Below is the text version for the video, Technical Assistance: Community Solar. In this video, Jenny Heeter of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) discusses community solar as it relates to multifamily affordable housing facilities as part of the technical assistance offered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP).

Text Version

[Music plays, title screen shows “Energy Transitions Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy: Partnership Project, Technical Assistance”]

[Woman wearing headphones starts speaking]

Hi, everyone, I am Jenny Heeter. I am a senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Lab. And my background is in renewable energy markets and policy. I’ve been at the lab for about 11 years and have done various work mostly focused on solar, in particular, focusing on community solar, which I’ll talk about today. So I’m going to focus today on community solar as well as solar on multifamily affordable housing facilities. This is work that NREL has spent a long time in tracking markets and helping provide technical assistance to entities looking to develop these types of projects as well as other folks like state energy offices and institutions that might try to implement a project.

So I want to talk about community solar just to make sure everybody’s on the same page. Community solar is a model where one large array is installed and individuals, businesses, organizations purchase a share of that larger solar array. In return for that, they will get a bill credit on their electricity bill that pays them for the output of that generation. So we’ve seen this model evolve over the past 10 years.

[PowerPoint slide shows on screen with the title, “Community Solar Opportunity Space.” Five bullet points state: 49% of residential households cannot install a PV system; Through the end of 2019, there was about 2 GW of installed community solar capacity (representing 3.6% of the total solar market); Community solar deployment is heavily concentrated in only a few states; About 30 MW of community solar in operation are required to serve LMI consumers (about 1%); and Community solar to date has focused on delivering benefits to the project developer/owner and subscribers.

Graph to the right shows Community Solar and Market Share growing over the past 9 years from 2010 to 2019]

Currently, we’re getting close to around two gigawatts of installed community solar capacity in the United States. It is concentrated in a handful of states that have developed supportive policies and seen a lot of market growth. But, overall, we still do see development of some type of project in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

[Video returns to woman wearing headphones speaking]

A related type of project structure is solar on multifamily affordable housing. This is an area that has seen interest as states, utilities and others are thinking about how to get the benefits of solar to low-income electricity rate payers. And one way to streamline that transaction or that allocation of benefits is to focus on these multifamily affordable housing buildings where one single project can be installed on the rooftop. And then entities can in some cases give a bill credit directly to their tenants. If that’s not possible because tenants are not paying their own electricity bills, there might just be one meter for the entire building or different structures. So if that is the case, then there are other ways that folks are thinking about trying to provide some of the savings as benefits to tenants in other ways. So these two different types of structures are essentially looking at how to provide savings for solar to folks who may not be able to install or don’t choose to install a solar project on their own facility.

When we think about questions that might be useful for our community to ask when thinking about community solar, one of the biggest ones is really what is the main driver for your interest in community solar or solar on multifamily affordable housing? Some communities might be interested in pairing their solar array with a storage project and providing that resilience benefit. Other communities might be interested in ensuring that everyone in their community has access to solar and the lower electricity bill that might come as a result of that solar installation. Other communities might have different goals. They might be focused on carbon reduction. They might be focused really on providing solar to low-income residents in particular. So thinking through what are the goals of your project can really be helpful as you figure out what the best structure for that project might be.

So in this space NREL has been working with the Department of Energy on the National Community Solar Partnership.

[PowerPoint slides shows, “National Community Solar Partnership Elements” with three main points including, “Network: Partners have access to an online community platform, virtual and in-person meetings, webinars and other tools to engage with DOE and National Lab staff as well as each other; Collaboration: Structured groups of partners form around specific goals to address common barriers in specific community solar sectors by learning from each other and sharing resources; and Technical Assistance: Partners have access to technical assistance resources from DOE, its National Laboratories, and third-party subject-matter experts for support on unique local challenges.

Callout box on the left-hand side: “To learn more and join the NCSP: /eere/solar/national-community-solar-partnership”]

And as part of that partnership program, we have provided technical assistance to a number of entities, more than 40 entities to help them develop projects or programs.

[Video returns to woman wearing headphones speaking]

And some of the most interesting projects have been focused on providing that bill credit to low-income customers or other customers in unique and innovative ways. We’ve also seen at the state level some states interested in how they can pair a community solar project or a behind-the-meter rooftop project with a storage array.

So the best example of this in terms of community solar and storage is in Massachusetts where their state incentive framework does provide incentives for both community solar as well as storage. And developers are able to pair those two credits together to maximize the value that they’ll receive for generation from those combined projects. But we’ve also seen a few other states take interest in this. New York should have some community solar and storage projects coming online in the next year or so as well. And we’ve also seen interest by some of our smaller utilities like municipal utilities and cooperative utilities and pairing storage with their community solar project so that they can maximize the benefits of that solar project to the grid as well as to their individual subscribers.

[Music plays, title screen with “Energy Transitions Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy – Partnership Project | Technical Assistance, Office of Strategic Programs| Solar Energy Technologies Office| Water Power Technologies Office | Office of Electricity]