National Community Solar Partnership Target: Enable community solar systems to power the equivalent of 5 million households and create $1 billion in energy savings by 2025
The National Community Solar Partnership set an ambitious target in October 2021 to enable community solar systems to power the equivalent of 5 million households and create $1 billion in energy savings by 2025. Reaching these milestones will help the nation achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035 and ensure that all Americans can reap the meaningful benefits of renewable energy including reduced energy burden, increased resilience, and workforce development.
Why this goal?
At the end of 2020 there was approximately 3 GWDC of community solar in the United States, enough to power the equivalent of 600,000 households. Of all distributed solar photovoltaics installed in the U.S., though, community solar represented just 8%.
Community solar is an important model for ensuring all Americans have access to the meaningful benefits of renewable energy, regardless of income, home ownership status, or the suitability of their roof for solar panels. But community solar development can face barriers that make it more difficult to deploy than other distributed solar.
Challenges to Community Solar Deployment
Community solar development can face significant barriers, including a lack of supportive policy. As of December 2021, fewer than half of U.S. states and territories had enacted legislation that supports community solar. Community solar projects are also inhibited by interconnection issues that do not usually arise for other distributed solar. It can be more difficult to finance community solar projects given uncertainty around maintaining subscriber enrollment.
Equity in Distributed Solar
The benefits of solar energy are not distributed equitably among all households. Households earning less than $100k represent 2/3 of all U.S. 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.
Some states have developed solar financing programs that target low- to moderate-income households, but many Americans remain unable to afford the up-front costs of solar or quality for loan, lease, and power purchase agreement. Additionally, solar financing mechanisms can be inflexible which can make them especially inaccessible for households with income fluctuations, employment, or housing transitions.
Accelerating Community Solar Deployment
The National Community Solar Partnership provides resources, technical assistance, and peer networking opportunities to its partners to help them overcome these persistent barriers to expanding community solar access, with a focus on those in disadvantaged communities. The Partnership has developed a set of initiatives that form a Pathway to Success for reaching its new target metric.
Find out more below about the initiatives on the Pathway to Success and how they enable equitable community solar deployment.
Expanding Technical Expertise and Capacity Building
The National Community Solar Partnership is increasing its investment in technical expertise and capacity building to accelerate community solar development that provides meaningful benefits for subscribers such as reduced energy bills, increased resilience, and workforce development. The Partnership will invest an additional $1M in its Technical Assistance program in FY22, which is now provided on a rolling basis to any organization or individual that has registered as a partner.
Increasing State Engagement
Currently, there is no federal legislation to support community solar. Instead, states can choose to develop and administer their own community solar policies and programs. While 22 states and Washington, D.C. have enabled community solar at some level, expansion of existing programs or development of new programs could have a dramatic impact on access to community solar. In February 2022, the National Community Solar Partnership will launch a States Collaborative to convene and support states to unlock state-level barriers to community solar deployment.
Improving Equitable Access to Financing
Access to affordable project financing remains a persistent barrier to community solar deployment, especially for small developers, community-owned projects, and projects that predominantly serve low- to moderate-income households. While many lenders have an interest in investing in community solar, the requirements to apply for financing can be confusing, difficult, and costly for new developers. The National Community Solar Partnership, in collaboration with lenders, philanthropy, developers, and community-focused organizations, is developing 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 predevelopment costs and other financing gaps. A Credit Ready Learning Lab will also be developed to help small developers and those new to community solar gain a deep understanding of project development and operations, with a particular focus on project funding.
Streamlining Customer Acquisition and Management
There are significant costs to developers associated with acquiring and maintaining low- to moderate-income community solar subscribers that can impact the bill savings passed to subscribers. The National Community Solar Partnership plans to develop 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.
Broaden Community Solar Messaging and Recognition
Broad awareness and understanding of community solar and its benefits remain limited. It can be challenging for state leaders, utilities, and developers to communicate and navigate the wide range of community solar business models and program benefits. This challenge can be exacerbated in communities with histories of predatory energy providers. The National Community Solar Partnership is supporting a community solar promotion initiative to elevate and amplify market influencers, highlight the meaningful benefits of equitable community solar, and recognize community solar products that provide benefits in line with program targets and the Justice40 initiative.