Greentech Media recently reported that, “Solar power is now more affordable in the United States than at any other point in history…
In particular, community solar projects are gaining popularity, as they allow the almost half of U.S. households that may not have access to a “solar-ready” roof to take advantage of the sun’s energy and do it at a lower cost. This can make solar accessible to more low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities. Between 2010 and 2015, community solar installations grew rapidly, reaching almost 100 megawatts — and this business model has even greater potential. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates community solar could comprise up to half of the distributed PV market in 2020….
New solar data analysis from NREL explores the affordability of solar using a “savings to investment” (SIR) ratio. This metric captures the ability to recover one’s investment in solar based on the utility bill savings resulting from the solar energy generated by a given solar energy system. NREL conducted a simple SIR analysis for all 50 states by assuming that U.S. residential PV systems today cost between $3.00 per watt and $3.50 per watt and last 25 to 35 years. In this scenario, it could be cost-effective for households to make a shift to solar in a quarter to half of states without any state or local incentives.
Because community solar projects are often larger and can take advantage of bulk pricing, their installed costs are more in-line with commercial solar systems, which cost approximately $2.00 per watt to $2.50 per watt. Holding everything else constant, the number of states in the analysis with positive SIRs increases to 35-48 states with these lower installed costs, which means solar energy is potentially affordable in the vast majority of the country through the community solar business model.
Though this is a very basic analysis, it illustrates that solar is quickly becoming one of the most cost-effective sources of energy for all Americans, regardless of where they live.
However, a recent report by the George Washington University Solar Institute shows that while 49.1 million households earn less than $40,000 of income per year and make up 40 percent of all U.S. households, they only account for less than 5 percent of solar installations. Providing the means for all communities to benefit from solar energy will help the U.S. meet its climate goals while also helping to create a fair market for solar that allows everyone, regardless of where they live or their financial status, to benefit from clean energy.
The enormous opportunity to expand solar electricity access to LMI households is why the SunShot Initiative launched the Solar in Your Community Challenge. Building on the recent White House announcement of the Clean Energy Savings for All Initiative, the challenge will enable the expansion of the solar market to a diverse array of new consumers, especially LMI households and nonprofit, community-serving organizations. Given the analysis from NREL, we have high hopes that the Solar in Your Community Challenge will be the starting point for a solar revolution among new populations…”
The Berkshire Eagle reported on another Community Solar Project that Relay Power is helping customers connect to:
Construction of a community solar project is well underway to benefit Eversource customers throughout Western Massachusetts.
The three separate solar arrays being installed on the grounds of Hancock Shaker Village should be completed around Jan. 1 and hopefully operational early next year, according to Syncarpha Solar LLC.
The New York City-based firm, partnered with Renewable Energy Massachusetts, will have a 1-megawatt array on the Pittsfield-side of the living museum along Route 20 and two, 2-megawatt facilities in the town of Hancock.
Collectively, the solar energy generating system will feed the electricity produced into the Eversource power grid, and the three array ownership entities would be set up as Community Shared Solar facilities.
That means residents of the Berkshires who are Eversource customers can buy energy net-metering credits at a discount and realize energy savings, project officials have said.
“You can subscribe for net-metering credits before [the project] is up and running,” said Matt Preskenis, Syncarpha’s vice president of community solar.
Syncarpha’s plan is to target residential customers of Eversource, and also municipalities or educational institutions to contract for the remaining credits
Hancock Shaker Village also makes money off the project as the developers’ facilities would provide lease income for the museum for up to a 30-year period.
“All [27 acres] of the leased land is outside the viewshed of the restored Shaker village,” said acting board of trustees Chairman, Richard Seltzer in a statement. “This environmentally sound use of land is consistent with Shaker ideals and will contribute rents which will facilitate the educational mission of Hancock Shaker Village.”
The developers plan to install at least a seven-foot fence around the arrays and properly screen the Pittsfield site with natural vegetation to minimize the visual impact to neighbors across Route 41.
Syncarpha views the Pittsfield/Hancock solar arrays in keeping with the museum’s mission of sustainability.
“It really goes along with the value of the Shakers,” said project developer Keith Akers.
Preskenis added, “The projects we get most excited about are the tones that work well and align with our customer’s philosophy.”
