The national community solar market was beginning to experience a notable growth spurt in 2014, as more states, utilities and communities were turning to the model as a way to enable multiple customers to access and share the benefits of a single solar project, ultimately expanding access to solar for more consumers. The state of Illinois, however, remained “off the map” and lacked both a statewide community solar policy and voluntary utility programs.
Recognizing the opportunity and potential, especially in the county’s densely-populated, urban environment, Illinois’ Cook County Department of Environmental Control jumpstarted community shared solar in the state and across the Midwest with a Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Solar Market Pathways award, Cook County partnered with the City of Chicago, Elevate Energy, the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), the local investor-owned utility ComEd, and technical consultant West Monroe Partners to overcome the education, information and market barriers to community solar and demonstrate replicable community solar models through pilot projects within the county.
Stakeholder engagement was key to the success of the project, resulting in buy-in from diverse stakeholders early in the process, and sustained interest in the project throughout.
IREC has supported the Solar Market Pathways project since 2015, serving as member of the Technical Assistance team in partnership with the national coordinator, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC).
Solar Market Pathways awardees represent a diverse group of organizations and collaborations working on a range of projects, including expanded community solar models, solar for resiliency and emergency planning, innovative tools and financing for universities, and multifamily solar access, among others. Project teams are focused on replicating successes in communities, states, and regions across the country. Their efforts are paving new pathways for solar market development and reducing the costs of solar energy nationally.
Read the full Cook County Case Study.