Community Solar Problems - Solutions Are Coming
In July Aaron Clay of SunSwarm and I presented on community solar problems and paths forward as part of the American Solar Energy Society conference*. Whether you call it community solar, shared solar or if you are pursuing Community Choice Aggregation, there are incremental challenges awaiting project developers at the front and back ends of the solar project development cycle.
The Promise of Community Solar
Most of us are familiar with the promise of community solar: economies of scale on larger systems optimally sited for maximum solar resource and economic interconnect, a huge potential market and the prospect of selling energy at close to retail rates. But is the promise big enough to outweigh the problems?
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Shared Solar Problems - Origination
Seasoned solar developers take care to conduct feasibility studies and qualify their projects early on. Before investing in site control or approaching an electricity consumer who might host their own solar facility, experienced developers will determine approximate solar insolation, avoided cost of energy (ACOE), net energy metering policy, power purchase agreement (PPA) and third party ownership (TPO) eligibility, incentive policy, have a good handle on local zoning, environmental and permitting requirements, and they'll run financial models to ensure the development effort can be adequately rewarded. Helio supports these scoping and development efforts so independent EPCs, contractors and developers can focus on origination.
Developers pursuing solar projects have an even more daunting up-front project qualification checklist: they must understand local virtual net energy metering policylimitations, varied shared solar policy limitations, model for multiple offtakers, and plan for offtaker marketing and acquisition:
Community Solar Problems...Solved!
Fortunately, our dynamic little industry seems up to the task. Startups like SunSwarm and the Clean Energy Collective are developing community solar platforms that help with energy policy, tax and security laws compliance, facilitate marketing and off-taker acquisition, provide for billing and ongoing customer management. The Sunswarm's platform is being built with independently owned and developed projects in mind, while the Clean Energy Collective's approach caters to utility-driven shared solar programs. Expect other platforms to emerges soon.