No Roof? No Problem!


‘Traditional’ residential PV – which, in most cases, involves a privately owned house's rooftop – is alive and well in the U.S. In fact, in 2011, these types of installations grew by 24% on a capacity basis, according to a new report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

But this residential installation model, under which a homeowner coordinates with a local installer and the relevant utility and decides to bolt some modules to his or her rooftop, has some unavoidable limitations.

Most obviously, it requires a suitable roof – something out of reach to renters (an increasingly large segment of the U.S. population), residents of shady streets, and even homeowners who happen to really like the way their houses look without solar panels. The financial hurdles to installing solar – whether the up-front cash needed to purchase a system or the high credit score needed to enter into a lease or receive a loan – keep out another potential segment of the population.

For all of these would-be PV customers interested in switching to solar energy on an individual-user basis, current options are often limited to participating in utility-sponsored"green," programs, which might involve the purchase of renewable energy credits through a monthly fee paid to the utility or its program partner.

Community solar, which could soon become a reality in California, brings solar power to the people in a much more direct way.

As we first reported in July, S.B.843, sponsored by State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-5, would allow all customers of California's major utilities to access virtual net-metered solar electricity from a shared solar project in the utility's territory.

The promised benefits of community solar are impressive: According to Community Solar California, a coalition pushing to get the bill passed, S.B.843 would create 11,000 jobs, generate $230 million in tax revenue, and inject $7.1 billion into the economy. No taxpayer costs would be involved.

Naturally, some details will still need to be worked out and some concerns eased, especially on the utility side. One recent positive sign: San Diego Gas & Electric has formally voiced its support, with some modifications to the original legislation. As of press time, S.B.843 was awaiting a vote on the California State Assembly floor.

‘California leads, and the rest of the country follows’ goes the common refrain of solar policy analysts and others in the industry. As a solar supporter and an urban apartment-dweller in Connecticut, I hope to see this legislation cross the finish line in California… and then swiftly travel eastward.Â

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Solar Industry. Shortly after the issue went to press, S.B.843 met defeat in the California legislature.

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