US community solar programs could reach 1.5 GW by 2020

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The total installed capacity for community solar programs in the United States could reach 1.5 GW in 2020, representing a $2.5 billion market, Navigant Research predicts in a new report.

Community solar projects accounted for 88.6 MW of capacity across the U.S. by the end of 2015, representing an estimated $175 million in revenue from those installations, according to the report, Community Solar and Virtual Net Metering.

Utilities across the U.S. have been deploying community solar programs since 2010, offering solar energy to residential and commercial users in multi-story buildings and those without an adequate roof to support solar electricity generation. Community solar is enabled by virtual net metering, which allows consumers to offset part or all of their electricity bills with the electricity produced by the solar project.

“Customers benefit from a solar project that is hosted outside the utility’s premises but utilizes its transmission and distribution infrastructure,” said Roberto Rodriguez Labastida, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “At the same time, utilities improve customer satisfaction and limit the economic and technical impact that rooftop solar generation can have on their business.”

Navigant found that a number of drivers, including lower system cost and sustained demand for clean energy in the residential and commercial sector, created potential for community solar to capture about 2% of the solar market.

However, the resulting decrease in utility control and increase in retail competition will require a rethinking of current utility business models and their electricity generation mix, the report adds.