Community solar has become a critical tool for bridging the gap between those who can and can’t access local, affordable, clean energy. Community solar enables multiple customers to participate in a single solar project located in their community, and receive credits on their utility bill for their portion of the power produced. This opens up the opportunity for going solar to those who may be otherwise constrained by the physical attributes of their home or business, like roof space, shading, or property ownership. As a result, community solar projects provide American homeowners, renters, and businesses access to the benefits of solar energy generation and can play a critical role in expanding access to solar energy to low-income households.
- There are 26 states with at least one community solar project on-line, with 101 projects and 108 cumulative megawatts installed through early 2017.
- At least 14 states and D.C. have recognized the benefits of shared renewables by encouraging their growth through policy and programs.
- Four states -- California, Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota -- are expected to install the majority of community solar over the next two years.
- The next several years will see the U.S. community solar market add as much as 3 gigawatts, compared to just 66 megawatts through the end of 2014.
- Placed in service in 2006, the shared renewables project in Ellensburg, Washington claims to be “the first community solar project in the nation.”
Shared renewables projects are often located on public or jointly-owned property, and can be an easier way for renters and condominium owners to benefit from a local solar energy project. There are many reasons why shared renewables might be preferred for a home, business, or individual. Here are a few examples:
- Those who are only renting may be prohibited from installing solar on the property
- The roof may be too shaded or needs re-roofing
- The size or orientation of the roof may be improper
- Some commercial buildings have equipment on the roof, obstructing an installation
Shared Renewables Models
There are various shared renewable energy models. Here are a few:
Some utilities provide their customers with the option to purchase renewable energy from a shared facility. The customer may purchase a set amount of electricity at a fixed rate for a long term, such as 20 years. The rate, while typically slightly higher that the current retail rate, may provide protection and stability against rising rates for grid electricity.
One shared renewable energy model involves enabling residents and business to invest in a portion of a shared renewable farm, and receive a credit for that portion of the energy production from the facility on their utility bill.
Special Purpose Entity (SPE) Model
Individuals join in a business enterprise to develop a shared renewables project.
Non-Profit “Buy a Brick” Model
In this model, donors contribute to a shared renewables installation owned by a charitable non-profit organization.
For more information on allocation of costs and benefits, financial and tax considerations, and other legal issues, see the additional resources below.
Community Solar Policy Decision Matrix: Guidance for Designing Community Solar Programs, December 2017 - Updates to this second version of the Policy Matrix include lessons learned from market developments from the past year, as well as more detailed program design recommendations in key areas such as program size, compensation, customer participation, and low to moderate income participation.
Model State Legislation - For state with vertically integrated utility markets
Model State Legislation - For states with restructured/competitive electricity markets
Residential Consumer Guide to Community Solar - Together the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) published the Residential Consumer Guide to Community Solar, which provides consumers with an overview of community solar, expert tips on how to be an informed consumer, questions solar consumers should ask before entering into an agreement and handy links to other resources.
Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC): IREC has developed and promoted shared program model rules and is leading group in ensuring that shared renewables become more prevelant in the U.S.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Guide to Community Shared Solar: This guide is a resource for those who want to develop community shared solar projects, from community organizers or solar energy advocates to government officials or utility managers.
Solar Electric Power Association: SEPA's Utility Community Solar Handbook provides the utility's perspective on utility managed community solar program development and is a resource for government officials, regulators, community organizers, solar energy advocates, non-profits and interested citizens who want to support or educate their local utility in implementing or improving a community solar project.
Community Solar Marketplace: EnergySage has developed an easy-to-use tool to find community solar projects near you