Shared solar, where multiple parties share the benefits of on- or off-site PV arrays, has the potential to dramatically expand solar energy access for residents and businesses across the U.S., as well as open avenues for utilities to play a greater role in the U.S. transition to a low-carbon economy. However, in order for shared solar to be fully realized, the U.S. needs new business models, regulatory reform and clarification, along with ongoing technological advances, according to recently released research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).


“Options such as off-site shared solar and arrays on multi-unit buildings can enable rapid, widespread market growth by increasing access to renewables on readily available sites, potentially lowering costs via economies of scale, pooling customer demand, and fostering business model and technical innovations,” according to the report’s executive summary. “Fundamentally, these models remove the need for a spatial one-to-one mapping between distributed solar arrays and the energy consumers who receive their electricity or monetary benefits.”

Expanding Solar by Sharing PV System Benefits 

Whether via third-party leasing, power purchase agreements or outright purchases, current means of deploying PV systems on a site-by-site, individual customer basis severely limit solar PV’s market potential, according to the report, but “the technical, economic and market potential of traditional on-site PV are significantly larger than its current installed capacity.”

Community solar plays a small, though growing, part in the record amounts of solar that has come online in the U.S. in recent years. However that small part could expand dramatically. It has the potential to open up the market and make solar available to the remaining half of U.S. homes and businesses that cannot utilize on-site solar, according to NREL lead researcher and report author David Feldman.

Shared solar can reduce the financial and technical barriers that prevent Americans who live in multi-tenant housing and businesses and residents who rent or lease rather than own property to share electricity produced by PV arrays that they may own, lease or otherwise share, according to the report. This will enable project developers to realize economies of scale by aggregating demand.  

Shared solar affords other substantial benefits that could spur wholesale adoption of solar PV across the U.S. Among these, the report authors point out that: 

  • In the event a shared solar customer moves, his or her solar share can be transferred separately from his or her residence to a new home within the same utility service territory or sold to another entity;
  • Shared solar arrays allow for increased siting flexibility: strategic placement on sites such as commercial rooftops, brownfields, and municipal land can aid local economic development;
  • With utility input, strategic deployment can also aid grid integration. For utilities, shared solar arrays can function as a more streamlined and visible electricity-generating source than many smaller systems. By engaging community stakeholders, shared solar can help build community assets.

Realizing Shared Solar’s Tremendous Market Expansion Potential 

NREL researchers estimate that 49 percent of U.S. households and 48 percent of businesses are currently unable to “host a PV system of adequate size or virtually net meter an entire system themselves.” Updating regulations and streamling procedures and paperwork associated with installing shared solar energy systems would spur development of new business models and shared solar deployments, according to the report.

“Shared solar could represent 32-49 percent of the distributed PV market in 2020, growing cumulative PV deployment in 2015-2020 by 5.5-11.0 GW and representing $8.2 billion-$16.3 billion of cumulative investment.” 

Shared solar could contribute even more to the U.S. economy and society than the report authors estimate if governments, utilities and solar industry were to resolve several key issues constraining growth. According to the report: “As these new business models and legal frameworks are established, continued attention to compliance with the federal securities laws and consultation with the SEC where necessary will create more confidence within the market, and it will reduce restrictions, delays, and costs.” 

All images, graphics credit DOE-NREL, “Shared Solar: Current Landscape, Market Potential, and the Impact of Federal Securities Regulation”

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