Municipal Solar Partner Program Case Study - Cambridge, MA

City of Cambridge and Cambridge Energy Alliance ran a city-wide residential solar engagement program in 2016

The City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, set out ambitious 2016 goals for reducing energy use across municipal properties, residences and businesses. This goal also included an effort to encourage Cambridge property owners to adopt solar energy systems. The City engaged EnergySage to manage a solar marketplace for local solar installers and to assist in the design and execution of the community outreach efforts for the Sunny Cambridge program.

The City had clear objectives for the design of their solar program. They wanted to ensure that it offered:

  1. Multiple local installers – residents must receive quotes from local installation companies
  2. Vendor neutrality – marketplace must represent qualified solar companies on equal footing
  3. Transparency – all equipment and pricing info must be standardized, in an easy-to-compare format
  4. Qualified financing options – residents must have access to choice, including the state-subsidized loan
  5. Objective guidance – must support various property types, providing dedicated support for multi-family property owners
  6. Attractive pricing – must offer residents better than market prices

EnergySage collaborated with the City of Cambridge to design a solar program that accomplished all of the objectives and delivered success on key performance metrics.

EnergySage Capabilities

The Sunny Cambridge program leverages several of EnergySage's core capabilities. Here's what EnergySage delivered for this custom program:

  • Customized rooftop Solar Marketplace including select local installation companies
  • Unique educational content - because of the unique nature of properties in this urban market, EnergySage developed a suite of content for various property types
  • Tailored Solar Advisor customer support, information and processes based on property type
  • Marketing strategies and marketing collateral such as custom webpages, brochures, mailers, and signs with custom branding and messaging

Solar Partner Program Design

In order to meet the City’s objectives, EnergySage developed a dedicated solar marketplace that includes a segment of pre-screened solar companies that also participate in the Mass Solar Loan program (a state-subsidized loan program). These installers all have the opportunity to engage residents by submitting online solar quotes for their properties. EnergySage presents these online quotes in a clear, apples-to-apples format that provides complete transparency so that consumers can shop with confidence. The EnergySage marketplace allowed the City to achieve their first four objectives by launching a transparent, multi-vendor solution, comprised of solar companies offering the Mass Solar Loan product.

In addition to customizing the solar marketplace, the City wanted to offer free advisory services for participants. The building stock in Cambridge is complex, including flat and complex roof structures and many multi-family buildings. As a result, the program design included the development of a host of educational resources for each building type that participants could review on the program website and training EnergySage Solar Advisors (a team of solar experts that assist consumers by phone, email and instant chat) on the intricacies of solarizing these complex property types. The City and EnergySage also worked with a local consulting firm to offer an even greater level of advisory services for very complex properties with multiple decision-makers.

Solar Campaign Community Outreach

The City was committed to engaging residents in a multi-channel outreach campaign in order to maximize program participation. EnergySage worked with the City to develop an integrated marketing strategy including online, offline, and out-of-home channels and design a host of customized marketing materials with program branding. Such materials included letters, graphics for social media and web, brochures, postcards, signs, ads for local citybike stations, and a banner over the main street. Efforts also included a customized email campaign to program participants.

In order to encourage residents to act, EnergySage contacted a smart home device manufacturer to provide free thermostats to the first ten residents to go solar. Over the course of the program, several local events were offered by the City to answer consumer questions and gain in-person assistance in reviewing their quotes. In the last few months of the program, additional program-specific emails were sent to participants offering a variety of incentives, helping to rally people to a decision.

Sunny Cambridge Program Results

Nearly 3,000 people were educated about solar as part of the Sunny Cambridge program, with over 350 marketplace sign-ups. About 30% of participants were multi-family property owners. Almost 20% of those registered went solar. Unsuitable solar properties (renters, shaded roofs), were directed to participate in a local community solar option. Complex property types were engaged by the consulting firm to offer further assistance. Many more are still in various stages of decision-making and more participants move forward every month, even though the formal program has ended.

Finally, Sunny Cambridge resiednts received great pricing! Prices reached as low as $3.10 per Watt for residential and $2.49 for small commercial properties for premium equipment. For comparision, a solar discount program in the region received pricing of $3.40 per Watt for similar equipment. 

While the formal initial phase of the program has ended, Sunny Cambridge continues to support Cambridge residents that are interested in solar. The program is expected to renew for a new phase.

Summary

The Sunny Cambridge program was very successful at creating awareness, educating consumers, and encouraging Cambridge residents to go solar.

A custom online marketplace of qualified local installers provided residents with multiple quotes to compare with the support of Solar Advisors. Residents were engaged through a tailored, multi-channel marketing strategy that included online and offline communications featuring a custom program brand and materials. Overall, nearly 20% of participants went solar at a below-market price for high quality solar equipment.

About EnergySage

EnergySage runs the largest, and only truly vendor-neutral, online solar marketplace. Developed in 2012 with funding from the US Department of Energy, EnergySage is dedicated to information, transparency and choice. Our suite of online tools and resources help consumers research and shop for solar.

Our rooftop solar marketplace presents property owners with multiple solar quotes from pre-screened installers in a unique apples-to-apples format, and provides live support from expert Solar Advisors. The Community Solar Marketplace provides community solar FAQs and connects customers with projects in their area.

In addition to making these tools publicly available, EnergySage works with a range of organizations – from utilities like National Grid to state agencies like The Connecticut Green Bank – to aid their audience in getting started with solar.

Want to learn more about the SolarWise program, or how EnergySage helps municipalities?

Contact EnergySage:

John Gingrich
SVP, Strategic Partnerships
john@energysage.com
617.453.8924

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