SEPA Awarded U.S. Department of Energy $700K Award to Conduct Community Solar Study

Project aimed at developing models, marketing strategies to expand community solar

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) today announced that it has received a $705,830 competitive award from the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative for a first-of-its-kind project aimed at accelerating the spread of community solar energy programs across the country.

The collaborative research project will draw on expertise from utilities, solar developers, nonprofits and other organizations to develop easily adoptable models for community solar project design and marketing -- all aimed at accelerating the growth of these increasingly popular programs. The SEPA project is one of 15 receiving the SunShot competitive awards as part of the initiative's Solar Market Pathways program.

"Say community solar' and -- depending on where you're saying it -- the term could have different meanings," said Becky Campbell, SEPA's Senior Manager of Research and Advisory Services, who will lead the project. "For some, it's a solar garden' allowing individual customers to lease one or more panels, while for others it could be a remote or virtual net metering program under which groups of individuals co-own a single project, with each receiving a utility bill credit proportional to their share.

"The diversity of programs show how popular these programs are becoming," Campbell said. "But what SEPA has seen, as we track community solar projects across the country, is that multiplicity can also, unintentionally, become an obstacle to the kinds of basic, easily adoptable models for program design and marketing that could spur even more widespread growth."

Key components of the two-year research project will include:

-- Program model development: SEPA will form a cross-industry working group that will identify and assess different community solar programs being used nationwide, with a focus on the cost-benefit values for customers, utilities and the solar industry. Based on this research, SEPA and the working group will release a report laying out a number of core models for community solar.
-- Research on market demographics and messaging: Working with Shelton Group, a marketing research and consulting firm, SEPA will conduct in-depth research -- including surveys and focus groups -- on how different market segments view community solar. The goal here will be to connect the resulting market insights with model program designs to develop effective communications strategies and best practices for targeting and expanding community solar markets.
-- Practical applications: In addition to publicly available reports, SEPA also plans a series of workshops, webinars, articles and other public education efforts on the project results. The SunShot funding will also allow SEPA to work with eight different utilities to help them set up community solar programs.

"We've been polling Americans about the attitudes and behaviors related to energy consumption for more than 10 years, so we are very much dialed into perceptions of and desire for solar energy," said Suzanne Shelton, President and CEO of Shelton Group. "For this project, we'll evaluate reactions to specific models for community solar among both residential consumers and businesses to identify what makes these programs compelling and the potential differences in perceptions by customer class, demographics, industry sectors and geography."

"Duke Energy sees community solar as an opportunity to expand this energy resource -- bringing it to customers who may not have direct access to renewable energy," said Justin LaRoche, business development manager at Duke Energy, which has already committed to taking part in the project's industry working group. "It is a natural extension of our existing business of providing reliable electric service to our customers."

"People want choices in their energy supply; they want solar," said Julia Hamm, SEPA's President and CEO. "From careful siting at key locations on the grid to providing local jobs, we see huge benefits in these projects. Having basic, easily adaptable models should help minimize risks and uncertainties and help more utilities and communities stand up their own community solar programs."

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) is an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to helping utilities integrate solar energy into their portfolios for the benefit of these businesses, the solar industry and the public at large. SEPA provides industry research, and educational and professional networking events and co-sponsors PV America and Solar Power International. For more information, visit

Shelton Group is a marketing communications agency entirely focused in the energy and environment space. The firm works with many of America's leading utility, building products and consumer goods companies to develop marketing strategies and campaigns to leverage their energy and environmental commitments for a market advantage. For more information, visit

Solar Market Pathways is a project of the Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative. With more than $14 million in funding, the program seeks to support regional, state, tribal, and locally driven efforts to develop multi-year solar deployment plans that will help provide business certainty and establish a clear path for solar deployment for the next five to ten years. Specifically, funding is intended to enable replicable, multi-year strategies that spur significant solar deployment, drive down solar soft costs, support local economic development efforts, and address the potential challenges arising from increased solar penetration on the electrical grid.

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, the Energy Department supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Learn more at

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