Sunday, March 27, 2016

Why this New Solar Market Could Be Set to Explode

In this Wednesday, May 13, 2015 photo, some of the more than 37,000 solar panels gather sunlight at the Space Coast Next Generation Solar Center, in Merritt Island, Fla. (Credit: AP Photo/John Raoux) Click to Enlarge.
Right now, there’s an odd thing about solar in the United States (and elsewhere). It’s either really big — at the scale of massive solar farms with the capacity to generate tens or hundreds of millions of watts of electricity — or pretty small: on your rooftop, with maybe as little as 5 kilowatts, or thousand watts, of capacity.

Solar has been growing extremely fast in these existing markets.  But more and more, analysts say, there’s a middle-range market whose large potential is just becoming clear.  It’s bigger than individual rooftop installations but smaller than vast solar farms.  And it’s for a much broader and diverse range of people than fairly wealthy, suburban homeowners.

It’s called community or “shared” solar, meaning that multiple people get electricity from a mid-sized solar array on the top of, say, a condo building, or in a lot centered in a community, or perhaps an array or resource designated by their power company.  This means people living in more densely populated cities, who may not own the roofs over their heads or who may not have the best credit, could also participate in the solar wave — without having to purchase or finance panels themselves.

As of 2015, only a tiny sliver of all solar capacity in the United States fit into this category.  But according to a new report from the energy think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute, the potential for community solar to expand is vast.  The group said that as much as 30 gigawatts (or billion watts) of solar capacity, at the extreme upper end, could be added in this space by the year 2020, which would more than double all currently installed solar capacity in the United States.

Granted, that also requires a redefinition of what community solar is — the group calls it “community-scale” solar to denote mid-sized arrays, whether owned by a group of individuals or by a power company.

By this definition, “community-scale solar reaches millions of U.S. customers that so far rooftop solar has not or cannot,” notes the report.  It found that almost half of all U.S. homes and businesses cannot have solar even if residents want it “because they rent their home, live in dwellings such as a multi-unit apartment building or high-rise condo, or have a roof unsuitable for solar.”

Hence the size of this market:  The Rocky Mountain Institute says it is larger than prior estimates for three main reasons.  One, solar tax credits have again been extended; second, the price of the technology keeps falling; and third, the institute defines the market more broadly, to include offerings by different types of power companies, including rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities.

“Community-scale solar is at a sweet spot between utility-scale and behind-the-meter solar,” says the document.  “It is neither too big nor too small; it is just the right size to capture community and distributed energy benefits on the one hand and utility-scale solar’s economies of scale on the other.”

Another report on the subject, released by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions, details why it is likely going to be good business for more utility companies of all types — ranging from large, investor owned utilities to rural electric cooperatives — to offer more shared solar programs to customers.  Like the Rocky Mountain Institute, then, Deloitte is focused in particular on the kind of community or at least community-scale solar that would be offered by power companies, rather than set up by a group of individuals (like, say, a condo building).

Read more at Why this New Solar Market Could Be Set to Explode

No comments:

Post a Comment