In order to help make solar energy more inclusive, and to bring the benefits of solar out to a larger group of people, those in low- and moderate- income communities who wouldn’t otherwise have access to this clean energy source, the Obama administration rolled out a national solar initiative this past July, and one of its key components, a private-public community solar partnership, is now starting to really come together.
At last week’s National Community Solar Summit at the US White House, a number of new cities, states, and businesses committed to being part of the National Community Solar Partnership, bringing the total number of organizations on board the mission of scaling up solar for all to 68. These new partners join the collaboration initially formed by the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), representatives from solar companies, NGOs, and some state and local community leaders.
Community solar is a feasible and economically viable means to cleaner energy for a larger demographic, as it allows for the pooling of resources from multiple households (and businesses) in order to invest in a shared solar electric system, which all participants can benefit from. But this ‘solar for all’ model hasn’t grown in nearly the same manner as residential solar has, and it is hoped that the National Community Solar Partnership will be able to help unlock this potential renewable energy opportunity, which will benefit not only the participants, but also help grow the overall solar capacity and market across the country.
According to Energy.gov,
“A recent DOE and NREL report estimates that nearly 50% of consumers and businesses are unable to host photovoltaic (PV) systems due to a number of factors. These consumers and businesses include those that do not own their building (i.e., renters) and/or those that do not have access to sufficient roof space (e.g., high-rise buildings, multi-unit housing, malls). By opening the market to these customers, shared solar could represent 32%–49% of the distributed PV market in 2020, thereby leading to growing cumulative PV deployment growth in by 2020 of 5.5–11.0 GW, and representing $8.2–$16.3 billion of cumulative investment.”
Community solar also has the ability to have a larger effect on the budgets of those in low- to mid-income households, as their “energy burden” is proportionately larger:
“Low-income households, which spend four times greater proportion of their income on energy than the national median, can see significant benefits from community solar. Access to solar power could substantially reduce the energy burden of low-income households by providing stable electricity prices below local utility rates.” – WhiteHouse.gov
According to the press release, the total number of pledges from private sector organizations to advance community solar in support of the Partnership has now reached $545 million across 21 US states, and will help it scale up to reach more than 20,000 households. The full list of the National Community Solar Partnership members, which includes 21 private sector businesses, 26 nonprofits, 15 governmental organizations, 5 utility companies, and 3 universities, is available at Energy.gov.
The Department of Energy is also helping advance community solar through its SunShot Initiative, which aims to help local governments and utilities create community solar programs, and is currently seeking applicants for the next cycle of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, which can include community solar projects.