For various reasons a residential dweller might not be able or want to invest in a rooftop solar system, giving rise to the emergence particularly in the United States of community solar initiatives.
Community roofless solar
While yet another potential threat to the traditional utility model, utilities can also turn them to their advantage, as South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) is demonstrating. In a new partnership with Colorado-based community solar solutions provider Clean Energy Collective (CEC), SCE&G residential electric customers, schools, churches and municipalities are being given the opportunity to subscribe to or purchase panels in solar farms and receive credit for solar generation on their energy bills each month. CEC will develop, construct, own, and operate the 16MW community solar portfolio, which is believed to be one of the largest in the US.
"For some, rooftop solar is a good resource, but for those in this market looking for another option community solar can be a great alternative," says Danny Kassis, vice president of customer relations and renewables for SCE&G. “We’re pleased to work with CEC to put solar power within reach for more of our customers and extend our commitment to growing renewable energy in South Carolina.”
CEC will integrate its software and services suite Community Solar Platform™ to provide customer sales, system monitoring, production tracking, bill crediting and ongoing subscriber engagement.
“We commend SCE&G for its leadership among investor-owned utilities in establishing one of the country’s most significant community solar programs, providing a renewable energy option that is more broadly accessible to South Carolinians of all economic or geographic circumstance,” adds Paul Spencer, CEC’s founder and CEO.
SCE&G renewables portfolio
For SCE&G the initiative forms part of the plan to build out its renewable portfolio. According to the company since 2007, some 1,600 customer solar systems have been interconnected at homes, businesses, non-profits and government entities. The goal is to add more than 84W of new solar by the end of 2020, of which half will be utility-scale.
In April SCE&G announced plans to add six new utility-scale solar facilities with a combined capacity of approximately 36MW to the system by the end of 2016. A further 10MW facility was announced earlier this month, putting the company “well ahead of schedule” to meet the 2020 goal.
Other energy sources in the generation mix include nuclear, natural gas, scrubbed coal and hydro.
Community solar potential
CEC, formed in 2009, established the country’s first community-owned solar array near El Jebel, Colorado in 2010. Since then the company has built or has under development more than 100 projects with 27 utility partners across 12 states, representing more than 177MW of community solar capacity.
According to a March 2016 review from Navigant Research, almost 89MW of community solar was deployed across the US at the end of 2015. By 2020, the total installed capacity of such programmes is expected to be 1.5GW, reaching 375,000 customers and representing a US$2.5 billion market.
Advantages of community solar projects are rapid deployment, in less than a year once policy is in place, and an opportunity for utilities that traditionally have struggled to gain traction in the rooftop solar market. For clean energy supporting customers the shared capital and operating costs offer an attractive economic proposition.
According to Navigant Research, state regulatory and utility structures should drive incentives to attempt new programme models. With drivers such as lower system cost and sustained demand for clean energy in the residential and commercial sector, there is potential for community solar to capture 2% of the solar market. However, the resulting decrease in utility control and increase in retail competition will require a rethinking of current utility business models and their electricity generation mix.
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