Community solar markets are starting to snowball as developers pick apart different strategies to find the best approach.
New numbers show what policies make community solar markets thrive. According to the latest market report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, new community solar capacity was projected to hit 206 MW at the end of 2016, a 400% increase over the same period the year before that would bring the national cumulative capacity to 331 MW.
“With active markets in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado, and New York about to implement its policy, individual private sector providers have dozens of projects online, in development, and under construction,” said Jeff Cramer, the executive director for Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA). “Some may have hundreds of projects in their pipeline.” Read More
Brownfield to greenfield project converts San Miguel County landfill into renewable energy site
DENVER – Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016 – San Miguel Power Association (SMPA), GRID Alternatives Colorado (GRID) and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) today announced the development of a community solar array that will lower the electric bills of qualified low-income residents in SMPA’s service territory. The project is not only part of a statewide initiative to reduce energy costs for utilities’ highest need customers, it is also an effort to turn a limited-use site into a clean energy generator.
With an unwavering vision to reclaim a local landfill, San Miguel County worked with its partners in project development to turn a “brownfield” into a “greenfield” and harness renewable energy that will help the local community for decades to come. Project supporters also include Energy Outreach Colorado, the Telluride Foundation, and EcoAction Partners.
According to SMPA Chief Executive Officer Brad Zaporski, the rural electric cooperative has been looking to increase its local renewable energy generation portfolio in a way that makes the resource available to a larger portion of its members and keeps utility bills affordable. Turning an old landfill into a site of local clean renewable energy generation adds an additional layer of benefit to the community and the environment.
“SMPA has long been a leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said SMPA Board President Rube Felicelli. “We are now making home efficiency upgrades and local renewable energy readily available to our lower income members through SMPA’s ‘IQ’ or ‘income-qualified’ Weatherization and Solar Programs. We are excited to join with our partners to reduce our carbon footprint while also reducing the financial burden of high electrical bills on local families in need.”
“When we see projects like this, we are filled with optimism,” said Sandy Stavnes, Acting Assistant Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “With this project, community partners came together to turn property that had limited reuse potential into something that will provide energy to community members in need as well as significant environmental benefits. A bonus is the solar panels on top of the landfill will assure the landfill cover is maintained.”
This is the sixth low-income community solar demonstration project developed in partnership with local utilities through a $1.2 million grant GRID Alternatives received from CEO in August 2015. Each project is piloting a slight variation on the low-income community solar model to address the unique needs of rural utility service areas and their customers. The projects selected are both affordable and scalable for utility partners and offer great potential to expand across the state.
“This project, with its multiple bottom lines—energy cost saving for families, renewable energy, brownfield reclamation, and local solar job training—is a win for the whole community and a model for the state and the nation,” said Chuck Watkins, Executive Director of GRID Alternatives Colorado.
“This demonstration project with GRID and SMPA reinforces our low-cost approach to community solar, which blends the delivery of clean-generated electricity and assisting our neighbors in need,” said Colorado Energy Office Director Jeff Ackermann.
About this Policy Matrix
Solar energy continues to grow in popularity across the nation, with individuals, businesses, governments, schools, and other organizations demanding more choice, cleaner energy options, and greater control over their energy bills. Although more than one million solar energy systems have been installed in the U.S.,1 not everyone has access to the many benefits of solar energy or the ability to install their own system onsite. For example, a property owner may have unsuitable roof space, an old roof needing replacement in the near future, or too much shading, and millions of tenants or renters lack the permission to install a solar system at their home or business. Read More
November 18, 2016 08:30 AM Eastern Standard Time
PRINCETON, N.J.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE: NRG) today announced that its renewables business’ newest community solar facility in Massachusetts has come online in the town of Spencer to serve the electricity needs of more than 1,500 residential and commercial subscribers in the Commonwealth.
