02/17/2011 01:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

80 Percent By 2035: Community-Based Clean Energy Problem Solving In Arizona

Forget granite countertops. Solar panels are rapidly becoming the must-have home accessory of 2011.

It's not hard to see why. Generating your own power from the sun can save you serious money. Great rebates and incentives are available. And a burgeoning solar market means new green jobs, whether they're in manufacturing or installing. Solar is truly a win-win-win for consumers, businesses and homeowners.

But to win on all fronts, we can't leave the push for solar to any one group, be it politicians, utility companies, or environmentalists. As President Obama pointed out during a recent roundtable with student leaders at Penn State University, it's going to take coordinated, dedicated work of several sectors to make solar a viable mainstream industry. "All these pieces have to fit together," Obama said, calling out clean energy specifically. "We've got to have a government that's funding the basic research. We've got to have businesses that are willing to take risks and entrepreneurs who are out there trying to apply that basic research. We've got to have not-for-profits. So each sector has to make a contribution."

When it comes to getting more solar on rooftops, communities across America can make perhaps the most important contribution. A case study for this is happening right now in Arizona, where my not-for-profit organization, SmartPower, has partnered with the state's largest utility company, Arizona Public Service, to boost residential solar installations. Together, we're working to make Arizona the solar capital of the United States - and that effort starts on the ground, in a handful of communities that are hungry for clean energy options, with a campaign called the Arizona Solar Challenge.

The Challenge is simple, yet powerful. First, we ask a community to pass a resolution that commits them to participating in the Challenge and commits to a certain number of residential solar installations over the next 12 months. This cements the community together around the cause, fusing disparate interest groups together and maximizing their organizing impact.

Second, we provide the services of a Solar Coach, a neutral, third party expert who actually coaches homeowners through the solar installation process. Our research with Arizona Public Service customers showed us that the decision to buy solar is a lengthy one, rife with confusion, pitfalls and fears of being ripped off by an unqualified installer. The Solar Coach breaks down these barriers, conducting free home visits and recommending qualified installers. This guidance boosts consumer confidence and greatly shortens the decision-making process.

We also invite anyone who has already installed solar to become a Solar Ambassador. Ambassadors are passionate volunteers who help us spread the word about solar, both in their own communities and in others. Their energy and expertise helps us build this program to scale. They help friends and neighbors gain confidence of their own. And that confidence leads to purchasing power - which in turn leads to more solar power, boosting jobs and saving homeowners in Arizona a whole lot of money.

Third, once the community achieves their solar installation goals, we award them "Arizona Solar Community" status with signage, media events and ongoing support of their community.

We're excited about the Arizona Solar Challenge and it's potential to transform local economies. In fact, on Tuesday we witnessed the passage of the first community participation resolution, in Sun City West. These residents will be on the vanguard of a community revolution toward clean energy - specifically, solar - and will set a great example for both Arizona and the whole country.

After all, if we're going to get to 80 percent cleanly sourced energy by 2035, as President Obama wants to do, we're all going to have to roll up our sleeves and do this work. And communities like Sun City West are leading the way.