With more customers able to purchase solar power, utilities are finding that shared solar allows them to extend their solar generating portfolios, while developers capitalize on the potential to diversify their business offerings. Community solar is turning into a growth engine for distributed solar resources by unlocking value in each section of the supply chain.
Community solar context
According to a 2015 National Renewable Energy Laboratory report, about 75 percent of U.S. rooftop area is unsuitable for solar PV installations. Community solar, an offsite solar system that can be shared by many consumers, has the potential to grow the solar energy sector beyond its natural limits.
Electric utilities in the US are charting their course to bring solar to their customers. Community solar is a solar-electric system that delivers electricity and/or financial value to (or is owned by) numerous community members, representing a unique chance to bring solar to the public. These programs enable consumers who do not own their houses, do not have good credit, or do not have enough roof space to purchase solar electricity or, in certain circumstances, to invest in solar assets.
Municipal utilities have used state and local government incentives in novel ways to bring shared solar projects to completion. Utilities are adopting these initiatives to get ahead of the game and capture the benefits that dispersed solar resources offer to the grid, anticipating the inevitable expansion of distributed energy resources.
As more states and utilities adopt community solar, the industry has grown from a few creative "pilot" projects to full-fledged state-wide initiatives throughout the US. Community solar offers substantial long-term environmental and financial advantages to local communities, as well as a means for individuals and companies to actively engage in the energy revolution while supporting local community initiatives.
Communities are taking ownership of their local energy requirements and are doing it in a way that replaces fossil-fuel-burning energy production, while also delivering cleaner air, lowering regional emissions, and promoting sustainability.
Community solar gardens are significant investments that directly benefit local economies by generating local tax revenues, well-paying employment opportunities, and providing lease payments to farmers and landowners. The solar industry has generated jobs at a rapid pace with employment increasing by 86 percent over the last five years. A robust community solar program that includes a pipeline to well-paying, local jobs could maintain this trend.
Applications for community solar
Community solar can be used to:
- Eliminate the need for a rooftop system to be financed or purchased upfront.
- Save consumers money by protecting them against escalating energy bills.
- Assist in the establishment of partnerships with community leaders and local non-profits.
- Collaborate with utility-scale clean energy, battery storage, and electric cars to minimize carbon pollution from the electric grid.
- Assist in avoiding, and eventually retiring, older power plants that emit dangerous chemicals and pollute the air. (This factor is important since a disproportionate number of low-income and minority individuals often reside within 30 miles of coal-fired power plants.)
- Build community resiliency since a clean-energy network can support microgrids that can disconnect from the main grid during blackouts, thereby keeping the lights on and helping safeguard people from power outages.
Question to the reader
- When do you think solar power will see widespread adoption in the US?
- How do you feel about changes in agricultural zoning, e.g., using farmland for community solar projects which may cause unintended environmental consequences, such as deforestation or habitat loss?