For many reasons, homes and businesses can face technical, financial, and regulatory barriers to installing solar energy and other distributed energy resources (DERs). This is particularly true for low- and moderate-income families and historically disadvantaged communities. Families who rent their homes rather than owning them may also face obstacles—as do small businesses or nonprofits that have difficulty obtaining a loan.

Shared renewables—particularly shared or community solar—are an important resource that enable more consumers to access and enjoy the benefits of clean and renewable energy. A shared or community solar program allows multiple households or businesses to obtain credit on their electricity bills from a solar energy system, usually located off-site.

IREC has been at forefront of the growth in shared renewable energy programs across the United States. We help lay the foundation for effective program and policy design, while also supporting the extensive growth underway across markets. We work with regulators to develop effective programs, craft foundational resources to support smart policy design, and improve interconnection processes to support shared renewables deployment.

National Shared Renewables Scorecard

IREC’s National Shared Renewables Scorecard evaluates state shared renewables programs using objective criteria based on best practices for program design. It provides a valuable tool for policymakers, regulators, and other stakeholders to compare active state programs and determine program strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

The scorecard grades each state’s shared renewable energy program using criteria based on best practices highlighted in IREC’s Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs and other components identified by our team and other national and state experts. IREC assigns point values to key program components in five main categories: General program details, customers and subscriptions, generation systems, bill credits, and renewable energy credits.

The 2019 Scorecard assesses 20 programs in 17 states, and features grades for three newly launched programs in Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon. The state report cards provide further insight on program details relative to the most substantial program design criteria, identifying program strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Stakeholders can evaluate their own programs using IREC’s Score Your Program tool, which takes users through a series of questions that reflect the same criteria IREC used to grade active state programs for the National Shared Renewables Scorecard. For additional information on the scorecard, please see a webinar hosted in 2018 between IREC and Vote Solar.

Shared Renewables Policy Catalog

IREC’s Shared Renewables Policy Catalog is a spreadsheet that covers statewide “shared renewable energy” or “shared renewables” programs. The catalog provides a detailed overview of state program design components and compares them alongside other state programs. It demonstrates which components are commonly addressed by program rules, which are less common, and how each covered component is treated on a program-by-program basis.

Multifamily Solar Access

The multifamily building sector is a large, yet untapped market for solar energy. Those who live in multifamily buildings do not have the option of simply installing solar energy on their own roofs. For multifamily residents (owners or renters), accessing the benefits of solar requires specific policies and programs.

A key policy is virtual net energy metering (VNEM), which allows credits from energy produced by a single solar project to be shared virtually among multiple utility customer accounts. 

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IREC’s Multifamily Solar Access Work

From 2015 to 2017, IREC partnered with the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) and the California Solar & Storage Association on the Virtual Net Metering Market Development Project, which was one of 15 Solar Market Pathways projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.

The three-year project, led by CSE, was designed to expand the awareness, effectiveness, and use of VNEM. Though focused primarily on the VNEM tariff in California, many of the resources and best practices developed under the project could be applied to markets in other states.

Additional Resources

A Checklist for Voluntary Utility-Led Community Solar Programs. This checklist, developed by IREC and Vote solar, is intended to help guide utility officials and other stakeholders interested in creating new utility-led community solar programs (or those seeking to improve existing programs). Based on established practices and successful program models, this checklist reflects the program design considerations critical to supporting effective community solar programs that appeal to and benefit their customers and communities.

Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions. These guidelines support the adoption and implementation of shared renewables programs that provide tangible benefits to LMI individuals and households. They provide information and tools for policymakers, regulators, utilities, shared renewable energy developers, program administrators, and others.

Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs. In collaboration with The Vote Solar Initiative, these model rules were updated in 2013 to assist stakeholders in developing shared renewables programs. They can be used in tandem with the Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions document, listed above.

SolSmart: Community Solar Toolkit for Local Governments. IREC leads technical assistance for the SolSmart program, which has recognized over 400 local governments for adopting national best practices to encourage solar energy growth. SolSmart’s Toolkit for Local Governments includes an overview of the community solar approach, with case studies from around the country.

Multifamily Solar Access Resources From IREC

Expanding Solar Access: Pathways for Multifamily Housing. Developed in partnership with the Center for Sustainable Energy, this guide outlines two potential paths to enable greater solar access for renters and multifamily residents, and low- to moderate-income communities. The first is on-site shared solar, via an arrangement that allows energy generation credits from a single solar system to be shared virtually among multiple tenant accounts. The second is off-site/remote shared solar, which allows multiple dispersed customers to share the economic benefits of a single renewable energy system and receive credits on their utility bills for the electricity generated by that common system.

Access for All: Pathways to Expand Solar Options to Renters and Multifamily Households in the City of Seattle. Developed in partnership with Spark Northwest and the Center for Sustainable Energy, IREC’s guide outlines two potential pathways to enable greater solar access for renters and multifamily residents and LMI communities in Seattle.

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