The commissioning of NRG’s largest community solar facility in the United States reflects the company’s growing business in Massachusetts and other states in the Northeast. In addition to residential rooftop and community solar offerings, NRG offers Massachusetts residents and business owners retail electric choice when determining how they will power their homes and businesses. Read More
DENVER, Nov. 17, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The Colorado Energy Office (CEO), Energy Outreach Colorado (EOC), and GRID Alternatives Colorado today recognize the adoption of strong consumer protections and program offerings to bring equity and access of renewable energy to low-income customers served by Xcel Energy.
Last week, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved the Xcel Energy utility settlement, which establishes the most comprehensive low-income solar access in the country. The milestone agreement creates a market environment in which utilities address customers most in need without deviating from renewable energy goals; developers realize business goals while serving a new customer segment; and low-income customers receive a reduction in energy expenditures which can be utilized for other basic necessities. Read More
Let’s be honest: Designing a community solar product that resonates with customers, utilities and regulators can be challenging. Many products we see in the market overlook customer needs and include unattractive requirements, such as upfront costs and rigid contracts. Designed to mitigate utility risk, these elements actually increase risk by hindering marketing and participation goals.
While helping our utility clients launch community solar programs over the last year, we’ve gathered customer insights and marketing lessons that will help smooth the road to success for the many types of community solar products. Read Article
Community solar is supposed to be a renewable energy panacea, but developers say extensive rules could constrain growth. Read Articleby Herman K. Trabish Utility Dive Oct. 20, 2016
Studying the locational benefits of distributed solar is one way to plan, an LBNL study says.
by Herman K. Trabish, September 29, 2016
How creativity and efficiency-centered innovation is eliciting multi-gigawatt growth.
If you’d like to use solar power in your home but can’t put panels on your roof, help may be on the way. Over the past few months, several states passed legislation to support the concept of community solar, which gives homeowners the chance to use solar instead of conventional power.
Community solar allows consumers to share solar power from a common system with other consumers. The source of the solar power can be owned by municipal utilities, independent solar developers, a group of homeowners or businesses, or community and nonprofit organizations such as electric co-ops. There are various models in which such projects are operated and billed -- participants can own, lease or subscribe to a specified number of panels or a portion of the system and typically receive electricity or monetary credits in proportion to their share of the project. Consumers who opt for community solar continue to work with their utility, but sign on for solar in addition to conventional energy. Read entire article.
Deployment of solar energy systems in the U.S. has grown rapidly over the past decade. Costs have dropped, and new ownership and financing models allow more Americans than ever to choose solar. Solar is now available as a power choice in all states. The solar industry is creating even more solutions that allow all consumers to produce their own electricity by going solar.
Consumers who rent their homes, live in an apartment, do not have unshaded or otherwise well-oriented roof space, or may not qualify for a lease now have the ability to choose solar in an increasing number of states. Even for consumers who have the roof and property to install a solar system, community solar offers an alternative option for going solar. Some community solar projects allow subscribers to purchase or lease as little as one panel or a small fraction of the power generated from the project. Subscribers' interest can also typically stay with them if they move to a new address within the same utility service territory. Community solar brings more choice to consumers interested in solar.
Entering into a community solar agreement is a significant decision, similar to signing up for a cell phone, and consumers should understand the basics of solar energy, where community solar is available, key terms in agreements, and the right questions to ask solar professionals. Read entire document here.
US electric utilities of all types, from investor-owned to municipal to cooperatives (co-ops), are defining their own paths forward to bring solar to their customers. Community, or "shared," solar programs are an increasingly popular option. These programs allow customers who do not own their homes, possess strong credit scores, or have adequate roof space to buy solar power, or in some cases, to invest in solar assets. While community solar is often discussed in the context of program design and customer demand, this report will analyze the market from a different angle by unpacking the unique opportunities and challenges posed to each utility type: co-ops, municipal, and investor-owned utilities (IOU). For co-ops, their member-owners' interest in community solar has enabled them to develop more programs than any other utility type. Municipal utilities have creatively leveraged state and local government incentives to bring shared solar projects to fruition. And IOUs, largely in response to state-level legislative directives, are partnering with experienced industry players to implement new types of program models.
