This partnership marks an important milestone in the quest to significantly broaden the availability of affordable, local clean energy production to residential and commercial ratepayers.

First Solar Strategic Investment in Clean Energy Collective (CEC)

Contributed by | First Solar

First Solar, Inc., leading global provider of comprehensive photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, and Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the country’s leading community solar developer announced that they have formed a strategic partnership to develop and market community solar offerings to residential and business customers directly on behalf of utilities. This partnership marks an important milestone in the quest to significantly broaden the availability of affordable, local clean energy production to residential and commercial ratepayers.

Clean Energy Collective (CEC), based in Louisville, Colorado, is the nation’s leading community solar developer. Since establishing the first community-owned solar garden in the country in 2010 near El Jebel, Colorado, CEC has built or has under development more than 40 community solar projects with 18 utility partners across eight states, representing 36 MW of community solar capacity. CEC has facilities serving ratepayers in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The foundation of CEC’s successful strategy is its first-of-its-kind corporate, tax, and legal structure and proprietary software that make community-owned solar highly functional, scalable, and exportable.

What does this deal mean for First Solar?

This deal substantially strengthens First Solar’s entry as a solutions provider in the residential and business solar markets. It is a key component of First Solar’s distributed generation strategy.

What does this deal mean for CEC?

This deal is a major validation of the viability and scalability of CEC’s community solar solution. It affords CEC a direct channel to high-quality components and technical expertise, and efficient access to capital that will deliver even greater efficiency and value for consumers and utilities. It also provides additional confidence to CEC’s customers and partners in our long-term growth potential.

What were the key drivers that led both companies to enter into this deal?

Both First Solar and CEC believe that community solar represents the largest growth potential for the residential, commercial and municipal solar user markets due to the model’s broad accessibility to any electricity ratepayer. 

First Solar has investigated multiple strategies for the residential market that leverage the company’s strengths and drive value for its investors. The community solar model clearly shone as the appropriate path for First Solar to enter this market, because it is a model that works for both customers and utilities and addresses many of the issues surrounding rooftop solar.

CEC was interested in the opportunity for market expansion through growing its number of utility partnerships.  As the industry leader in utility scale solar installations, First Solar maintains existing relationships to facilitate this growth. First solar also provided the needed financial backing to support CEC’s aggressive market expansion goals and provides the access to the latest solar technology and support services that will sustain CEC’s customers for the long-term.

What are First Solar’s long-term plans for the distributed generation market and how does this support those plans?

Community solar is recognized as the most efficient and cost effective model for broad customer accessibility in residential and commercial markets. It sits solidly on the continuum of distributed generation applications, which is a strategic segment First Solar is aggressively pursuing.  Distributed generation – including off-grid and hybrid installations, community solar projects, and energy access applications – remain a cornerstone of First Solar’s strategic plan.

What does CEC plan to do with the investment?

This investment will help CEC accelerate nationwide market development by partnering with more utilities to deliver a higher volume of community solar capacity, making solar more accessible to meet the demands of the growing residential, commercial and government markets.

How big is the market for residential solar and what portion do you think community solar can address?

The U.S. solar market is estimated to grow by $900 billion over the next three years, yet can only serve a small percentage of ratepayers. The total potential market size for community-owned solar is staggering, estimated at approximately 150 million customers, which is 7x larger than the maximum market potential of just over 22 million for onsite (rooftop) solar. Community solar allows any power consumer to “go solar,” including those who live in multi-tenant buildings, rent, or whose rooftops cannot accommodate solar panels.

The residential market potential for community solar can be defined as ALL ratepayers, nationwide, or 132,832,000 households, according to the 2013 US Census. There is no limitation to participation other than that a customer pays for his or her own utility bill.  With the understanding that traditional rooftop solar is only accessible to approximately 22% of the market, and that even those ideal rooftop environments can also opt for community solar, the community solar market potential is nearly 5x that of the current rooftop market.

Market success and new penetration opportunities are highest in states with favorable solar and solar garden legislation, with utilities shifting their portfolios to meet renewable standards, where retail energy rates are high, and in communities with environmentally focused values.

Community solar is also a viable, effective solution for commercial, municipal, non-profit, and governmental organizations.

What are the advantages of community solar versus rooftop solar?

CEC’s community-owned solar model offers an unmatched value proposition to both end users and utilities versus individual solar (owned or leased) and shared arrays offering a lease plan. Traditional-distributed generation, i.e. rooftop, necessitates considerable time evaluating, engineering and constructing on an optimally oriented, unshaded roof – that must also be owned by the end user. These solutions are often at odds with utilities and their business models, particularly over the net-metering amounts utilities must pay for the power these systems generate. Moreover, other shared-array solutions that offer a long-term lease remove the cost barrier to entry but sacrifice long-term value for customers.

Commercial grade community solar facilities are more efficient to build, much simpler to sell, and can deliver a more predictable payback for individual owners than many other renewable energy solutions. Consumers get the benefits of solar ownership, yet bypass the research, construction, and ongoing maintenance and repair required of a stand-alone system. It also provides customers with the flexibility of having the energy credits move with them within their utility territory, and the ability to sell their interest at any time.

How is the CEC model different from other shared solar offerings?

CEC enables its customers to directly own renewable energy equipment and all of their many benefits including the clean energy produced, tax credits, and rebates. (CEC offers an alternative to this model called SolarPerks™; see below for details.) Other solar farms only allow a customer to lease the equipment and do not allow customer access to tax credits and rebates, significantly minimizing the return to the customer.

CEC’s proprietary RemoteMeter™ system automatically calculates monthly credits for members and seamlessly integrates with utility billing systems to track and apply clean energy production credits directly on the customer’s bill, enabling energy customers and the utility to monitor their real-time clean energy production and account information online and via mobile devices.

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