Community solar was built around the idea of a virtual and offsite clean energy service for its customers. Eliminating the high cost and physical installation of solar panels was primarily intended to open access to solar energy for those unable to invest in or install rooftop solar.
In today’s new reality, the value proposition of community solar to the grid, its customers, and the environment remains strong. For community solar to continue to scale rapidly during these times, turning to existing community solar software services can lend momentum to slow or stalled developments, all while safeguarding the value in existing projects. Digital management platforms offer three main services that help developers quickly access resources to combat complexity and set themselves up for success.
Standardize operations digitally
Successful community solar development involves harmonizing three complex workflows: construction, financing, and subscriber acquisition and management; a daunting endeavor when program rules and market conditions vary from state-to-state, and utility-to-utility.
The critical minutiae of subscriber acquisition and management — kilowatt-hour and meter allocations, consumer protection, billing, and retention — impacts the full spectrum of community solar development workflows. A robust and flexible software service can help transition subscriber operations to a fully digital environment and standardize the most complicated parts of community solar, particularly monetizing community solar credits.
With a scalable, cloud-based platform as the foundation for operations, developers can reliably integrate subscriber-based revenue management into their project development operations with real-time transparency, access to essential data and automated regulatory compliance.
Deliver new capacity in the volatile short term
Our collective lives moved online in 2020. For the safety and health of our communities, it is now where we buy, learn and socialize. This is forcing every business in nearly every industry to find new ways to engage customers and continue providing services in a safe and effective way.
The solar industry is no different. While we know new development is set to slow, potentially significantly, there are still hundreds of megawatts of new community solar capacity near completion that will soon come on-line. By utilizing software services for customer acquisition and retention, community solar developers and operators can ensure that current solar subscriptions for each project remain full, while focusing on new project deals.
Plan for the long-term
The transition to fully digital operations has long-term benefits that will help the industry plan for growth and change in the future. By utilizing digital management services for full project operations, we can capture a massive data set on subscribers and project development. That data can be used to better understand what motivates subscribers, what features they are most interested in and why they discontinue services.
Data collected from project development can help portfolio managers allocate the most efficient resource mix for customers and give project developers clear signals on when to start subscribing, permitting updates and utility timelines, all as part of the project buildout.
A digital platform ready to help today
When Pivot Energy first developed SunCentral, we sought to create a cloud-based, customizable solution to manage projects and create value for subscribers. We also wanted to bring in some standardization into a segment of the industry that is inconsistent program to program.
Since launch, we’ve upgraded to help companies capture project data, simplify project operations, and create a more enjoyable customer experience. We program state and utility rules directly when they sign up, as well as allocation processes, and billing processes.
Despite obvious hurdles for the solar industry that will unfold in the coming months, an opportunity remains for developers and aggregators alike to utilize community software services to maximize current capacity for the short-term, and build a more robust industry for the long-term.
Brit Gibson, VP of client services for SunCentral has four years’ experience managing community solar portfolios on behalf of leading community solar developers and owner/operators in 16 states.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.
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