Sure, you're probably used to borrowing a cup of sugar from your neighbor, but how about a cup of sunshine? That might be the case before long if a new trend in alternative energy catches on nationwide.

Many families are interested in installing solar panels on their homes to offset use of nonrenewable energy, but the price tag is a huge deterrent. But communities across the country have found a way to reap significant savings in the solar department by buying units and negotiating installation rates in bulk.

In one instance, families in Salem, Ore., formed a grassroots movement that they dubbed Solarize Salem to connect like-minded homeowners interested in solar energy. By banding together, the group can exchange tips and information, put on solar energy workshops, buy panels in bulk, negotiate group discounts for installation, and help each other navigate the local, state, and federal tax incentives for going solar. Participants in Solarize Salem report paying closer to $2,000-3,000 (after rebates and tax incentives) for systems that might have otherwise cost them $20,000 if the homeowners had bought them individually.

And they aren't alone. These types of community solar programs are popping up all over the country. The for-profit group One Block Off the Grid recently launched solar group programs in 16 cities in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

So far, I haven't heard about any solar group programs in my home state of Virginia. But you can bet it's something I will look into. How about you? Would a solar group program work in your neck of the woods?

New trend: Going solar with friends
Homeowners work together to bring affordable solar power to their communities.