Shared solar projects allow consumers to take advantage of solar energy’s myriad benefits, even though the system is not located on the consumer’s own rooftop. | Photo courtesy of the Vote Solar Initiative

For decades, typically only homeowners with enough rooftop space, the proper roof tilt, and just the right orientation to the Sun had the option to power their homes with solar. The average cost of solar panels has dropped precipitously over the last decade, making solar a rapidly growing and affordable source of clean, renewable power for U.S. consumers. About 360,000 U.S. households have installed solar energy systems to date.  However, many Americans face challenges adopting solar. Perhaps they rent instead of own, or share a roof with neighbors in a condominium building. Maybe their homes have north-facing roofs or too much shade.  

There’s good news for people in this predicament: an innovative model for solar deployment, called shared solar, can help Americans take advantage of solar energy’s many benefits regardless of their housing situation. Participants in a shared solar program contribute directly to the deployment of a solar energy system, typically by owning or leasing a portion of the system or purchasing some of its energy output. In turn, they can slash their electricity bills.

Existing shared solar programs managed by utilities, entrepreneurial communities, and innovative solar developers are reaching a largely untapped market and realizing the financial benefits of the purchasing power of larger groups.  Such programs have many siting options for solar energy systems, including municipal buildings, school and church rooftops, and reclaimed lands like landfills. Apartment residents can participate in offsite programs or join forces with neighbors by using their own shared rooftop. Additionally, the President’s Climate Action Plan directs agencies to achieve a goal of installing 100 megawatts of renewable energy on federally-subsidized housing by 2020- approximately a five-fold increase from today- and these units represent a prime opportunity to utilize shared solar.

The Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative supports innovative approaches to solar deployment, including shared solar, to help make solar energy fully cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade.  These efforts include early community solar group purchasing models and SunShot’s shared solar guidebook. Most recently, SunShot hosted a workshop that brought together stakeholders from the solar industry, utilities, nonprofit and community organizations, federal, state, and local government, and the legal and finance fields to discuss opportunities for spreading shared solar beyond the approximately 50 megawatts deployed today.

As with any emerging class of business models, challenges remain, but shared solar holds the promise—and significant market opportunity—to help make solar energy accessible to all.

Interested in finding out more about how you can get involved in a shared solar project? Contact your local utility to see what types of solar programs are offered. For more information about shared renewables, check out the SunShot Initiative’s Guide to Community Shared Solar and the Shared Renewables Headquarters website. For more information on how to design a shared solar program, check out Model Rules for Shared Renewables