SEPA has a long history of research in Community Solar programs, including numerous article, briefs, reports and databases. We also strategize with utilities and the solar industry on implementing best practices, design assessments and trends.
Community solar is a customer program that is generally designed to expand the pool of utility customers who can benefit from solar development. It offers an alternative to the traditional method of locating solar on the customer’s property. Also referred to as ‘shared solar,’ a utility-managed involves the utility buying or installing one or more photovoltaic projects and then selling the solar to their customers. By facilitating the link between the solar supply and the customer, a broader pool of customers can participate in solar markets – renters, low-income, shaded homes, late adopters, lower credit ratings, lower capital availability, etc.
Every utility will implement a community solar program for different reasons, which could include:
- Expand solar program availability to more customers, who may have limitations in their physical or financial ability to install solar on their property.
- Deploy additional solar, utilizing participating customers’ interests to drive the deployment.
- Potentially lower costs for non-participating ratepayers compared to a rebate or other incentive program.
- Offer a solar service or product to customers as an alternative to third-party solar vendors.
There are two main ways to structure a community solar program:
- Sell solar kilowatt-hours through a solar rate, which allows customers to subscribe directly with the utility to get some amount of their electricity from solar energy.
- Allow customers to actually own or lease a share of one or more of the remote solar installations; involves solar kilowatts.
Currently, there is little standardization across the utility industry - each program is often uniquely tailored to a utility’s, and its customers’ interests and needs. With dozens of decisions points, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.