Community Solar: A Smart Approach to Bolstering the Renewables Market

Photo Credit: Akhil Jariwala, Creative Commons

A session at the World Renewable Energy Forum on Community Solar Energy Development was full of informative presentations on how to think outside the box a bit to help make solar PV and wind energy more prevalent in our world. Traditional solar applications tend to focus on a small slice of individual homes, which have south facing roofs unencumbered by shading. Financing for a solar array is often difficult to obtain and buying outright is difficult for many homeowners. This session provided innovative methods on how to provide solar to the many instead of the few.

  • Clean Energy Collective presented and mentioned that their goal was to have community solar farms which create a win-win for the utility and its customers. Solar farms have a few benefits for customers including accessibility to as many utility customers as possible with very small minimums. Also, another benefit is of extending rooftop solar incentives that would be normally declined to the homeowner because of poor rooftop solar access. Utilities can benefit from community solar farms by the provision of automated monthly bill credit information from the solar developer without any burden to the utility and real-time telemetry monitoring to adequately track and schedule facility production.
  • FLS Energy presented next and started off saying that their goal is to provide solar energy to everyone. The way they do this is to own the solar assets whether they be PV or solar thermal and then provide a power purchase agreement. This model works for a business or community that lacks the upfront funding, for non-profits, or for groups that want long-term maintenance and performance guarantees. FLS Energy works on Section 8 housing to provide tenants with low-cost solar thermal units and recently offered a solar thermal power agreement to a university because this university wasn’t allowed to take advantage of the tax incentives.
  • Regenesis Solar Power in Fort Myers, Florida provides solar thermal to a community through the local gas or electric utility. They act on behalf of the utility and go door-to-door offering solar thermal for no upfront costs, just a $34.95 monthly fee on their utility bill for 20 years. The utility can expand their renewable energy offerings with no effort as well as accelerate efficiency and demand reduction initiatives.
  • Solar City leases solar modules to customers for a monthly fee. They are evolving into the community solar arena by working to install arrays on military housing at cheaper rates than the utility can provide and is working to install more solar on affordable housing. They are also proponents of “virtual net metering.”

With these innovative community leasing strategies, solar for everybody is no longer a distant pipe-dream. What are you folks doing to bring solar to your community?

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