Shared solar has gained a foothold in the US market during the past five years and its growth shows no signs of slowing. In 2010, only two shared solar projects existed. Today 77 utilities administer 111 projects across 26 states, accounting for a combined capacity of about 106 megawatts (MW). As innovation takes its course, shared solar business models are continuing to evolve, and the opportunity is becoming more evident. Utilities are finding that shared solar allows them to grow their solar generation portfolios, developers and seizing the opportunity to expand their business offerings, and more customers have the chance to buy solar power. By unlocking value in each segment of the supply chain, community solar is evolving into a growth engine for distributed solar resources.
Making Community Solar Work for Low-Income Customers
Lower-income customers aren’t going to get served by community solar without a focused plan.
by Steve Calechman
March 14, 2016
Nearly one-third of American adults live in a low- or lower-middle-cost housing area. And that number is growing as the middle class shrinks.
Meanwhile, community solar programs are budding around the country. These programs are often promoted as a way to spread solar to those who can't host a system on their roof. But are they reaching lower-income customers who may want to participate? So far, very few programs specifically target this customer segment.
And without a focused plan, lower-income customers won't get served by community solar. Read More Here
National trade association for community solar officially launched
February 9, 2016 Kelly Pickerel
Leading energy companies in the solar market have announced the formation of the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), the first-ever national trade association for community solar. The Coalition’s founding leadership includes Clean Energy Collective, Community Energy, Ecoplexus, Ethical Electric, First Solar, and Recurrent Energy.
CCSA is a business-led trade organization that works to expand access to clean, local, affordable energy nationwide through community solar. Community solar refers to local solar facilities shared by individual community members, who receive credits on their electricity bills for their portion of the power produced. Community solar projects provide American homeowners, renters and businesses access to the benefits of solar energy generation unconstrained by the physical attributes of their home or business, like roof space, shading, or whether or not they own their residence or building. These programs can also expand access to solar energy to low-income households. [Read More]
February 5th, 2016 by Jake Richardson
About 579 kW of low-income solar projects have been announced by the Colorado Energy Office and GRID Alternatives. Five projects will be built by the Delta Montrose Electric Association, Gunnison County Electric Association, Holy Cross Energy, San Miguel Power Association, and the Yampa Valley Electric Association. They are being constructed to help provide electricity to those most in need – people who spend more than 4% of their income on utility bills in rural areas. It has been estimated that these customers could save about 50% on their energy bills when the community solar projects are operational.
A $1.2 million Colorado Energy Office (CEO) grant was given to GRID Alternatives (GRID) for low-income community solar. GRID also worked with the utilities to arrange for the community solar projects to be built.
“We have seen a tremendous groundswell of hard-working families wanting solar and the benefits it brings. These community solar projects not only provide solar access – they have a community impact. GRID brings savings to families that need it most, job training in a fast-growing industry and clean, renewable energy that benefits everyone,” said Chuck Watkins, executive director of GRID Colorado.
When GRID Alternatives installs no or low-cost solar power systems on rooftops it sometimes uses job trainees and volunteers, so these people can gain job experience to advance their clean energy careers.
The organization has estimated there are about 20 million low-income, single family homes occupied by owners, so there are many opportunities for solar power systems to be installed that could make both a social and environmental impact.
Colorado is already among the top 10 US states for installed solar power capacity, but it could actually install 3,000 MW more by 2030, according to one estimate.
Who says you need to be a home owner to enjoy solar panels? Now you can buy solar with your neighbors.
If you’re one of the many who’ve missed the rooftop solar panel revolution—renters and home owners who don’t have solar-friendly roofs—here’s a bit of good news. Next year will be a breakout year for so-called “community solar,” which involves customers buying electricity from shared solar panel projects.
Solar Electric Power Association considers utility-involved community solar a business model with three defining elements:
1. a group of participants voluntarily pay for a share of a solar array that is located external to their properties;
2. the electricity produced flows into the electric grid; and
3. the subscribers receive benefits for the electricity produced by their share of the solar array.
