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The Groupon for solar looks nationwide

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A startup offering Groupon-style group discounts for solar panel roof installations is now looking to connect with potential solar customers nationwide. On Monday One Block Off the Grid (1BOG) plans to expand access to its group solar discounts, installer recommendations and solar information services to another set of almost two dozen states across the U.S.

1BOG works by using the power of the group to leverage a low-cost solar deal in certain areas. Similar to Groupon, 1BOG collects a critical mass of interested solar customers in a given area and uses the volume of people to make deals with local solar installers. Think of the service as a way for entire neighborhoods to go solar in one fell swoop.

CEO and founder Dave Llorens explained to me in an interview that the idea of the service is to use the power of the group to shield consumers from fluctuating deals and to connect solar customers with reputable solar installers. Solar roof installations are a relatively new market in the U.S., and prices and quality can vary wildly.

However, the bulk of 1BOG’s deals have been delivered in states with strong solar subsidies like California and New Jersey. 1BOG has led to about 1,500 solar rooftops being installed since its first pilot projects were done in the summer of 2008.

The new nationwide plan launched this week provides a software tool for customers in states that don’t necessarily have solar-friendly incentives to attempt to organize group deals and to see approved local solar installers. But the catch is that customers in states with weak solar subsidies probably won’t be able to finagle a group deal as low as ones in solar-friendly states. In those instances, the software tool alerts the potential customers to how much they would have been able to save in a solar-friendly state and educates the potential customers about how they can connect with local legislators to ask for solar subsidies in their area.

It’s a smart bit of marketing, and it enables 1BOG to get involved with changing the unfortunate situation that the bulk of solar rooftop installations are done in a select number of states. 1BOG says 37 out of 50 states don’t have adequate solar subsidies that can generate economic roof deals. 1BOG is also donating profits from the program to Kiva’s city project; 1BOG generates revenue by charging installers a referral fee of 25 cents per watt of contracted system.

Solar and big data

The nationwide solar program is the latest example of an innovative startup turning to web analytics, big-data tools and smart algorithms to try to deliver more solar installations in the U.S. Another company called Geostellar is using big-data tools to help its solar installer customers deliver more solar panels to more rooftops in places where it makes economic sense. Even solar panel maker SunPower (s SPWRA) has turned to gamification and the web to help its customers promote their solar panels.

Year-old company SunReports has launched a Facebook app that shows how much solar power a home solar system is producing. SunReports, though, uses a monitoring device called the Apollo that a solar installer deploys at the home and that can track both the temperature and flow from a solar water heater, as well as the electricity generated by solar panels via an inverter.

1BOG isn’t just using an idea that’s similar to Groupon; 1BOG also shares Groupon’s investors: NEA. The startup raised $5 million from NEA a little over a year ago, and it was originally one of several projects organized by San Francisco–based Virgance, a Quest Venture Partners–backed startup that tries to align for-profit motives with socially minded initiatives.

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