Installing a solar hot water system at a Milwaukee fire station. The installation was completed as part of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's hands-on training workshop. System components were donated by local manufacturer, Caleffi. | Photo Courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Lab.

How can we make it easier for more Americans to go solar? Lessons can be learned from the City of Milwaukee & its efforts to create a thriving, local solar market. Follow our weeklong series to hear from Milwaukee-based installers, residents and city leaders on what it’s like to be a part of this solar community.

Interested in going solar but not sure where to start? You’re not alone. From choosing the right installer to estimating total cost – when it comes to home solar installations -- it’s difficult to determine the best approach. But that’s all starting to change. Communities across the U.S. are advocating for residential solar – applying innovative solutions that simplify solar installations and support economic growth.

One community leading the way is the City of Milwaukee. Since being selected as a Solar America City by the Energy Department in 2008 the city has continued to support the growth of its solar industry. Witnessing the increase in both local manufactures and certified installers, the city saw an opportunity to kick it up a notch. Hence the creation of the Milwaukee Power Pack, launched last year by Milwaukee’s solar program and the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, “We wanted to support our growing industry in Milwaukee, increase our installer base and make solar more affordable for consumers,” explained Amy Heart, Milwaukee’s Solar Program Manager.  

Participants in this pilot program had access to solar products made by Milwaukee companies -- including solar panels manufactured by Helios Solar Works and inverters from Ingeteam,“ Local installers can simply pick up the solar panels and inverters on their way to a job site. There are no shipping components or distribution fees,” said Amy. In addition to taking advantage of lower costs, homeowners could secure low-interest solar loans to finance their solar installations, “We’re creating a track record for solar in the private market. More business are able to see that it’s viable and can get involved,” said Amy.

Education is a key tenet of the Power Pack. At free outreach sessions, homeowners could learn the basics of solar energy and what questions to ask installers. Amy explained that tackling the marketing and education at the front end cuts down on the time and costs installers typically accrue when acquiring new customers, “it saves so much for the installers.”   

While the Milwaukee Power Pack pilot is now complete, Milwaukee’s commitment to solar continues to build momentum – working as a community to ensure the city remains at the forefront of the ever-evolving solar industry.

Thinking about going solar? Take a look at Milwaukee’s list of questions to ask potential installers. And, to find out if you are eligible for federal and state clean energy incentives, visit the DSIRE database.