Community Solar: Bridging the Gap to Solar’s Future
We all know that solar is an important part of combating climate change, and it is rapidly becoming a viable, economically sensible form of energy. As of December 2021, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that the United States reached 113.5 GW of total installed solar capacity – enough to power 21.8 million American homes. Power producers across the country are jumping on board with utility-scale development. In 2021 Q3 alone, utility-scale installations set a third-quarter record of 3.8 GW. During the same period, residential rooftop solar surpassed 1 GW – more than 130,000 new systems. Moving into 2022, we can expect more than 2 million American homes to be powered by rooftop systems.
Yet, despite the falling costs of photovoltaic (PV) panels and growing availability, many Americans who wish to utilize clean energy cannot yet afford their own systems. What’s more, 36 percent of Americans rent their home – that’s 44.1 million households that are prohibited from rooftop solar installation. A number of these Americans live in disadvantaged communities – areas that are low-income, racially marginalized, and/or suffering from environmental justice issues. As our country sets environmental targets and works to push ambitious climate and clean energy legislation through Congress, it’s important to consider how to bridge the gap on solar accessibility.
Enter community solar, a facility allowing community stakeholders to access affordable, clean power from a large, shared array. In October 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) announced a commitment to build enough community solar to power 5 million homes and generate $1 billion in savings by 2025. If realized, this target will result in an average of 20 percent savings on energy bills, a 700 percent increase in community solar capacity, and stimulate countless benefits, such as career opportunities, community wealth building, climate change mitigation, and resilience. NCSP’s five-step “pathway to success” includes developing technical expertise and capacity building, expanding state engagement, improving access to capital, engaging customers to remove acquisition barriers, and developing better messaging to expand awareness of community solar programming.
Over the past few months, more than 800 partners signed on to build 20 GW of shared solar in the next three years and help reach the 2025 target. At the end of January 2022, the DOE announced several new initiatives to remove barriers on the NCSP pathway including a States Collaborative, a $2 million NCSP Technical Assistance Program, and a Credit Ready Solar Initiative. Meeting community solar goals and driving community benefits will require interstate networking and knowledge sharing. State-level officials in more than half of U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., already signed on to the DOE collaborative. The Technical Assistance Program will also provide free NCSP support to communities deploying solar projects including policy, legislation, and regulation research; project financing analysis; outreach and engagement strategies; program design; and technical troubleshooting.
The Credit Ready Solar Initiative is meant to help standardize community solar financing, contracts, and lending opportunities. It will create a streamlined marketplace where lenders, philanthropic institutions, and developers can partner to deploy project capital and support growth toward the 2025 target. Any financial institution that deploys capital for community solar development may join a working group to develop these initiatives. Once standards are developed, lenders may participate in the Credit Ready Solar Marketplace to lend into a pipeline of community solar projects. Philanthropic institutions and impact investors may engage in efforts to standardize and deploy pre-development funding and gap financing. Project owners and developers may utilize the Credit Ready Initiative to receive technical support, access the marketplace, and connect with lenders who are ready to finance their projects.
Leyline Renewable Capital has provided capital for solar projects in many states across the country. We look forward to the implementation of DOE’s Community Solar Initiative and stand ready to provide capital, so all communities have access to affordable solar energy.