Get yer solar — cheap! — by teaming up with neighbors and bargaining collectively with installers. That’s the service offered by San Francisco-based startup One Block Off the Grid, or 1BOG, which has just raised $5 million in its first round of venture capital financing. Currently active in six U.S. cities, 1BOG says in a release this morning that it plans to use the new funds — an investment from venture firm New Enterprise Associates — to support a planned national expansion.
1BOG aggregates customers by neighborhood and negotiates deals with installers on their behalf, charging installers a referral fee of 25 cents per watt of a contracted system. Founded in late 2008, 1BOG brought solar systems to some 600 homes last year alone, negotiating discounts of 10-15 percent in some cases. For 2010, the company has the ambitious goal of delivering 10 times as many deals in 10 regions, while more than doubling its staff to 40 people from 15. Dave Llorens, co-founder and general manager of 1BOG, told us last year that the company could contract a megawatt of solar power per city each year, starting in 2010.
1BOG got its start in the Quest Venture Partners-backed incubator Virgance, which tries to align for-profit motives with socially-minded initiatives. Llorens told Green Inc. earlier this month that the startup is now “profitable,” while declining to specify financial figures.
But the company is starting to expand beyond its solar roots. With energy retrofit firm Sustainable Spaces, for example, 1BOG launched a pilot program last summer in which 1BOG agreed to organize neighborhoods of customers (essentially assuming marketing and consumer education for its partner) who would then get a group rate on home energy retrofits from Sustainable Spaces. (Update: Sustainable Spaces is now called Recurve.)
More recently, 1BOG reached even further afield from the residential energy market to launch a group purchasing program for conversions of Prius (s tm) hybrids (2004-2009 model years) to plug-in hybrids. According to the 1BOG web site, 217 Prius owners have signed up for the program since it kicked off last month. Like 1BOG’s solar initiative, the two-month plug-in conversion program is locally focused — in this case, the San Francisco, Bay Area. As 1BOG grows and expands further beyond early adopter markets, it will be interesting to see if it can maintain the aura of a do-gooder grassroots campaign and what new partners tap into the power of community organizing.