Shared Solar and Community Solar Programs

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Shared solar and community solar programs allow individuals and businesses to invest in and benefit from solar energy even if they don’t have their own rooftop solar panels. These programs typically involve a shared solar array, located off-site, where participants can purchase or subscribe to a portion of the system’s energy output.

Impact on climate action

Shared Solar and Community Solar Programs within Distributed Solar PV democratize renewable energy access, enabling broader adoption and reducing carbon emissions. By allowing multiple stakeholders to share the benefits of solar energy generation, these programs promote equity, resilience, and sustainability, contributing to climate action and fostering community engagement in clean energy initiatives.

Underlying
Technology

  • Shared Solar Arrays: These are solar PV systems that are shared by multiple participants. The electricity generated by the array is distributed to participants based on their ownership or subscription share.
  • Virtual Net Metering (VNM): VNM allows solar energy generated at an off-site location to be credited to the electricity bills of participants, even if they are not physically located at the same site as the solar array.
  • Community Ownership and Subscription Models: Shared solar and community solar programs can be structured through various ownership and subscription models, allowing participants to invest in or subscribe to a portion of the solar array’s energy output.
  • Digital Platforms for Management and Billing: Digital platforms are used to manage shared solar and community solar programs, including tracking energy production, allocating energy to participants, and managing billing and payments.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced VNM and Billing Systems: Innovations in VNM and billing systems are making it easier and more efficient to manage shared solar and community solar programs.
  • Blockchain for Solar Energy Trading: Blockchain technology can be used to create peer-to-peer energy trading platforms, allowing participants in shared solar and community solar programs to trade their solar energy credits with each other.
  • Community Solar Development Platforms: Startups are developing platforms that streamline the development and management of community solar projects, making it easier for communities to adopt shared solar solutions.

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • SunShare:
    • Technology Enhancement: SunShare focuses on developing and managing community solar projects, allowing multiple participants to benefit from solar energy generation without installing panels on their properties. Their programs enable individuals, businesses, and communities to subscribe to a portion of a solar farm’s output and receive credits on their electricity bills based on their share of the solar production.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: SunShare stands out for its expertise in community solar development and its commitment to expanding access to solar energy for all. Their programs provide an accessible and affordable alternative to rooftop solar, allowing customers to support renewable energy while saving money on their electricity bills.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: SunShare serves residential, commercial, and institutional customers interested in participating in community solar programs. Their offerings appeal to individuals and organizations seeking the benefits of solar energy without the need for rooftop installations, including renters, homeowners with shaded roofs, and businesses with limited space.
  • CleanChoice Energy:
    • Technology Enhancement: CleanChoice Energy specializes in offering 100% renewable energy solutions, including community solar subscriptions. They source solar power from a network of community solar projects and provide customers with the option to subscribe to clean energy without the need for rooftop panels. Their programs enable participants to support renewable energy and reduce their carbon footprint.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: CleanChoice Energy stands out for its focus on providing easy and accessible renewable energy options for residential and commercial customers. Their community solar programs align with their mission to accelerate the transition to a clean energy future by empowering individuals and communities to choose clean electricity.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: CleanChoice Energy serves residential and commercial customers across the United States interested in supporting renewable energy and reducing their environmental impact. Their community solar subscriptions appeal to individuals and organizations seeking convenient and hassle-free access to clean energy.
  • Nexamp:
    • Technology Enhancement: Nexamp develops, owns, and operates community solar projects, offering subscriptions to residents, businesses, and municipalities. Their programs enable participants to receive credits on their electricity bills based on the solar energy generated by their share of the project. Nexamp handles the development, construction, and ongoing management of community solar installations.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Nexamp stands out for its vertically integrated approach to community solar, providing end-to-end solutions from project development to customer engagement. Their focus on customer satisfaction, project quality, and community engagement has made them a trusted partner for community solar initiatives.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Nexamp serves residential, commercial, and municipal customers seeking to participate in community solar programs. Their offerings appeal to individuals and organizations interested in supporting renewable energy, reducing energy costs, and contributing to local clean energy projects.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley is at the forefront of research on Shared Solar and Community Solar Programs, focusing on developing innovative models, policy frameworks, and financing mechanisms to expand access to solar energy to underserved communities and multifamily buildings.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the design of shared solar programs that enable multiple participants to invest in and benefit from a single solar installation, regardless of their ability to install solar panels on their own property. They also explore community solar models that facilitate the development of off-site solar projects, virtual net metering arrangements, and community ownership structures.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in affordable housing, low-income communities, and rural electrification. By promoting shared solar and community solar initiatives, UC Berkeley’s research aims to democratize access to clean energy, reduce energy costs, and empower communities to participate in the transition to renewable energy.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT conducts pioneering research on Shared Solar and Community Solar Programs, leveraging its expertise in energy economics, public policy, and technology innovation to develop scalable and replicable models for community-based solar deployment.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves analyzing the socio-economic, regulatory, and technical barriers to shared solar adoption and developing strategies to overcome these challenges. They also explore innovative financing mechanisms, community engagement strategies, and governance structures to facilitate the development of community solar projects and enhance their economic viability.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in urban and rural communities, educational institutions, and municipal facilities. By advancing shared solar and community solar programs, MIT’s research contributes to increasing renewable energy deployment, fostering local economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
    • Research Focus: NREL is a leading research institution in the field of Shared Solar and Community Solar Programs, providing technical assistance, policy guidance, and analytical support to stakeholders in the solar industry, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses comprehensive assessments of shared solar market trends, best practices, and policy frameworks at the state, regional, and national levels. They also develop tools, resources, and training materials to support the design, implementation, and evaluation of community solar projects, including model contracts, consumer protection guidelines, and project finance templates.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in utility-scale solar programs, cooperative purchasing agreements, and community solar gardens. By serving as a neutral third-party resource, NREL’s research facilitates collaboration, knowledge sharing, and capacity building among diverse stakeholders, driving innovation and accelerating the adoption of shared solar and community solar initiatives.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Shared solar and community solar programs are being implemented in various countries around the world. For example, in the United States, community solar programs are growing rapidly, with states like California and New York leading the way.