Community solar expands the benefits of solar energy to more households through a shared solar installation. This innovative business model is changing both who can go solar and how those benefits are shared. Nearly half of U.S. households and businesses lack a rooftop suitable for solar panels or don’t own their own roof. Community solar can be a viable path for these and other households to access the benefits of clean energy.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) brings together community solar stakeholders across the country to overcome barriers to expanding community solar access, such as lack of capacity or technical expertise, access to financing, state engagement, customer acquisition and management, and outreach and education through the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP).
Developers, subscriber organizations, utilities, states, and communities interested in deploying community solar can participate in NCSP’s programs. One example of these is the Community Power AcceleratorTM, a platform that supports the development of a pipeline of ‘credit-ready’ community solar projects and connects them with investors and philanthropic organizations to get them funded. With NCSP’s ongoing investments in expanding community solar, more Americans will have access to affordable solar power and the benefits that come with it.
Benefits of Community Solar
If you are subscribed to a community solar project, you will receive credits from that system, typically on your electricity bill. Like with a rooftop solar system, monthly savings will vary based on how much electricity the system is producing and how much electricity you use. NCSP targets at least a 20% reduction in electricity bills for community solar subscribers, but according to NREL data, savings vary from 5% to as much as 25%. Community solar has the potential to reduce the energy burden of low-income households, which pay three times more of their monthly income on energy bills than others.
Community solar can support economic growth through local job creation, improved grid resilience, and community ownership where projects are installed. Additional economic benefits of community solar can include increased property values and the retention of wealth within communities, especially for community-owned systems. Where direct ownership of solar systems is not possible or desirable, community solar may provide other economic opportunities for subscribers and their communities through community benefit agreements or other innovative approaches to reinvest the monetary benefits of a community solar project back into the local community, such as donating subscriptions to local community-serving organizations, reinvesting earnings to fund other projects, or hiring local organizations to do community outreach to potential customers.
Grid Resilience and Reliability
When paired with battery storage, community solar projects and programs can increase grid reliability and resilience with their ability to deliver power during grid outages and help restore power faster after a service disruption. When operated as a microgrid, community solar systems can ‘island’ themselves and continue to operate if the larger grid goes down. Community solar projects may offer supplementary resilience benefits when they are co-located with resilience hubs, or public-serving facilities that can provide information and services to help communities be prepared and well-resourced before, during, and after emergency events.
Owning your Power Production
Community solar programs enable households and communities that lack access to rooftop solar to own their energy future. Community solar opens the door to community ownership of solar energy systems, which allows community members—or organizations that reflect the interests of those members—to have equity ownership rights in a community solar project. Ownership also gives members a voice to determine how a community solar project is developed and how its benefits are distributed.
Clean energy generation helps our country reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, which reduces air pollution and helps mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Community solar projects can further benefit the environment when they are co-located with pollinator-friendly habitats or when they are sited on brownfields or other contaminated land, generating clean energy from otherwise unusable land.
What’s Happening with Community Solar in SETO?
- This year’s 2023 NCSP Annual Summit highlighted new programs and progress toward NCSP’s goals.
- Community Power AcceleratorTM: This program is working to create an ecosystem of partners to finance and deploy more equity-based community solar projects.
- Community Power Accelerator Prize: This $10 million prize competition seeks to accelerate community solar in underrepresented communities through increasing access to capital.
- Sunny Awards for Equitable Community Solar: This prize highlights the best community solar programs and projects that deliver meaningful benefits to community solar subscribers and their communities.
- Credit-Ready Checklist: Lenders, philanthropic organizations, and developers will use the items on this checklist to start initial conversations about funding for community solar projects. Lenders, philanthropic organizations, and developers will use the items on this checklist to start initial conversations about funding for community solar projects.
- Community Solar Subscription Tool: This tool aims to make community solar subscriptions more accessible to households participating in government-run low-income support programs. NCSP has launched the Low-Income Community Solar and Energy Assistance Fellowship program to support the implementation of the tool.
- The Community Power Accelerator Learning Lab: This online program, initially open to Community Power Accelerator Prize participants, provides step-by-step training on community solar project development and business models.
DOE Efforts in this Space
- The National Community Solar Partnership
- National Community Solar Partnership Targets
- National Community Solar Partnership Initiatives
- Community Solar Resources
- Community Solar Market Trends
- NCSP Technical Assistance
- Solar Lending Professional Training – Virtual Series
- National Community Solar Partnership Annual Update Webinar
- Community Solar Basics
- Join the Club: Building Community Solar Projects
- Delivering Power to the People through Community Solar
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