As the U.S. electricity sector evolves, battle lines have been drawn on such issues as net metering, renewable portfolio standards, and distributed generation. One emerging trend being cheered across the board is community solar. Unlike typical net metering arrangements — in which customers offset their electricity bill through electricity generated by solar panels installed on their own roofs — community solar projects are physically separate from the customers’ property, and each bill is offset in proportion to a customer’s ownership stake in the development. Utilities are jumping on board with these projects, as they are seen as an alternate revenue stream in an age of declining demand and competition from third-party providers. Indeed, according to a November 2015 report from the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), there are at least 68 active community solar programs in the U.S., nearly 60% of which are led by utilities, co-operatives and other public power entities. Consumer advocates also praise community solar as a means through which non-homeowners, and lower-income customers, can participate in the country’s solar power revolution.
The community solar industry has been growing steadily over the years, and even though it makes up less than one percent of installed solar capacity here in the U.S., it appears that 2016 may be a great year for such projects. According to the above-referenced SEPA report, of those 68 active community solar programs, 24 are located in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington — three of the first states to enact community solar legislation. Since then, ten other states and the District of Columbia have also passed laws to participate in this growing market. The report projects that more than 200 MW of capacity will be integrated by the end of this year, a sharp increase from the 88 MW currently installed across the country. Looking beyond to 2020, GTM research predicts that community solar could increase by 500 MW annually.