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Mainland company eyes Oahu for solar installation project


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POSTED: Friday, December 19, 2008

A San Francisco startup has targeted Honolulu as one of its first major markets outside the Bay Area to implement a program that negotiates group discounts for residential solar installations.

Honolulu's above-average electric rates and sun exposure make it an ideal location for expansion, 1 Block Off the Grid co-founder Dave Llorens said.

When the company, named for its goal of removing at least the equivalent of what an average city block would use in electricity from the grid in each location, reaches 100 commitments from Honolulu customers through its Web site, http://www.1bog.org, it will open a request for proposals from local photovoltaic installation businesses.

This process helps link businesses with interested customers and negotiate cheaper rates based on the number of installations, Llorens said. 1 Block Off the Grid then collects a fee from the installers.

"They fight for that business, to see who can provide the best business products," he said.

The company was founded in March and acquired last month by San Francisco-based Virgance, an online social networking company that scales up activism campaigns. In September, it completed enrollment in a San Francisco pilot campaign where 42 customers bought solar installations out of 180 initial sign-ups. The company recently completed a request for proposals for a larger-scale Bay Area project that has netted more than 600 interested customers.

In the pilot project, 1 Block Off the Grid helped bring the average cost of an installation down from $9.10 a watt to $7.50 a watt. Residential photovoltaic installations, which are typically priced by size, average about 3,000 watts, Llorens said.

The company is looking to launch in 19 additional cities nationwide using a volunteer network of local field organizers to help with marketing. The order of installations will be determined by initial sign-up demand. Honolulu already has its first few interested customers, and the company will consider expanding outside the city if enough requests are received, Llorens said.