The Biden administration has set a target of powering 5 million American homes with community solar projects by 2025– an ambition that would require 700% growth of current capacity.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates a total of 3,253 MW-AC community solar capacity was installed in the U.S. by the end of 2020 — enough to power 600,000 homes. The cumulative installed capacity of community solar has grown rapidly since 2010, doubling on average year-over-year.
“Community solar is one of the most powerful tools we have to provide affordable solar energy to all American households, regardless of whether they own a home or have a roof suitable for solar panels,” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement. “Achieving these ambitious targets will lead to meaningful energy cost savings, create jobs in these communities, and make our clean energy transition more equitable.”
There’s even more room for community solar to grow, with needed policy improvements, developers say.
C.J. Colavito, vice president of engineering at Standard Solar, owner of 150 MW of installed community solar projects, said challenges in deploying community solar projects are centered around permitting, interconnection, subscribership, and credit.
During the Renewable Energy World +Series webcast “Community Solar Projects and Programs: Today and Tomorrow”, Colavito noted that some projects take 18-24 months for permitting and approval. Interconnection of projects is long and complex, in its own right, and can sometimes take years to reach a resolution, Colavito said.
“Oftentimes, siting your system and getting interconnection can be the two most important items to get done before you even dive into the other challenges with community solar,” Colavito said.
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Colavito consolidated billing and opt-out programs represent essential policies for the growth of community solar.
Consolidated billing presents one bill to the customer from both the community solar generator and the utility and lowers subscriber management costs. Opt-out programs, meanwhile, automatically enroll residents in community solar projects without any additional step.
Colavito said Standard Solar has previously had to cancel community solar projects in development because of poor subscribership rates, which would be aided by opt-out programs.
Community solar enabling legislation exists in 21 states and the District of Columbia, either through state-required programs or authorization of pilot programs, according to NREL.
Currently, 72% of cumulative community solar capacity is concentrated in just four states: Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York.
Community solar projects allow residents without suitable rooftops for generation to take advantage of the benefits of solar power, improving access to renewable energy for low-income and disadvantaged communities. Community solar project subscribers often receive guaranteed cost savings on their energy bills, too.
The Biden administration believes reaching its community solar target could create $1 billion in energy savings.