In April 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy published a report that projected the U.S. would add 11 GW of community solar by 2020. Policymakers, utilities, and the solar industry took notice of this huge customer base and addressable market. On the other hand, in May 2015 an industry report was published showing that only 74 MW of community solar capacity had been installed in the entire U.S. Clearly, significant innovation and creativity, particularly with program efficiencies, were required to allow for rapid scaling.
Jump to just a year later, and community solar is rising up the curve of its “hockey-stick” shaped projections. Fifteen states have now passed community solar legislation, utilities big and small are announcing programs in a variety of regulatory markets, and just about every solar company with aims of growth has announced an interest in community solar. For context, Clean Energy Collective alone is expected to build more capacity by the end of this year than the 74 MW reported for the entire U.S. through May of 2015.
Even more encouraging is that this growth is being driven through the introduction of enterprise-level software that has opened the gates to greater efficiencies, lower costs, and less risk. The standardization that comes from software has made possible the rapid integration and management of multi-megawatt projects and portfolios—the economies of scale truly needed to reach market potential. This new software-driven community solar industry means we are moving into an environment where soft costs can move down as quickly as hard costs. That makes gigawatt scale community solar a reality.
Clean Energy Collective has been at the forefront of this industry since the idea of shared renewables was just a flicker. The culmination of that unique perspective is the Community Solar Platform—a robust, well-tested software-as-a-service (SaaS) bundle that provides utilities, developers, and asset owners the tools to navigate the legal, administrative, and technical complexities of community solar programming. It provides:
- Customer acquisition
- Program and regulatory management
- Billing integration
- Facility O&M
- Customer E&M (the long-term engagement and management of program participants).
Since panels aren't installed on a customer’s roof, community solar customer acquisition can be done completely online, at a fraction of even the lowest cost achievable by rooftop solar. But succeeding at fully online acquisition isn’t simple—it requires websites, videos, calculators, FAQs, and more. In short, it requires the comprehensive, seamless experience that comes only from an integrated software solution.
Ithaca, New York-based developer Renovus Solar is utilizing the Community Solar Platform to roll out a large community solar portfolio across western and central New York. Renovus’ objective was to generate quick program traction and deliver confidence to investment partners through robust customer interest. It worked. In fact, in its first public event soliciting program participation, Renovus signed up more than 400 customers in just a few hours.
This same suite of software monitors production across facilities and, through a versatile integration engine, interfaces directly with utility billing systems to seamlessly apply energy credits directly on subscriber bills, in compliance with the endless regulatory complexities associated with community solar.
Finally, a dynamic software solution must address the often undervalued component of successful community solar programming—on-going customer engagement. A customer-facing online portal provides participants with their energy production, bill savings, environmental benefits, as well as updates and account messaging—a direct connection to their solar panels. By allowing energy customers to monitor their clean energy production data, utilities and project owners can maintain and enhance their valuable customer relationships, help customers make a strong connection with their renewable energy asset, and maximize participant retention. Further, this robust engagement through software allows a smooth transition to the evolving world at the grid edge, integrating new services and customer programs.
The reasons for optimism in community solar’s rapid growth truly are clear and strong. With broad acknowledgement of the benefits of community solar, the accuracy and automation from a SaaS platform make it easy for utility execs to say ‘yes’ to a community solar program. (Thus the partnerships CEC has signed with three major IOUs in just the last few months, in addition to two dozen established utility partnerships.) Through continued innovation and expanded partnerships, we are bridging the gap to the multi-gigawatt scaling of community solar.
To learn more about the Community Solar Platform and how to use software to streamline your community solar projects, visit www.communitysolarplatform.com.