10 predictions for community solar in 2018 via Clean Energy Collective

Clean Energy collective

From an evolving market structure to technology innovation, the community solar landscape is transforming quickly. What does this mean for 2018? Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the nation’s leading community solar developer and solutions provider, forecast what is on the horizon for community solar. CEC’s experts offer the following 10 predictions for 2018.

“We are inspired by the surging demand for renewables and the expectation that community solar will play a leading role in solar’s growth for years to come” said Paul Spencer, CEC Founder and CEO.

1. Strategic partnerships will accelerate the drive to scale.

2017 saw solar financiers and asset owners looking to become more involved in the earlier stages of community solar development, seeking the potential for stronger profits indicative of this asset class; evidenced by CEC’s joint development agreement with ENGIE. Leveraging shared financial and technological resources will accelerate the development and deployment of more and larger community solar portfolios in 2018, broadening access to shared renewables to a significantly wider customer base.

2. External factors will intensify the focus on cost-effectiveness.

Equipment costs are continuing to fall, but declines are slowing. Rising interest rates, rising interconnection costs, potential import tariffs, and potential changes to the federal tax code will provoke an even greater focus across the solar industry on optimizing program design, integration, and management to maintain community solar’s pace of growth. (See #4 regarding technology.)

3. Commercial and industrial customers will take a larger share of capacity.

Solar procurement by commercial and industrial customers grew substantially in 2017 as more businesses looked to renewable energy for cost savings and to boost their sustainability credentials. One of the most critical strategic initiatives for utilities is allowing key C&I customers to procure renewable energy from a dedicated offsite facility/program via community solar. Like residential customers, shared off-site generation expands the accessibility of renewables purchases beyond the Fortune 100 to medium and small companies that lack the resources for separate project development. In 2018, community solar will take a lead role in providing commercial and industrial companies with a path to renewable energy.

Nexamp community solar

Nexamp community solar project.

4. Demand for technology will increase from both asset developers and owners.

2017 saw effective progress toward reducing the complexities of community solar programming by standardizing policies, procedures, and technologies where possible. Enterprise-level software opened the gates to greater efficiency and accuracy throughout the proposal, e-commerce, and customer engagement processes. For 2018, the integration of multi-megawatt projects and portfolios means integrating with significantly more utilities and engaging an exponentially larger number of customers. The biggest winners in 2018 will be IT solutions that seamlessly manage customer acquisition, credit allocation, and collections with lower costs and less risk through automation, not only for single community solar programs but for entire energy portfolios. CEC is investing significantly in advancing its Community Solar Platform and IT architecture to continue to shape and serve the next-generation of community solar programs and community solar customers.

5. Data security will be a key value proposition.

As the shift to mobile and cloud technologies becomes the norm in most industries, data vulnerability is top-of-mind for all IT administrators. Data security processes and planning for community solar programming, particularly regarding the requisite software administering bill credits and customer benefits, is vital for the protection of utilities, consumers, and the grid. 2018 will see an increased focus on available and emerging technologies delivering information security to meet the industry’s rigorous requirements. Security certification of community solar software solutions will quickly become the norm, raising the bar in solution maturity similar to financial technology solutions.

6. Project finance and product strategies will move closer to balance.

Expanding project financing options and sources is still at odds with the move toward more consumer-centric products. Both purchase and subscription programs have been subject to relatively strict terms from finance partners, limiting flexibility in product strategy. We believe 2018 will be turning point toward more adaptable financing as additional risk mitigations emerge and the finance market better understands the reduced risks inherent in community solar solutions. New technologies for acquiring and engaging customers, increasing participation by investment-grade companies, and further validation of community solar’s low customer default and streamlined ability to re-subscribe replacement customers will allow for shorter contract terms, reduced credit score thresholds, and an overall enhanced customer buying experience.

7. Big capital will move into the market.

The underlying variables of community solar programming – like multiple customer profiles, unique technology requirements, and maintaining full subscribership – has been thorny for capital markets. However, in 2017 we saw a slow but measured migration from boutique investors to the more mainstream financial community. Bigger financial players are becoming more familiar and comfortable with community solar’s long, optimized assets and predictable cash flows, and are now turning their focus to addressing the mechanisms for market development. 2018 is the year large institutional investors will move in, positioning community solar as the next place to put low-risk capital at scale.

8. Utilities will launch larger programs more frequently.

Many utilities blazed the community solar trail in 2016 and 2017 to integrate DER solutions and satisfy customers. Several of the U.S.’ largest utilities now have operational community solar programs, and dozens more have initiated programs — in regulated and deregulated markets, by investor-owned, cooperative, and municipal utilities. Such pervasive exposure has provided sufficient evidence for the best practices that allow for low-risk, cost-appropriate, and highly engaged community solar programs. In 2018, we expect less “piloting” by first-time utilities and more comprehensive, full-scale deployments by those currently testing programs. This move to scale will provide further economic efficiencies, driving even more benefit to utilities and customers.

