Community solar and the large corporate user quandary
Community solar, a model where customers purchase a portion of the energy produced by a solar array system, has been gaining traction across the United States. Just within the last two months, the Obama administration announced plans to provide financial and educational support for community solar in low- and medium-income neighborhoods.
SolarCity, the nation’s largest installer of residential solar panels, announced its first community solar project. Twenty-four U.S. states have at least one community solar project online, and Green Tech Media research predicted a seven-fold increase in community solar installations over the next two years alone.
Until now, community solar largely has benefited residential and small non-residential customers in a specific community. Yet other stakeholders also want to get into the shared renewable space — large corporate buyers.
When being big is not helpful
A community solar garden (CSG) or shared renewables program offers an affordable, convenient way of providing renewable energy to customers who do not have access to rooftop space or who are unable to afford the upfront costs of installing rooftop solar panels.
Customers subscribe to a certain percentage of the renewable energy supplied by a “garden,” or collection of solar panels concentrated in a single site, which can encompass anywhere from 10 kilowatts (kW) to 20 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity, depending largely on state regulations and utility program caps. Subscribers usually then receive a credit on their utility bills for the amount of energy produced from their share of the CSG.
For those 13 states and the District of Columbia with shared renewables policies in place, there are clear restrictions on how big a system can be in order to qualify as a CSG.