Community solar arrays, sometimes referred to as a shared solar array or solar garden, are centralized solar facilities owned by a group of individuals who receive credits on their electricity bills for the power produced. Members of an array are residential and commercial customers of the utility partner offering the program. With the ability to service large numbers of people, shared solar is a growing source of clean energy. Because of the economic and environmental benefits, more people are requesting that their local utilities provide this program as a source of renewable energy.
Individuals may participate in a program through subscription or ownership. An ownership program allows participants to purchase just a few panels as they get started with the program or as many as needed to offset all of their electric usage. Through subscription, a participant enrolls in the program and receives a discount on their utility bill. The energy produced by those panels is tracked, reported and applied to their electric bill as a credit. These credits reflect the amount of energy produced by their panels, reducing or even eliminating the entire electric bill. The solar array is maintained through an operations and maintenance program, ensuring the efficiency of the equipment and providing peace of mind with zero maintenance issues.
An array is built on land or a rooftop located within the community and interconnected to an electric utility’s grid. Residents and businesses within the community can purchase panels within the array - anyone with an electric bill can participate.
A successful community solar program will comply with tax laws, securities laws and consumer protection matters. It should also offer a monitoring system that functions on many levels, offering data reporting for accurate bill credits, real-time production monitoring so customers can track their panel’s performance and ensure around the clock facility reliability.
A 2015 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that nearly 50% of all the people who wouldd like to “go solar” are unable to achieve that goal. Rooftop solar requires a roof in great condition, facing the right direction and free of shade. Rooftop solar customers generally must own their property, eliminating all of the apartment dwellers or condo owners who otherwise would use solar energy. For the remaining half of solar supporters who say they would choose solar energy but simply cannot, community solar provides the solutions to these problems.
With a shared solar program there are no physical restrictions like roof condition or orientation. The arrays are located in a well sited area, positioned for optimum orientation so that the panels have access to the most amount of sunlight possible,producing the greatest amount of clean energy.
Community Solar Hub is an online resource available to community solar advocates, developers, and utilities. By providing a central location of information, a project map and case studies list, and access to proven development tools, the Hub is a valuable resource for advancing the adoption of community solar. Developed by Clean Energy Collective in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and partially funded through a U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative award, this website is designed to drive down costs, ensure quality programs, encourage participation and make community solar a practical solution for anyone seeking to create their own program.
The large array of tools and information available on the Community Solar Hub are intended to streamline the process of launching a community solar project. Community Solar Hub gives you the ability to carry a community solar project from start to finish with a wealth of information about projects and easy-to-use program tools.
Because community solar can serve 50% of the solar market that rooftop systems leave behind, community solar represents one of the largest growth opportunities in the industry. By opening up the market to these customers, shared solar could represent 32% - 49% of the distributed PV market in 2020, representing $16 billion of cumulative investment, (NREL, April 2015). In the past five years, community solar has grown from a few small projects to serving thousands of customers across the nation. Yet given the nearly unlimited nature of the market, more can be done. NREL reports projections of up to 6.3 GW developed between 2015 - 2020 for residential and up to 4.7 GW for commercial use during 2015 - 2020.
Solar panels and equipment have been rapidly dropping in prices over the past few years. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, since the third quarter of 2010, the average price of a PV panel has dropped by 63%. And the average price of a completed commercial PV project in Q2 2014 dropped more than 45% since 2012. Although equipment prices are dropping, the soft costs of a PV system represent as much as 64% of the total installed price. Soft costs make up all other development processes including customer acquisition, financing and contracting, permitting, interconnection and inspection, installation and performance and operations and maintenance. One of the benefits of community solar is to lower these “soft” costs to consumers through economies of scale.
Clean Energy Collective (CEC) is the nation's leading developer of community solar solutions. CEC pioneered the model of delivering clean power-generation through large-scale facilities that are collectively owned by participating utility customers. Since establishing the first community-owned solar garden in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colorado, CEC has built or has under development more than 100 community solar projects with 27 utility partners across 12 states, representing more than 177 MW of community solar capacity.
Learn more at: www.easycleanenergy.com
The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.
Learn more at: energy.gov/sunshot
Join the campaign to bring community solar to every neighborhood in the nation. Gain access to the tools that will make your projects a success. Share the details of your developments for others to see and repeat your achievements. Contribute to your community by providing the choice of clean and affordable electricity to everyone.