9. Prevailing policy will accelerate market development.

Advanced tools and resources are emerging to help policymakers, regulators, and advocates navigate tariff and compensation strategies, incentives, land use and siting criteria, interconnection issues, consumer protections, and more to balance a market’s diverse interests and a program’s economic viability. In 2018, state policy development will take on a renewed urgency, and we expect to see community solar raised as a key platform item in state and federal elections in November. Streamlining adoption of well-vetted enabling policies and regulatory frameworks in slower-to-adopt states will translate into faster legislative action, fewer pilot programs, and more receptive markets.

10. Uncertainty at the federal level will temper enthusiasm.

Despite all the positive indicators, unknown risks at the federal level could pose new challenges for the industry in 2018. Complications from a possible ITC tariff, the federal tax overhaul, continued anxiety with EPA policy direction, and the DOE’s renewed interest in coal are ingraining a degree of uncertainty that is difficult to quantify. On the positive side, the solar industry is gaining momentum through increasing numbers of legislators and government officials across the country supporting community solar thanks to a well-informed base of industry advocates. This advocacy is fueled by solar industry associations, executives, employees, customers and enthusiasts, and in 2018 we will see an even stronger and louder coalescence of stakeholders with an amplified grass roots movement that will more deeply engage with elected officials and regulators. Equally important, rapidly declining solar costs are allowing solar to become a much larger part of the national energy mix simply due to its recent status as a low-cost power solution. This fact has increased utility support for many pro-solar initiatives.

— Solar Builder magazine

Three community solar projects break ground in Massachusetts

Clean Energy collective

Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the nation’s leading community solar developer and solutions provider, has broken ground on three new community solar facilities in Massachusetts, adding a combined 4 MW of new generation to the Commonwealth’s mounting shared renewables portfolio. Located in the communities of Millis, Rochester, and Wendell, the projects will serve customers in National Grid and Eversource service territories and are expected to complete construction by March 2018.

Clean Energy Collective, one of the region’s largest community solar providers, has developed 34 projects – nearly 50 MW of capacity – in Massachusetts, as the company continues its mission to deliver broad and equal access to locally-generated, affordable, clean energy to all electricity ratepayers across the Commonwealth.

“Community shared solar is proving to be the clean energy solution Massachusetts customers are looking for, and CEC is continuing to deliver projects that provide this choice,” said Tom Sweeney, CEC’s President of Renewables. “We look forward to serving even more Massachusetts customers and remain diligent in our mission to ensure every household and business in the Commonwealth has access to local clean energy.”

Through CEC’s RooflessSolar program, any Massachusetts electric customer – including residential, commercial and government customers – can secure long-term energy savings and hedge against increasing energy costs without the need for a solar-suitable roof or upfront investment.

New guide shows strategies for pairing community solar with storage

Developing these projects also delivers broad benefits to the host communities through significant construction investment, a variety of high-paying jobs, lease payments for land owners, substantial tax revenues, and valuable utility system upgrades.

In addition to the growing portfolio of completed projects, CEC has several additional projects in the development pipeline to serve the state’s increasing demand. CEC expects to begin construction on several of these before the end of 2017.

Demand for community solar is growing throughout the country as well. CEC has built or has under development more than 130 RooflessSolar projects within 33 utility service territories across 15 states, serving thousands of customers, and representing more than 350 MW of community solar capacity.

— Solar Builder magazine

Apline Bank funds community solar project in Colorado to benefit low-income families

clean energy collective alipine bank

Community solar has the power to, well, bring a community together. We see a great example of this in Silverthorne, Colo., where a first-of-its-kind partnership among private organizations and a Colorado nonprofit will bring community-shared solar power to low-income families.

Alpine Bank, a locally owned and operated community bank with 38 locations across Colorado, purchased a 25-kW block of community solar capacity, about 82 individual solar PV panels, in Clean Energy Collective’s Breckenridge Ullr Community Solar Array and donated it to the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), a Summit County, Colo.-based nonprofit that works to strengthen local families through education and connection to resources. FIRC will assign the monthly bill credits earned by the panels’ power generation to local families who can best use the assistance.

“This innovative partnership with FIRC and CEC is a great example of what we represent,” said founder and chairman of Alpine Bank, J. Robert Young. “When we find that when we give back to the communities that have been so supportive of us it’s a win-win deal. Community solar gave us the right opportunity to do that.”

community solar

Through community solar, every customer in a utility territory has the ability to participate in the benefits of solar power generation through locally sited, utility-scale solar PV arrays. It provides the utility with clean, locally-produced renewable energy and its participants, particularly those that don’t have the option for rooftop solar, with the opportunity for lower utility bills.

