- First Solar has bought an equity stake in Clean Energy Collective (CEC), the leading U.S. developer of community solar projects. Community solar offers residents with roofs unsuitable for solar the opportunity to buy a portion of a larger, remotely sited array.
- Observers say community solar is an innovative way for First Solar to participate in the U.S. residential market despite the fact that its thin film modules are too inefficient to be economically practical as a rooftop product.
- Analysts say community solar may also have bigger growth potential than rooftop arrays if estimates that find less than 25% of all residential roofs suitable for solar are accurate.
Community solar projects are typically less than 5 megawatts and send their power directly to the grid. Individuals in high rises or in densely shaded homes purchase one or more of the array’s modules and earn credits from their utility that lower their electricity bills.
This deal affirms a pair of solar industry trends. One is a movement away from the kind of huge utility-scale projects First Solar has specialized in. The second is a movement toward aggregated purchases of projects that offer a solar opportunity to those who don’t own roofs.
Community solar will likely become increasingly affordable as First Solar’s ramped up module manufacturing creates economies of scale that bring the cost of its cadmium telluride thin film modules down.
CEC investors presently pay from $800 to $1,000 per module. The payoff period is reportedly 8 years to 12 years.
Details of the First Solar-CEC deal were not provided except that First Solar will have 2 seats on CEC’s board.