During 2009, the Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd (MEFL) helped start a solar photovoltaic (PV) bulk-buy. MEFL is an independent not-for-profit organisation, established by Moreland City Council, to help reduce energy use, promote energy efficiency and energy conservation, and limit greenhouse gas emissions across the Moreland municipality.
At the time, there was a lot of interest in the Federal Government solar power rebate, and MEFL was receiving lots of enquiries. MEFL wanted to promote solar PV bulk-buy offers to help residents save money and benefit from the federal rebate.
MEFL also wanted to help City of Moreland residents evaluate the various solar PV offers for themselves and choose one best suited to their needs and circumstances.
Unlike most other bulk-buy programs, MEFL chose not to appoint a single supplier. They'd decided that giving such advice could pose an unacceptable risk to their reputation. Instead, MEFL invited as many installation companies as they could to submit a bulk-buy quote and respond to a series of questions. MEFL chose questions based on the issues they considered important, covering issues such as life cycle, the treatment of Renewable Energy Certificates, cost, warranties and so on. Companies were also asked to base quotes on different participant numbers, be it 10, 50 or 100 installations.
MEFL didn't recommend any one installer. Each company that responded to the invitation had its offer included in a booklet, which included tips on how to evaluate the offers.
The aim of MEFL was to promote all the bulk-buy offers in the booklet. They did this through a public information forum and advertising in the local newspaper. All suppliers in the booklet were invited to attend the forum and set up an information booth.
Interested participants were asked to nominate a coordinator for the offer they were most interested in. These coordinators became the focal point for information. Seven community members offered to do this, each coordinating the sign-ups for one bulk offer. In this way, the community 'chose' which offers in the booklet would proceed.
Next, community members were asked to express their interest in one of these seven offers and were directed to the relevant community coordinator, who collected contact details and submitted these to the suppliers. Technical questions were also referred to the supplier.
MEFL was concerned about the risk to its reputation of promoting or endorsing a particular supplier. This led to the model described above, where residents chose which offers would proceed.
Five permanent MEFL staff were involved in the project, taking on different roles. The time they spent was absorbed into their usual roles.
This model taught MEFL some valuable lessons:
- Some residents prioritised the cheapest offer while others preferred local suppliers and products.
- While there are advantages to providing a range of offers, many people just want a solution and don't want to do their own research.
- There's a lot of work involved in communicating with residents and multiple installers. It's worth having resources dedicated to this.
- By choosing multiple installers, you may lose some of the larger economies of scale.