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Shared solar – a cheaper, better way to go for electricity

Shared solar can help low-income customers get in on the solar development.

Rooftop solar can be expensive, even with incentives or leasing programs, leaving low-income ratepayers out. Shared solar can let them in on the benefits of solar. A couple of recent reports show how.

solar shared models

text-relevantLove solar power but got no rooftop? “Shared solar” is coming for you.
Vox  [excellent pictures] by  on March 24, 2016  To date, solar power has mostly been available to utilities (as big power plants) or individual home and business owners (as rooftop panels).

Left out has been … well, everyone else, those of us who are not utility executives and do not have the money, wherewithal, or suitable rooftops to install solar ourselves. That’s a lot of people who love solar power but have no way to get directly involved in it.

 Happily, that situation is rapidly changing, thanks to the growth of shared solar. Shared solar refers to small-scale solar installations that multiple individuals co-own, or that divide their power output among multiple “subscribed” individuals. It’s a way for all those non-rooftop folks to directly support clean energy, while also supporting local jobs and economic development.

Here’s how shared solar fits into the larger energy picture, how it works, its benefits and drawbacks, and its future potential……There are two kinds of community-scale solar. The first is utility-owned, with power sold to utility customers — a traditional arrangement between a utility and a power plant developer, just on a smaller scale. Lots of smaller utilities, municipals, and co-ops are getting into this.

The other is shared solar, in which customers a) share ownership of a community-scale PV array, b) “subscribe” to the power output of such an array, or c) both.

Existing community-scale solar is split roughly half and half between those two types.

How many shared solar projects are there? From a new report by Deloitte:

In 2010, only two shared solar projects existed [in the US]. Today 77 utilities administer 111 projects across 26 states, accounting for a combined capacity of about 106 megawatts (MW).

That’s a tiny base — less than 1 percent of installed solar PV capacity, according to GTM — but growth is accelerating.

According to RMI, if you include both types, community-scale solar could grow to 30 GW capacity by 2020.

Typically, customers “subscribe” to a shared solar project. Some subscribe to a certain amount of capacity (say, the output of one panel), measured in kW. Some subscribe to a certain amount of power, measured in kWh. The credit for the power appears on a customer’s utility bill.

Who runs these things? “Shared solar arrays,” writes NREL, “can be hosted and administered by a variety of entities, including utilities, solar developers, residential or commercial landlords, community and nonprofit organizations, or a combination thereof.”

Exactly who can build and run a shared solar project depends on whether it is located in a regulated or deregulated energy market (more on that in a second) and what type of utility service area it’s in.

Shared solar is overwhelmingly driven, at least at the moment, by customer demand. So it makes sense that the utilities most responsive to their customers — co-ops, where customers are also owners — are leading the way on shared solar projects.

Deloitte offers this information-packed breakdown of shared solar by utility type:………

Benefits of shared solar

Shared solar has many of the benefits of distributed “behind-the-meter” solar and many of the benefits of larger solar power plants, with few of the drawbacks of either.

Like utility-scale solar, it enjoys economies of scale and simple, established financing models; unlike utility-scale solar, it can squeeze into almost any surface or piece of land, near existing transmission or distribution lines.

Like distributed, behind-the-meter solar it is low risk, can be sited near existing load, increases the resilience of the distribution grid, and satisfies the powerful consumer craving for solar power; at the same time, it is cheaper, simpler (fewer contracts per kW of capacity), and more inclusive than behind-the-meter solar.

Utilities, especially investor-owned utilities, aren’t in love with it (to them it’s just a more expensive version of a solar plant), but if they get their act together, they can use small, strategically sited shared solar projects to ease grid congestion or avoid expensive new grid investments………..

Shared solar can bring solar to low-income customers

One benefit is worth calling out in particular: Shared solar can help low-income customers get in on the solar craze.

Rooftop solar can be expensive, even with incentives or leasing programs, leaving low-income ratepayers out. Shared solar can let them in on the benefits of solar. A couple of recent reports show how.

One is the “Low-Income Solar Policy Guide,” from a coalition of groups including GRID Alternatives, Vote Solar, and the Center for Social Inclusion. The other is from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC): “Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions.”

Both get into the technical weeds on program design and financing………


March 26, 2016 - Posted by | decentralised, USA

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