💡 What is Community Solar?
Community solar provides an alternate way to utilize renewable energy in instances where installing solar panels on your property or building is not an option. In most applications of community solar programs, subscribers buy or lease a portion of an off-site solar array owned and maintained by a developer or utility company. Subscribers are then credited on their utility bill for electricity generated by their portion of the system.
⚙️ How Does Community Solar Work?
Due to varying laws and regulations, community solar programs are designed and executed differently by individual organizations. But generally, there are three key players in a community solar program:
- Host - Owner of the site where the solar-array project is located.
- Sponsor - Manager of project subscribers and their relationship to the utility (sponsor and host can be the same entity).
- Subscribers - Residents, businesses, nonprofits, or local governments, who purchase a share of the electricity generated by the community solar project.
Community solar subscribers receive their benefits in the form of “solar credit” valued at the cost of energy at the time the energy was produced, this is a common utility policy called Virtual Net Metering. The sponsor tells the partnering utility how much electricity was produced from a solar array per subscriber, and the utility applies that solar credit to the resulting bill.
For the subscriber, billing and credits work differently state-by-state. Credits typically appear on your existing utility bill, but some programs award the credited value on a separate bill from the program sponsor. This double-bill scenario is one of the logistical growing pains of this technology and is slowly going away as states adopt policies that allow for a more streamlined exchange between utility, sponsor and buyer.
🌎 Where are Community Solar Programs Available?
The availability of community solar programs is dependent on state policies, willing organizations, and support from communities. Currently located in 42 states, only 20 of those states provide policy support to a total of 3.2 Gigawatts (GW) of installed community solar. State policies vary in scope, but generally provide a guideline for some form of virtual net metering, a critical component to enabling a community solar project.
Station A now offers site-based community solar analysis within our AI-powered clean energy grades. Visit stationa.com and enter an address to see if your business could benefit from a community solar subscription.
Community solar projects have risen exponentially since 2010, represented by about 121% year-over-year growth - installed capacity has doubled annually according to The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). More common in states with higher electricity costs, program availability comes down to if local utilities are incentivized to facilitate distributed solar generation. For example in Minnesota, the public utilities commission embraced renewable energy, developing an efficient & accessible community solar program in tandem with the state's largest investor-owned utility. As a result, this program has flourished, sustainably amassing a backlog of subscribers now awaiting more solar gardens to be developed.
📈 Where are Most Community Solar Projects Located?
Just in 2020, a year marred by uncertainty, about 1,107 MW-AC came online across the country from community solar. As of 2021, more than 90% of installed capacity is located in the top-10 states leading the community solar market, with more than 74% of cumulative capacity installed by the top-4:
- Florida (1636 MW-AC)
- Minnesota (834 MW-AC)
- New York (731 MW-AC)
- Massachusetts (673 MW-AC)
- Texas (323 MW-AC)
- Arkansas (183 MW-AC)
- Georgia (135 MW-AC)
- Colorado (119 MW-AC)
- Illinois (118 MW-AC)
- Maryland (58 MW-AC)
With increasing market participation, new community solar projects are increasing capacity to provide solar benefits to more people. While these programs vary in scale, they are designed to serve their community and typically reserve significant portions for smaller subscribers like residences. Community solar projects typically contain fewer commercial subscribers to anchor the project, this ensures capacity is available for a variety of subscribers.
✋ How Do I Get Started with a Community Solar Subscription?
First, see if a community solar program is likely to be available for your commercial building - Station A's free report cards assess both if your building is eligible and if there's a good possibility that a subscription may be available for your site. For example, while Florida has a significant amount of community solar projects built, at the time of this writing, they have all been fully subscribed for a year.
If your building is qualified, the next step is to find a community solar subscription that can match your building's energy consumption, which is not always easy to find especially for commercial buildings. Thankfully, Station A’s clean energy marketplace reaches a wide range of community solar developers and we facilitate a very lightweight RFP process to help you match with an upcoming subscription in real-time and more importantly, at no cost to you. All we need from you is your most recent electricity bills.
To initiate a project on the Station A Marketplace, schedule a 15 min consultation with one of our clean energy advisors, who will help you get started.
🌿 Engaging A Community with Solar Benefits
Community solar programs reflect their communities, as both a climate-conscious decision, and proven financial investment, participants are intent on saving money on electricity bills while contributing toward a more sustainable future. As a long-term installation, solar was previously a resource reserved for property owners, but community solar programs can provide a quicker path to access the cost and sustainability benefits of solar.
Station A data shows that a commercial building in the US stands to save an estimated average of $130K over a 10 year community solar subscription and reduce CO2 production an estimated average of 30T/year using community solar.
☀️ Community Solar through Station A
Station A bridges the gap between property owners/operators and existing clean energy programs with our AI-powered clean energy grading that automatically evaluates the availability of clean energy solutions for any commercial building, now including community solar.
Our platform strives to provide buyers with apples-to-apples proposal comparisons through an open bidding process through our network of over two thousand trusted and qualified clean energy providers from the biggest names to the newest upstarts.
Expanding access to clean energy is the key to both our marketplace and community solar programs, growing our addressable market to provide more clean energy to those who couldn’t access it before. Many buildings are already ideal candidates for commercial solar, but even more can access this sustainable technology through a community-centric solar solution. Still providing all the benefits solar comes with like significant bill savings while working towards corporate energy and sustainability goals.
Evaluate your building today to learn if community solar could be a solution to sustainably reducing your electricity costs.
* There are no upfront costs to receive a clean energy grade for your building or to post a project RFP in the Station A marketplace. Station A collects a success fee from providers only upon a successful project initiation.