solar power through this innovative model around the USA,” said Ben Foster, Vice-President, Optony.

The Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative is targeted at one of today’s major challenges: making clean solar energy cost-competitive without subsidies in all market sectors. Solar@Work supports the SunShot goals as a scalable model for replication nationwide.

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About City and County of San Francisco, Department of the Environment
SF Environment creates visionary policies and innovative programs that promote social equity, protect human health, and lead the way toward a sustainable future. We put our mission into action by mobilizing communities and providing the resources needed to safeguard our homes, our city, and ultimately our planet.

About SolarCity
SolarCity®—a national leader in solar power design, financing, installation, monitoring and energy efficiency services—was founded with the mission to help millions of homeowners and businesses adopt clean power, protect themselves from rising gas and electricity costs and protect their environment from polluting power sources. SolarCity’s 24 operations centers serve Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C. Additional information about the company is available on the Web at

About WRI
WRI is a global environmental think tank that goes beyond research to put ideas into action. WRI works with governments, companies, and civil society to build solutions to urgent environmental challenges.

“DISCLAIMER: The City of San Francisco Department of the Environment’s Solar@Work program is not in any way connected to the American Solar Energy Society’s e-bulletin of the same name, Solar@Work. For more information on ASES visit”