RELATED: SEPA report: How to improve community solar models 

“Alpine Bank is a shining example of a community solar user,” remarked Paul Spencer, CEC founder and CEO. “In addition to this donation, they power 22 of their facilities with community solar across five different arrays through four different utilities, spanning 40,000 sq. miles. That is amazing. It is the epitome of how companies can use clean energy and community solar.”

Clean Energy Collective, the nation’s leading community solar developer, currently operates 23 community solar facilities across Colorado, serving more than 75 percent of the state’s electricity customers.

“This partnership is a good example of a tool that we can really use,” said Tamara Drangstveit, FIRC’s executive director. “By receiving this donation of solar energy credits we can help a variety of families offset their energy bills so they can use those additional resources to help make sure their children have the best start in life or have health insurance.”


— Solar Builder magazine

Clean Energy Collective adding 21 MW of new community solar in Massachusetts

CEC community solar

Clean Energy Collective (CEC), community solar solutions provider, sent word that it is executing the next phase of its Massachusetts development plan by adding 21 MW of new community solar projects to its existing portfolio, furthering its aim to deliver statewide access to the benefits of locally generated clean power and setting the tone for its aggressive nationwide growth strategy.

This new community solar capacity, delivered across 14 projects, will serve residential and commercial customers in Eversource and National Grid territories. True to the spirit of community solar, these projects will serve a combination of families, local businesses and government entities, benefiting 1,000 to 1,500 participants. The projects are located throughout southeastern Massachusetts, in the towns of Uxbridge, Marion, Westport, Carver, Wareham, Plympton, Kingston, Fairhaven and Holliston. The last of these projects will be completed in the fall and all are expected to be interconnected this year.

RELATED: SEPA report: How to improve community solar models 

“Massachusetts will be one of the leading states for solar development this year, and community solar will be the primary reason for that achievement,” notes Tom Sweeney, CEC’s Chief Strategic Markets Officer. “Bringing several new projects to fruition this year will provide more access and more opportunity for people to support locally generated clean energy and save money at the same time. That is our mission and we’re proud to say it is working at scale.”

Through CEC’s RooflessSolar program, any Massachusetts electric customer can lower their electricity cost and support local clean power generation without having a solar suitable roof or making a large upfront payment. This option is especially attractive for renters, commercial customers, and non-profits.

Building these facilities will bring significant financial investment to the commonwealth, millions of dollars’ worth of upgrades to the grid, and substantial fees and taxes for local jurisdictions. In addition to this block of projects, efforts by the Baker administration and legislative action in April extending the net energy metering caps is allowing CEC to move another 16 MW of projects, and potentially more, out of the queue and into the development process this year. Already the largest community solar provider in Massachusetts, adding these two capacity blocks to its Massachusetts’ portfolio substantiates CEC’s commitment to ensuring broad and equal access and helping this market reach its potential.

— Solar Builder magazine

Renovus to use CSP software for 100-MW community solar portfolio

Clean Energy Collective (CEC), a community solar solutions provider, just entered into a long-term licensing agreement with Renovus Solar that will provide the Ithaca, N.Y.-based solar developer access to CEC’s Community Solar Platform (CSP), the comprehensive suite of software and services that enable efficient community solar program design, implementation, and operation. This integration will immediately provide Renovus Solar with the power to proficiently navigate the complexities of community solar program management and bring to fruition a 100-MW community solar portfolio over the next few years.

Renovus solarRenovus Solar is the first solar developer in New York to license CEC’s suite of tools and services, using the online marketing, lead generation, and sales engagement tools and the online customer portal MyOwnCleanEnergy to rapidly deploy its large-scale community solar initiative and deliver projects across western and central New York.

“Our goal is to make solar power simple, accessible, and affordable to everyone who pays an electric bill. CEC’s Community Solar Platform unlocks the potential of community solar, which can provide unprecedented access to cleaner, cheaper electricity for everyone,” said Joe Sliker, CEO of Renovus Solar.

RELATED: SEPA report: How to improve community solar models 

CEC’s Community Solar Platform offers a proven software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution for community solar. Based on CEC’s, Community Solar Platform is the foundation for dozens of projects with a variety of partners in differing regulatory environments, serving thousands of residential, commercial, non-profit and municipal customers. The tools make community solar program management simple and cost effective, allowing project owners to streamline processes, lower costs, achieve greater capital efficiency, and realize better margins. Making these tools available to utility, developer, and asset partners is changing the industry landscape by vastly accelerating deployment and consumer adoption.

Under the New York’s Shared Renewables Program, residents can purchase or subscribe to individual solar panels in a community-sited array and receive credit for the power production directly on their monthly electric bills, as if the panels were located on their own roof. Community solar provides opportunities for renters, homeowners, low-income residents, schools and businesses equal access to the financial and environmental benefits of local clean power generation.

— Solar Builder magazine