With more states adopting policies that enable community solar, and with voluntary utility programs on the rise, the community solar (aka shared solar) landscape is transforming quickly. Eleven states plus the District of Columbia have implemented active statewide community solar programs. Two additional states (Illinois and Oregon) are now moving to adopt new program rules. Best practices for policies and programs have emerged, along with a suite of new tools and resources to help policymakers, regulators, advocates and other interested stakeholders – as they continue to expand this new solar market sector, bringing solar access to more Americans.   

At Intersolar North America in San Francisco in July, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), the Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA), and the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) provided an overview of these tools and best practices, some of which are highlighted below, along with insights on key strategies to scale the market more quickly and sustainably.

IREC’s National Shared Renewables Scorecard and its accompanying State Shared Renewable Energy Program Catalog, offer a side-by-side policy assessment of the active statewide shared renewable energy policies. Comparing different programs with objective criteria, the Scorecard helps policymakers assess strengths and weaknesses of existing programs. The scoring criteria are based on IREC’s Model Rules and Guiding Principles for Shared Renewable Energy Programs.

To assist policymakers in navigating the key questions that need to be addressed when designing a community solar program, CCSA’s Community Solar Policy Decision Matrix provides recommendations for the various components of a program and corresponding example language to help policymakers draft policies that can lead to greater market development.

Lastly, as states and cities work towards broader urban sustainability and clean energy goals, the multifamily residential housing sector represents an untapped and underserved market for solar adoption—with either on-site or off-site solar projects. CSE in coordination with IREC and CalSEIA and with support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Market Pathways program, is working to develop more solutions, strategies and tools to better serve households living in multifamily residential housing.

CSE has created toolkits to educate contractors and property owners on the process for installing solar on multifamily buildings. The property owner toolkits include step-by-step guidance for installing a project, whereas the contractor toolkit provides resources on virtual net metering and interconnection. Additionally, a new online tool developed through a partnership with EnergySage connects multifamily property owners with contractors, which can help overcome some of the matchmaking challenges of working with multiple stakeholders in multifamily housing.

Additional community solar resources are available through the Solar Market Pathways Community Solar Toolkit, which features more useful tools and best practices for state-led, community-led and utility-led programs.

With these innovative tools in hand, states and community solar stakeholders can explore ways to streamline adoption of well-vetted best practices.

On the horizon is the ripe opportunity to incentivize and encourage strategically located community solar to optimize its value to the grid (and to customers). In addition, as the community solar market continues to grow, industry and advocates must maintain a concerted focus on proactive stakeholder outreach and early communication to ensure community buy-in and stakeholder support before projects are built.

Image: Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light