Community Solar Blooms

It’s a wonder that shared solar took so long to trend, since not everyone can have a solar farm on the roof or yard. But better late than never, if you read the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s latest report, which crunched the numbers and found that shared solar could become anywhere from 30-50 percent of the distributed PV market by 2020. That’s the year that, equalling $8-16 billion in investment, shared solar could also spark deployment growth of 5-11 gigawatts, starting, well, right now.

The only thing standing in the way is business as usual.

“Historically, PV business models and regulatory environments have not been designed to expand access to a significant portion of potential PV system customers,” Shared Solar (PDF) lead author David Feldman explained in NREL’s release. “As a result, the economic, environmental and social benefits of distributed PV have not been available to all consumers. Shared solar programs open up the market to the other half of businesses and households.”

The obvious benefits of sharing a single solar array have not been entirely lost on Americans. As I reported last year, New York high-risers lobbied for shared solar in the form of Assembly Bill A09931, which still languishes in committee.

But NREL’s report adds further credence to the argument that smarter legislation is needed to correct the nation’s renewable energy imbalance — especially since “shared solar offerings that are marketed and structured to reduce customers’ retail electricity bills are less likely to be treated as securities than those marketed and structured primarily as profit-generating programs.” These imbalances are not helped by the fact that nearly half of U.S. households and businesses are currently unable to host a PV system altogether, much less share one with their vertical or horizontal neighbors.

But there is some good news to report, the first of which is that NREL’s report is a sobering but honest assessment of shared solar’s sad national picture from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, which has made solarization a political and economic priority. Also, the genie is out of the bottle. The same political and economic demands inspiring such honest reports will make shared solar a common national property, probably sooner than we think. With its exponential installations, cratering costs and mounting innovations, the solar sector is all set to heat up the sharing economy.

Love thy neighbor.

This article appeared at Solar Energy