Aiming to double renewable energy generation in the U.S. for a second time by 2020, the Department of Energy (DOE) on April 17 announced $15 million of funding to assist communities in developing plans to install affordable solar electricity across residential and commercial rooftops. Making it simpler and easier for residents and businesses to join in shared, community solar photovoltaic (PV) projects is seen as a key to achieving further, large increases in U.S. solar energy deployment.
Sharp reductions in the cost of manufacturing and installing solar PV systems has been a driving force in rising U.S. solar energy installations, which rose to 13 gigawatts (GW) in 2013. Financing and so-called “soft costs” – those outside the cost of equipment and other hardware – comprise as much as 64 percent of the total price of residential solar systems, however, according to a 2013 study from the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Spurring growth in shared, community solar
Providing greater access to lower-cost solar financing and streamling the solar PV purchasing and installation process should keep solar U.S. PV deployments on a fast-track growth path. So should developing ways for local residents and businesses to band together to develop and participate in shared, community solar electricity projects.
Those are the main aims of the DOE's $15-million “Solar Market Pathways” funding opportunity, part of President Obama's SunShot Initiative, the goal of which is to lower the cost of solar PV to the point where it's fully competitive with conventional sources of electricity generation by 2020.
As the DOE explains,
“This funding opportunity seeks to support regional, state, tribal, and locally-driven efforts to develop multi-year solar deployment plans that will help provide business certainty and establish a clear path for the next five to ten years of solar deployment.
“Specifically, this FOA is intended to enable replicable multi-year strategies that spur significant solar deployment, drive down solar soft costs, support local economic development efforts, and address the potential challenges arising from increased solar penetration on the electrical grid.”
Commenting on Solar Market Pathways, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated,
“As part of the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy, solar energy is helping families and businesses throughout the U.S. access affordable, clean renewable power. The Energy Department is committed to further driving down the cost of solar energy and supporting innovative community-based programs – creating more jobs, reducing carbon pollution and boosting economic growth.”
Cutting red tape and building strong, lasting public-private partnerships to develop shared, community solar electricity installations are the main thrusts of the Solar Market Pathways funding opportunity. As part of solar PV deployment plans, successful applicants “will establish innovative financing mechanisms and launch creative community-based initiatives, such as shared-solar programs.”
Some 360,000 U.S. households had installed solar PV systems as of early 2014, but installing solar PV systems hasn't been a viable or easily accessible option for many American households. Shared solar, whereby community residents, and businesses, affords a way for them to invest and share in the clean, renewable electricity and other benefits of community solar PV projects, “typically by owning or leasing a portion of the system or purchasing some of its energy output,” SunShot Fellow Anna Brockway notes in an Energy.gov blog post.
For those interested in developing a community solar project, the DOE's A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, and Non-profit Project Development is available free online.
Image credit: DOE, Shared Solar