Community solar or shared solar resources could make up nearly half of the distributed solar resources in the U.S. by 2020. That’s according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
The potential market for community solar arrays is large. The report found that “At least 49 percent of U.S. households and 48 percent of businesses are currently unable to host a PV system when excluding residential renters, those without access to roof space (e.g., multi-unit housing, malls), and/or those living or working in buildings with insufficient roof space.”
"Historically, PV business models and regulatory environments have not been designed to expand access to a significant portion of potential PV system customers," said David Feldman, NREL energy analyst and lead author on the report. "As a result, the economic, environmental, and social benefits of distributed PV have not been available to all consumers. Shared solar programs open up the market to the other half of businesses and households."
The report found that if shared solar programs, aka community solar or solar gardens, are allowed to flourish throughout the U.S., they could make up between 32 percent and 49 percent of the distributed solar resources in the country. Such systems are starting to gain traction as more states create programs to support solar gardens, like New York, which introduced a community solar program late last year. The power of such systems is that they offer community members a chance to go solar that can’t put solar on their homes or businesses because they rent or lease, can’t afford a system or they lack the appropriate space.
Shared solar arrays also allow for economies of scale to help reduce the cost of solar for those community members who choose to participate either by purchasing solar panels in the array or the power that panels in the array produce. Since they also represent a larger array in one location rather than numerous smaller arrays in multiple locations like rooftops, some utilities may see solar gardens as easier to manage on their power lines.
NREL’s new report, Shared Solar: Current Landscape, Market Potential, and the Impact of Federal Securities Regulation, offers a high-level overview of community solar in the country. It also explains how such programs are regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange, which matters since such arrangements constitute investments.
The new NREL report anticipates that between 2015 and 2020, 5.5 gigawatts to 11.0 gigawatts of community solar could come online, representing investment of $8.2 billion to $16.3 billion. Those investments will be made by people in the community. The report found that most of these projects are designed and marketed as profit-generating programs rather than securities, even though they usually represent long-term investments or payments from subscribers or purchasers.Tweet