Solar fever is sweeping the nation, and the Southeast is no exception. Every year, more and more people are taking advantage of the most abundant energy resource on Earth by installing solar photovoltaic panels on their roofs. The price of solar panels has dropped dramatically in recent years, and now is a great time to lock in low (or even negative) utility bills and avoid future rate increases.
However, not everyone has the opportunity to take advantage of this solar gold rush. According the the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, about 75% of residential rooftops in the U.S. are not suitable for solar panels due to structural, shading, and other constraints. And that doesn’t even account for ownership status (e.g., renters) or financial considerations.
The most promising solution to these obstacles is the rise of community solar projects, which allow individuals to purchase a portion of a larger-scale solar installation that is typically managed by their utility. Fortunately for those of us in the Tennessee Valley, TVA recently announced two exciting new opportunities to help local power companies (LPCs) develop community solar projects.
In addition to overcoming obstacles to residential solar installations, community solar projects offer several other benefits. First, larger-scale installations are more cost-effective thanks to significant economies of scale. The economic benefits extend beyond those who participate, as the projects can drive local development and create jobs. In addition, LPCs can optimize the siting of projects to maximize grid benefits and public outreach goals while increasing their understanding of solar technologies and grid integration of distributed generation.
Community solar is not entirely new to the Tennessee Valley. As we reported previously, Duck River EMC became the first local distributor in TVA’s territory to develop a community solar project. For $600, customers can buy the energy output of half of a panel at the 26 kW solar farm in Shelbyville, Tenn.
A recently released best practice primer can help to guide LPCs in designing community solar projects. The primer was developed by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center, Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, and Tennessee Environmental Council. You can learn more in the primer about the benefits of community solar and the opportunities available to LPCs in the Tennessee Valley.
If you would like for your local utility to build a community solar project, please make your voice heard and send along the best practice primer. Please let us know if you have any questions about how to make community solar happen in your neck of the woods.