Community Solar Customers are Essential to Widespread Solar Adoption

July 29, 2015
Session W3C: Community Solar and Net Zero Strategies for the New Energy Economy
1:30 pm  -  2:30 pm

“In the United States, nine out of 10 people indicate they want to use solar energy, yet only a quarter of rooftops are actually suitable for an installation. The remaining 75% face challenges such as tree shading, improper roof orientation, or they rent their home or commercial property. These unserved customers are an immense potential market, but they are also vital supporters that need to be included for the rest of the solar market to succeed. To help ensure the long-term viability of the solar industry, it is crucial that solar energy becomes accessible to the entire population, giving the entire population buy-in into the technology they already want to support. Community solar offers a solution for anyone faced with the physical or financial barriers of installing an on-site system. By enabling residents and business owners to buy or lease panels in a shared array, or subscribe to a portion of the clean power, community solar opens the market up to everyone with an electricity bill and guarantees long-term political and social support of solar in general.

What do Consumers Want?

Offering a community solar option is the first step to facilitate the widespread adoption of solar power. But the product pricing and associated benefits must satisfy consumers’ needs in order to propel solar into the mainstream energy sector. It is therefore important to understand what motivates residents and small business owners to participate in community solar.

As of February 2015, Clean Energy Collective—which pioneered the nation’s first community solar ownership model—has installed 12 megawatts (MW) of projects across eight states. With more than 1,100 customers, CEC has found that many people commit to buying community solar panels because of the financial benefit and ease of participation. Homeowners initially deterred by the hassle of installing and maintaining an on-site solar system are enticed by the effortless ability to go solar with nothing on their roof. Customers have also expressed that the long-term financial payback on their asset is more lucrative than alternative investment options, allowing them to save money while reducing their carbon impact.

Reaching the Untapped Potential

Considering the limitations to rooftop solar, the community solar market is approximately seven times larger. To reach this untapped potential and bring the full population into the solar revolution, industry leaders must prove to lawmakers, utilities, and regulators that community solar is the most sensible solution. These groups are becoming increasingly convinced, as CEC alone is in conversations with 169 utilities nationwide, and eight states have enacted community solar policies (with at least 13 more expected to propose legislation this year).”