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Turning Somerville's flat roofs into solar collectors! Offer a low cost, flat packed, solar kit. Some assembly required to save the planet.



Somerville Assembly Required

How many flat top triple-deckers are there in Somerville? I bet it would be hard to count them all. Somerville has a vast and fertile landscape for collecting the sun's energy. What the owners of these buildings lack are the resources to put up solar panels.

What are the costs associated with installing solar panels? Well, there is the cost of the equipment. This includes the panels, mounting frames, anchors, and appropriate wiring. Next is the cost of installation and then hooking up to the grid (a dangerous job not for anyone but the electric company). So what if we can reduce the overall cost of installing a system? Where can we cut costs?

Everyone knows that buying in bulk can save money. If the city were to buy solar panels and mounting hardware in large quantities it would reduce costs significantly. Next, the parts would be assembled into starter kits with detailed instructions for assembly. The instructions will take the home owner through every step including permitting, assembly and installation, safety guidelines, and inspection. Once every step is complete the power company would connect to the solar system.


By reducing material costs, labor costs, and providing resources along the way I think many of these systems could be made affordable. Somerville is home to hardworking and passionate environmentalists, artists, builders and makers of all sorts. People can and will build these systems for the benefit of their home and their city. We simply need to make access to the materials easy and affordable.

Let's truly crowd source our energy solution. Let the crowd of Somervillians build our solar infrastructure from the roof up. By providing and subsidizing starter kits we can watch the skyline change from a wasteland to a garden of sun. And maybe toss in some solar property tax breaks while you're at it? ;) LET'S DO THIS!

What actions do you propose?

Step by step

1) Hire solar consultants

2) Design a rooftop solar starter kit

3) Assemble and price the kits (what is a reasonable cost to home owners?)

4) Promote the kits and give an extra incentive for early adopters. Give property tax breaks to solar power generating homes. (Maybe this break is equal to the cost of hiring a handyman to install your starter kit, if you so choose?)

5) Work with experts to promote safety and design a simple yet effective instruction manual.

6) Work with licensing boards to make permitting and inspections as easy and efficient as possible. Can 311 be a resource to help with scheduling?

7) Work with electric company on an connect process that is cost effective, efficient, and mutually beneficial. (Would they connect for free in exchange for the reduced energy use?)

8. Watch the skyline and our energy usage change. Home grown is always the best. 

Who will take these actions?

The Key People

I expect many will be involved in the start-up and planning but once the program is launched the costs will go down over time.

The city will help purchase and package equipment. Offering subsidies to keep kit costs to a minimum.

Experts will be consulted in the areas of Solar Roofs, Safety, Graphic Design for the Manual and Marketing Campaign, Ordering and Distribution process, Customer support.

The local electric company will be needed to provide safety guidelines and final connection to the grid.

Local licensing and zoning boards will need to approve installations and assist with installation instruction manual.

Local contractors can sign up to assist residents as needed. A database of experienced and well rated contractors should be provided online for customers who choose to not install themselves. (Promote Somerville businesses!)

The city to provide tax incentives for solar power providers.

The electric company to provide a lower energy bill for those using solar. :)

Is that a good start? The right people will know how to do this better than I do. 

What are the key challenges?

I would guess we have enough available flat roofs in Somerville to power the whole city. Or darn close to it. How much does that black tar or black rubber roof increase the temperature in the home? Solar not only generates energy but shades the roofs cutting back on A/C usage. Come on! This idea is great! Seriously, Somerville can do this.

What are the key benefits?

We would be the first city in America to do a program like this. Just think how inspiring it will be to watch a city transform it's energy use with the power of every citizen. We have music parties on our porches. We ride bikes filled with children up steep hills. We love great local food and drink. The citizens of Somerville care about our city, our quality of life, and energy use. We WANT to be carbon neutral. Just give us the tools and we'll build the first carbon neutral city in Massachusetts.

What are the proposal’s costs?

When I priced out installing solar on my roof with installation and the max number of solar panels it was $15,000. I'm betting we can get the price of a starter kit to under $5,000 by buying in bulk and using citizen labor. Add a no interest loan, tax breaks, and lower energy bill and this becomes very attractive for home owners. 

Time line

The first year we will need to do research and assemble a team of experts to help with the launch. How low can we get the cost of the kits? We will need suppliers and a budget plan.

Next we need to address the instruction manual design and content. How can these be assembled safely and easily? What are ALL the steps the homeowner must consider? 

We must also work with local authorities to make sure installations are legal and to code. 

A support network (online, 311, etc.?) for installers needs to be set up. Where do we go with questions or for permits, etc.?

Finally we must test the kits and process. How easy is it to install and get connected? This process must be made simple so it doesn't cost the homeowner or the city any more time or resources than necessary. 


Related proposals

Value not set.