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article imageCommunity solar projects — Gaining consumers' confidence

By Karen Graham     Sep 19, 2017 in Technology
Consumer interest in solar power, and in particular, community solar, is rapidly increasing, however, many people are still straddling the fence. What is holding many people back from taking the plunge?
There has been a lot of good news lately in the solar power sector, from the development of cheaper photovoltaic cells to the Department of Energy's (DOE) report on the solar industry meeting the agency's 2020 SunShot initiative three years ahead of time, reducing the average price of utility-scale solar to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
In a detailed report put out recently by EnergySage, it was found that the gross costs of solar per watt have also continued to steadily drop in the 35 states analyzed, from $3.36 in the second half of 2016 to $3.17 in the first half of 2017. However, in the community solar sector, gains have been slow, and on closer study, it was found that two factors were holding consumers back.
Enel Green Energy s  Stillwater  solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy's "Stillwater" solar power plant in the United States.
Enel Green Energy
EnergySage cites these two factors: "Customers feel there is a lack of options where they live, and the financial benefits aren’t drastic enough to be persuasive." At the same time, it was found that the top reason for investing in community solar was a customer's inability to install rooftop panels. Electric bill reductions came in second.
What is community solar?
Community solar is a great idea in that it gives everyone, and this includes people living in apartments or in houses an opportunity to participate in solar power without needing to invest in solar panels. When you buy into a community solar project, you receive a portion of the energy generated by a large solar panel system that is located elsewhere in your area.
When you participate in a community solar project, you are paying for access to less expensive solar electricity so that you don’t have to buy electricity at standard utility rates. And there are two ways a customer can participate in community solar, too. You can either invest, buy a share of the project, or find a subscription-based program.
Part of the 354 MW SEGS solar complex in northern San Bernardino County  California.
Part of the 354 MW SEGS solar complex in northern San Bernardino County, California.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
One interesting trend cited by the report was that 98 percent of customers contacted had bought into the project, with some purchasing a share outright while others made use of a loan over third-party financing such as leasing. And with an increase in regional lenders adding solar to their portfolios, it has become easier for consumers to make use of loans.
The DOE's SunShot Project initiative has also helped
The DOE notes that due to unsuitable roof space, living in a large condo building, or renting living space, alternative business models like community solar and shared solar are gaining popularity and increasing access to clean solar energy. So with the agency's SunShot Initiative, setting up community solar projects have been encouraged.
There is also a lucrative prize for these community solar projects, called; Solar in Your Community Challenge. It's a prize competition that aims to expand solar electricity access to all Americans, especially underserved segments such as low- and moderate-income (LMI) households state, local, and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations.
Solar energy has seen a big growth spurt in the U.S. southeast.
Solar energy has seen a big growth spurt in the U.S. southeast.
Duke Energy
In order to make solar more accessible and inclusive for every American, the Challenge works to spur the development of new and innovative financial and business models that serve non-rooftop solar users such as community solar. The prize comes to $5 million in cash prizes, as well as technical assistance over a period of 18 months.
Since the start of the SunShot program, about two years ago, open collaboration and identification of new markets have led to the beginning of a tearing down of traditional solar business models requiring home ownership, a suitable roof, and good credit ratings. This has allowed for low and middle-income families to participate in renewable energy sources.
This writer feels that consumers don't really know all there is to know about how solar power and in particular, community solar works. In the coming days, we will look closely into some community solar projects and examine both the pros and the cons of trying this innovative marketing method out.
More about community solar, Doe, SunShot incentive, dominion power, Investment
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