With the average price of utility-scale solar electricity now at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, it makes more sense than ever for utilities to consider adding community solar projects to their generation portfolios. And if your utility is new to the shared solar model, then you are in luck—the Community Solar Value Project (CSVP) has just introduced a new Solutions Toolbox to help you develop a successful program.
In community or shared solar development, customers subscribe to solar project output or purchase or lease solar panels. According to the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), some 170 utilities nationwide currently offer or are planning to offer community solar.
The CSVP focuses on helping utilities to develop programs that meet the needs of both the utility and the customer. This includes programs that are developed entirely by the utility, as well as programs where the utility works with non-utility service providers.
Six sides of box
The Toolbox distills the wisdom and experiences of dozens of utilities and their trade allies to identify best practices that deliver value while speeding the project to market. The site, “Solutions Outside the Box,” addresses six challenge areas:
- Cross-departmental program design
- Strategic solar project design
- Best-practice financing and procurement
- Target marketing for customer acquisition
- Integration with solar-plus measures, such as energy storage and demand response (DR)
- Analytics, streamlined to get from project economics to program pricing
These issues will sound familiar to anyone who attended the CSVP workshop WAPA hosted at the Electric Power Training Center last June. One takeaway from that event was that every utility planner faces problems unique to their policy environments, organizational structures and customer demands.
Rich in resources
With that in mind, the CSVP built flexibility into the toolbox, stocking each topic with top planning guides, technical summaries, presentations and training webinars.
- The Process is a flexible, solutions-oriented roadmap utilities can follow to develop their own community solar programs. High-Value Community Solar: A Brief Guide to Utility Program Design, a report in presentation format, summarizes lessons learned and introduces the planning resources on the website.
- Strategic Design introduces the benefits of local, community-scale solar and of designing with strategic integration value in mind. This section provides tips for making high-value design choices, from strategic siting and solar tracking to gaining added value from solar shade structures. It dovetails with economic analysis process discussed in Section 6, Net-Value Assessment & Pricing.
- Procurement for Products & Services is an area offering many opportunities for improving net value. Among the resources here, you will find CSVP’s concise outsourcing decision key, project financing models suitable for investor-owned or consumer-owned utilities and a procurement resource guide with direct links to publications on developing a solar request for proposal.
- Target Market Research & Segmentation is a relatively new approach for utilities, but it is required for success with community solar. This topic covers best practices for community solar programs, with references to relevant resources, a webinar, market research checklist and step-by-step guide to Market Research and Market Segmentation for Community Solar Program Success. WAPA customer SMUD and other Utility Forum members joined CSVP on fieldwork for these resources.
- Companion Measures, such as solar-plus-storage and DR, can be integrated into community solar projects to create new options and value streams. CSVP’s guide to DR companion measures and guide to storage companion measures define options on either side of the meter that can complement community solar. An annotated resource list is a useful companion guide.
- Net-Value Assessment & Pricing provides detail on CSVP’s streamlined analytic process to speed the path from early-stage program design to competitive program pricing. It begins with an overview presentation and a paper on CSVP’s streamlined economic analysis and includes three generic scenarios illustrating how this analytic approach applies in different utility settings. A presentation and blog on pricing strategy clarifies the last step in this approach.
The CSVP developed the Solutions Toolbox in partnership with energy industry experts and utilities, including SMUD. The DOE SunShot Initiative provided funding for the project under its Solar Market Pathways program. For more information about Solutions Toolbox or the Community Solar Value Project, contact Jill Cliburn at 505-490-3070.