Community solar is an innovative solar energy deployment model that is gaining popularity across the United States. Community solar models encompass approaches to solar deployment that connect community stakeholders to increase the penetration of renewable energy. Such models include group purchasing, crowd financing and community investment, and donation-based models. Community solar programs can site, fund, and sell electricity from PV systems in several different ways.
This guide is designed as a resource for those who want to develop community solar projects, from community organizers or solar energy advocates to government officials or utility managers. By exploring the range of incentives and policies while providing examples of operational community solar projects, this guide will help communities to plan and implement successful local energy projects. In addition, by highlighting some of the policy best practices, this guide suggests changes in the regulatory landscape that could significantly boost community solar installations across the country.
Community solar is transforming from an experimental offering supported by mandates to a powerful utility tool for retaining customers, says a leading community solar developer.
With 115 megawatts of projects expected through the end of 2015, community solar is still a small fraction of the U.S. solar market. But the sector is defined not just by the number of megawatts being installed, but by how they're getting installed.
An increasingly-feasible option for both electricity users and utilities, community solar allows multiple customers to share the benefit from a centrally-located solar project. A community solar “garden” operates in the same manner as a community garden, where participants join together at a single location and “harvest” the sun’s energy.
Community solar is a way for anyone to access solar power, even if they rent, own a condo, have a shaded house, or just can't afford to install a full solar array on their home.
Elevate Energy is working with Cook County, the City of Chicago, and other stakeholders to bring community solar to our neighborhoods and communities.
Minnesota's turmoil over solar gardens provides a laboratory for handling similar efforts across the U.S.
by Sara E. Bergan & Andrew P. Moratzka
Community solar - a concept that allows homeowners, renters and businesses to participate in solar power without having to install solar equipment on their property - has rapidly gained traction as new shared solar generation programs have been adopted across the country. Meanwhile, community solar program rules have been revisited in light of unprecedented interest in a Midwest solar laboratory: Minnesota.
1 MW installed capacity will lower electricity costs for at least 300 families
Denver, CO – The Colorado Energy Office is awarding $1.2 million in grant funding to GRID Alternatives, America’s largest non-profit solar installer, to implement a solar demonstration project for low-income communities in Colorado.
Not too long ago, many U.S. utilities viewed solar power rather warily - as a disruptive threat to revenue and a challenge to grid stability. But a growing number of utilities of late have been making big investments in solar.
Examples, in fact, aren't hard to find.
Advocacy: How to Reach Legislators from Home
The Solar Energy Industries Association is working hard to represent the industry from our Washington, DC headquarters. We have experts and professional advocates working to influence federal policy, however, when it comes to making a more personal impact with legislators, the power of grassroots advocacy cannot be underestimated. Congress needs to be reminded that the solar industry provides jobs and energy security in their states and districts.
SEIA can help you with all of these options, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our federal affairs staff for assistance.
Many utility customers draw power from large-scale solar farms - a great sign that renewables are reaching the masses.
But there's a problem with this arrangement, too. These customers don't have any control of, or personal connection to, their solar use. They likely don't even know that any of their power is coming from solar, so they have no sense of pride around it - a major selling point for other solar participants, such as owners of rooftop panels.
Community solar offers energy providers a solution that brings solar to lots of people at once while individualizing their ownership stake in the solar market. The key problems with community solar are in its marketing - not enough consumers know about its benefits, and it doesn't feel any different than the commodity energy that they get.
Galen Naber wants the electricity for his home to come from the sun. But he doesn't think solar panels would look good on his small home and nearby trees likely would cover the panels in shade before long.Yet Naber can still achieve his solar-energy goal thanks to a community solar garden that likely will be miles from his Roseville, Minn., home. He and other Xcel Energy customers soon will be able to receive power from community solar gardens. After a concerted effort by the utility to limit them, they will come online in Minnesota by the end of the year.