For information on the Hancock Shaker Village solar project, go to www.syncarpha.solar.
The article Massachusetts Community Solar Industry at Risk Due to Regulatory Changes by Kate Galbo has just been published by Renewable Energy World. It highlights the benefits of community solar as well as the recent legislation that is putting the community solar industry at risk in Massachusetts.
A new report from Navigant Research shows that the total installed capacity for community solar programs across the U.S. is expected to reach 1.5 GW in 2020, representing a $2.5 billion market, and showing that community solar could potentially capture two percent of the solar market.
Perspective About Mass. Community Solar from an Energy Expert
One of the first and biggest proponents of community solar in the state predicts that “community solar has the potential to dwarf rooftop solar.” Patrick Cloney, the founding CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), spoke with Good Energy, a newsletter from renewable energy company Next Step Living. He gives his perspective on the roots of community solar in the state and its future.
Good Energy: How did you first hear about community solar?
Patrick Cloney: The first time I was introduced to community solar was during the pilot of Solarize Mass, which was in the spring of 2010. Solarize Mass was the state initiative to drive down the cost of residential solar systems by increasing competition. In Harvard, one of the pilot towns, it quickly became apparent that about 80% of the residents that wanted to go solar couldn’t. Reasons included the age of their roofs, too much shade, structural issues or the wrong orientation to the sun. So a group of folks got together that wanted solar power but fell into one of those categories and discussed a concept of a solar “garden.”
And they brought it to you at the MassCEC?
Yes. In my mind, it seemed just like a community garden where there would be one plot of land and the town residents would have a slice of it. Just like a vegetable garden. We could establish a solar power system where those homeowners who couldn’t have a system located on their own property could own a share of this solar garden.
How did you help make it happen?
We encouraged the group to find a piece of land and establish the legal framework, and I committed to trying to provide to those folks the same rebates that owners of rooftop systems received.
The results were great, because a number of people came together, identified the property, worked out the legal structure and rent payment, the taxes associated with it, and it’s under construction by the folks who envisioned it. That concept of the community garden has since blossomed elsewhere in the country and is now known as community, or shared, solar. This is the first mass-market offering of community solar in the state and a big step towards democratizing access to solar power. It’s starting in two of the three load zones, or transmission areas, and will grow from there.
What else does the future hold?
If you look at the numbers, community solar has the potential to dwarf rooftop solar, because the market is so much bigger. The data is clear that only 20% of the population can take advantage of rooftop, leaving 80% for community solar, as we found in Harvard.
I want to see every ratepayer with a piece of some solar system, whether on their roof or as part of a community solar system.
There are, however, still significant governing factors like policy issues around the net metering cap and how solar gets compensated fairly for the benefits it provides, while paying fairly for the electric grid services it uses. There was huge market expansion under the leadership of Gov. Patrick, who’s very supportive of the solar industry. We need Gov. Baker and the legislature to be equally supportive and push to advance solar policy.
Has enough progress been made?
I always want things done faster. Community solar hasn’t been an engineering problem, it’s a complicated legal and tax problem, but we’re at the end of it. I hope community solar sees its full potential and everyone who wants an effective fixed price for electricity for 20 years gets it and doesn’t have to rely on the volatile price that a utility charges. Purchasers get the same rebates today for community solar as rooftop, which is what I wanted to make happen years ago.
So you must feel good about that?
Yes, because our region has no natural resources other than offshore wind and solar. So, I think for the economy, national security and a healthy energy mix, you need the diversification of solar.
For homeowners who can’t have on-site systems, community solar is as good as rooftop, because a community solar owner gets the same electricity, green attributes and financial incentives. They get the same benefits of solar without having it on their property.
How do you feel about your role in jumpstarting this?
It was a minor role. I was a huge, vocal supporter of community solar. I thought it was a terrific way to give equal access to so many more residents of Massachusetts.
What’s the future of rooftop solar in particular?
The rapid reduction in the cost of on-site storage – batteries – will enable all rooftop solar system owners to go completely off the grid, cost effectively. The future’s bright for all solar.
Patrick Cloney was the founding CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (2009 to 2012) and designed the Solarize Mass program. He is now an industry consultant.