Community Solar is undoubtedly one of the fastest growing sectors of the solar industry in the U.S. The first community solar projects were installed just a few years ago. Now a growing number of companies, utilities, organizations and governments are getting behind the idea. Today (Nov. 17) the White House made that clear with National Community Solar Summit where The White House showcased 68 partners—including cities, states and businesses—that have joined its National Community Solar Partnership.
"Since President Obama took office, the amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased nearly twenty fold," the White House said. "Since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system has dropped by 50 percent. However, nearly 50 percent of American households and businesses are renters or lack the capital and adequate roof space to install solar systems." Indeed, the White House has taken numerous actions to increase the amount of renewable energy in the U.S.
"Community solar has the potential to unlock economic growth across the United States while providing clean solar power to historically under served communities and allowing them to benefit from the falling costs and increased deployment of solar. Low-income households, which spend four times greater proportion of their income on energy than the national median, can see significant benefits from community solar," the Administration said. "Access to solar power could substantially reduce the energy burden of low-income households by providing stable electricity prices below local utility rates."
The appeal of community solar is obvious. Installing community solar power for a utility is like installing a larger solar project—it's easier for it to integrate into the grid. It's easier for installers to build a large, centralized system, where everything's purchased at once as opposed installing a series of homes or businesses, when everything is purchased on a case-by-case basis, leading to economies of scale that reduce the cost of solar power. Both of those factors make it easier for home or business owners—even renters—to reap the benefits of solar power—even if they can't install solar on their buildings.
The White House announcement builds on the partnerships announced this past July. "Today, we are announcing that, since July, more than 40 companies, organizations and universities have joined the effort to increase access to community solar, nearly tripling the number of partners to 68," the White House said.
Under the partnership businesses and local governments across the U.S. are placing a particular emphasis on making solar power more available to low- and moderate- income households through community solar projects. Through those commitments community solar projects are being built across 21 states representing investments of $545 million that will allow more than 20,000 households to go solar.
"We are pleased to see the commitment that these companies and organizations have shown in investing in community solar projects and SEIA, along with a number of SEIA members, are proud to be among the 68 partners that have pledged to increase community solar development," said Solar Energy and Industries Association President Rhone Resch. "The…provides a great jumpstart to scale up solar for the more than 20,000 low- and moderate income households that can now take advantage of the opportunity. It proves the model for successful deployment of solar across a range of diverse neighborhoods," he said.
The White House announced initiatives that promise to expand community solar int he future, too. For instance, RE-volv announced a crowdfunding platform it's launching in early 2016 to finance solar energy systems for nonprofits and cooperatives. The company won support from the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative Catalyst program to develop the platform. Meanwhile Sustainable Capital Advisors plans to deploy $25 million of private capital to finance community solar projects serving low- and moderate-income communities and Next Step Living committed to create 20,000 reservations for community solar arrays over the next 12 months.