The utility wants to put solar on another 1,000 rooftops—and make a new community solar play.
A Stratham-based alternative energy company hopes to change New Hampshire's status as a solar energy laggard.
NHSolarGarden.com is working on building solar arrays all over the state that would create more solar energy in New Hampshire than all of the current solar energy projects combined.
In a bright spot for those customers who love solar power, some rural electric cooperative and city municipal electric utilities are offering community solar gardens.
Americans love solar power, but most aren't in a position to get it. You can't install rooftop solar if you rent, own a condo, have poor credit, or have a rooftop that's shaded or faces the wrong way. In fact, it's a fairly small slice of Americans who can take advantage of rooftop solar:
Electricity on the island state of Hawaii will come 100% from renewable resources by 2045, pursuant to new legislation. The plan will end Hawaii’s current reliance on imported fuel oil which Governor Ige has said currently costs $5 billion annually.
Yesterday, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission reviewed a host of questions about the fate of Xcel Energy’s community solar market. Most importantly, the PUC aimed to provide clarity on the eligibility of co-located community solar gardens, which are large scale projects segmented into 1 megawatt (ac) parcels in order to align with program rules. These projects account for well over three quarters of the state’s community solar pipeline.
A law that could significantly expand access to renewable energy generation in Hawai’i through a new community-based renewable energy program was approved by Governor David Ing on June 8, 2015. While the new law is couched in terms of “renewable energy” generally, the predominant renewable energy sources are likely to be solar and wind energy. The law permits utilities and third parties to own or operate a community-based renewable energy project.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative just gave $14 million to 15 awardees to define what community shared solar is, identify what business models will work, and explain how it will make solar more accessible and affordable.
Leading community solar developer Clean Energy Collective has entered into a new contract with Spokane, Wash.-based Avista Utilities.
When many people think of solar power in the United States, they imagine rooftop panels soaking up the renewable energy source. Or perhaps they think of photos they've seen of massive solar farms. But that image is changing.
An electric cooperative on Colorado’s Western Slope was the first utility in the U.S. to give community-owned solar a chance in 2010. Four years and 2.6 megawatts (MW) later, it was a decision that helped revolutionize the way individuals and businesses go solar nationwide.
Soon to be built at the former Dreher Pickle plant, the Fort Collins Community Solar Array has doubled in size. Local residents purchased the initial solar capacity of 333 kilowatts (kW) in record time, prompting the expansion to 620 kW.
In communities across the United States, there is a rising interest in community solar programs as a means to increase participation in solar energy for people who may have physical, financial, or other limitations to installing solar on their own property. Additional drivers for community solar include interest in increasing energy independence, offering a hedge against rising fuel costs, cutting carbon emissions, and providing local jobs. Community solar programs provide an alternative to the traditional process of individuals or businesses placing solar on their property. Instead, customers can utilize a solar energy system installed offsite and benefit from its output remotely through billing and accounting mechanisms.
Shared renewable energy programs enable multiple customers to share the economic benefits from one renewable energy system via their individual utility bills. Shared renewable energy represents a critical means of expanding access to renewable energy to more Americans.
Community And Shared Solar
As the solar energy market rapidly expands, more people are exploring the possibility of going solar. While not everyone is able to install panels on their roofs, due to unsuitable roof space, living in a large condo building, or renting living space, alternative business models like community solar and shared solar are gaining popularity and increasing access to clean solar energy.
Midwest Energy held its ribbon cutting and grand opening dedication to its new "Community Solar Garden" April 23, 2015 in Colby, Kansas. Mike Cooper finds out more about the program.
Utility Dive, 1/22/2015 - Why utilities across the nation are embracing community solar. The shared renewables movement is catching on from coast to coast.
Not only do community parks provide green space for recreation and leisure, they also increase property values, attract business, and offer gathering places for all social groups—enhancing the quality of life for local residents. The South Suburban Park and Recreation District is a special district in Colorado that provides recreational facilities and services for nearly 140,000 residents throughout south metro Denver.
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.