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Community Solar: Helping Bring Solar Power to the Masses

Sullivan Solar Power

Some homeowners aren’t ready to go solar on their own, but the idea of joining forces with their neighbors or an entire community might be more appealing.

This idea is called community solar and has been getting a lot of attention lately. For low-income energy customers who can’t afford the entire cost of installing a solar power system of their own and property owners who live in rural areas not widely served by solar power companies, community solar can be the ticket to energy independence and reduced utility bills.

The future of community solar programs was the topic of an expert panel discussion this week at Intersolar North America, a solar power industry conference held in San Francisco.

California is on Board With Community Solar

California is one of a dozen states that have community solar rules in place. According to Erica McConnell, an attorney for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, the state launched its community solar program in 2015, which allows shared solar systems to be up to 20 megawatts and requires them to be within 10 miles of the customers it is serving.

“The goal of community solar is to expand renewable energy to a broader group of energy consumers and support existing renewable energy programs,” McConnell said, adding that some of the factors that govern a community solar program are the number of participants, the location and size of the shared system and what will be required for customers to take part.

Community Solar has Room to Grow

Paul Spencer, CEO and Founder of Clean Energy Collective, said his firm started working on community solar programs in 2009 and now works with 27 utilities across 12 states, serving thousands of customers.

“The only thing that’s uniform about community solar is that it’s not uniform,” Spencer said, noting that community solar programs are handled individually on local levels depending on where they are located.

According to Spencer, community solar has grown rapidly, starting with just two such arrangements operating in 2010 and growing to 120. Based on some estimates, community solar has the potential to be a $40 billion business by 2020.

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