The National Community Solar Partnership, a Department of Energy (DOE) program, set an ambitious goal of enabling enough community solar projects to power the equivalent of 5 million households, and achieve $1 billion in combined energy bill savings. This goal aligns with the DOE’s greater target of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and places a focus on ensuring that American citizens can meaningfully access the benefits of the energy transition.
DOE reports that by year’s end 2020, about 3GW of community solar in the US was active, enough to power about 600,000 homes. The community solar model only represents about 8% of the total distributed solar capacity in the nation. This target would entail a jump from 3GW installed capacity to 20GW by 2025. DOE estimates customers enrolling in community solar will save an average of about 20% on energy bills.
There are some barriers to entry that have kept community solar a relatively small portion of the generation mix. Less than half of the states currently have supportive policies. Many community solar projects face interconnection issues, uncertainty around financing and maintaining subscriber enrollment. Currently, sixteen states have codified community solar into their renewable portfolio standards, requiring grid controllers to interconnect such projects to the grid.
Income level is another significant barrier to adopting solar. Particularly, owning a rooftop solar system can be difficult to have the upfront funds or proper credit score to qualify for. Households earning less than $100k represent 2/3 of all US households but adopted less than half of all residential solar systems in 2018. The contrast is even more stark for those households earning less than $50k per year. Community solar may offer a pathway for Americans that would otherwise not be able to own or lease a system.
The National Community Solar Partnership looks to identify and reduce these barriers to hit the topline target. It is increasing its investment in technical experience and capacity building. For 2022, the Partnership will invest $1 million in technical assistance, which is provided on a rolling basis to registered partners.
Currently, there is no federal legislation to support community solar. The Partnership instead will work with states to develop and administer their own policies. This month, the Partnership will launch a States Collaborative to convene and support states in policymaking.
DOE will also launch the Credit Ready Solar Initiative to standardize the process to apply for community solar project financing. Philanthropic dollars may play a role in providing additional lending or grants to cover financing gaps. A Credit Ready Learning Lab will help small or new community solar developers learn about the ins and outs of community solar project funding.
The program is also developing a tool that matches recipients of other federally managed low-income programs with available community solar subscriptions. This tool can both reduce energy costs for program participants and make it easier for developers to connect with potential subscribers.
Finally, the Partnership plans to build awareness and understanding of community solar through a network of community-level promoters. This is particularly important in communities where there is a history of predatory energy providers, said DOE.
Watch the annual 2022 summit below:
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