Going solar is a great way to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels – while saving money! But what about the almost 80 percent of Americans who aren't able to install solar on their properties? Whether you're a renter, have a heavily shaded roof, or don't want to invest in a solar system, there's an alternative solution that can still allow you to reap the benefits of solar energy: community solar. The Coalition for Community Solar Access (CCSA) is dedicated to expanding community solar and making it more accessible across the U.S. In this article, we'll explain the importance of this coalition and what you need to know about them.
The CCSA's primary goal is to make it easier for more people to go solar.
Community solar is an excellent alternative to rooftop solar and allows you to save anywhere from 5-15 percent annually on your electricity costs.
Local Solar for All is a coalition of organizations – including CCSA – that want to expand local solar (which includes community solar and rooftop solar) and storage because it's the most cost-effective solution to reduce electricity costs for everyone.
To explore community solar projects near you, check out the EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace.
In CCSA's own words, they're a "national Coalition of businesses and non-profits working to expand customer choice and access to solar for all American households and businesses through community solar." While community solar is a viable alternative to solar on your property, the sign-up and billing process can be confusing – and community solar is not yet available in every state! Like EnergySage, CCSA has a consumer-first mindset: their mission is to "empower every American energy consumer with the option to choose local, clean, and affordable community solar." This entails working closely with their members, policymakers, and utilities to make signing up for community solar as easy as possible.
CCSA currently has two leading partner organizations, both of which are critical stakeholders in the solar industry: the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.
SEIA is the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry. They're an extraordinarily influential and critical organization, from advancing solar technology to spreading social awareness and advocating for solar policy. SEIA serves as CCSA's industry partner, helping drive the expansion and adoption of community solar throughout the industry.
Vote Solar is a nonprofit policy advocacy organization; in their own words, they have a mission of "making solar more accessible and affordable across the United States." They advocate for state, local, and federal solar policies and serve as CCSA's advocacy partner, working to make community solar more inclusive and accessible to everyone.
In the summer of 2021, the Biden administration released ambitious plans for the solar industry: solar could power 40 percent of U.S. electricity by 2035 and 45 percent by 2050, representing an over 1,000 percent increase from today. While utility-scale solar needs to expand and is an important part of the equation, local solar – meaning a combination of rooftop and community solar – is the key to reaching this goal most cost-effectively. CCSA and Vote Solar, along with several other major solar companies, built a coalition to create a roadmap for expanding local solar: Local Solar for All.
CCSA has several core principles, which seem to center around a few key goals: making solar more widely adopted, making it easier to go solar, and making solar more equitable. Not surprisingly, these goals align closely with Local Solar for All's roadmap.
According to Local Solar for All's roadmap, 24 gigawatts (GW) are currently installed in local solar. Local Solar for All built a model to optimize solar and storage deployment to be most cost-effective for the grid and the average person paying an electric bill each month! Their model found that by 2030, local solar needs to increase by 70 to 140 GW from where it stands today, and by 2050, it needs to reach between 171 and 247 GW.
As shown below in SEIA's U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) forecast, community solar helped drive solar expansion over the past five years and needs to continue playing a substantial role.
U.S. photovoltaic (PV) installation historical data and forecast, 2010-2026
Simplifying the process
While signing up for community solar is typically more straightforward than installing solar on your property, it's still not without challenges. In most cases, if you subscribe to a community solar project, you'll receive two monthly bills: one from your utility company and another from your community solar provider.
CCSA advocates for consolidated billing, which would make it easier to pay your utility company and community solar provider with one single bill and make it easier to sign up. Many community solar projects currently require minimum credit scores to sign up, but this would no longer be necessary with consolidated billing.
Making solar more equitable
Community solar is generally more accessible to low-and-moderate income (LMI) families than rooftop solar, but barriers exist (such as credit score requirements). According to a 2021 survey by Uplight, over 32 percent of LMI customers struggled to pay an electric bill over the past year, which was approximately three times greater than higher-income customers. So, people who could benefit the most from a lower electric bill might not even be eligible for some community solar projects. Check out this article to learn more about LMI community solar.
In addition to supporting lower credit score requirements and promoting consolidated billing, deploying local solar on a broader scale can help LMI customers by lowering electric bills for everyone. Local Solar for All estimates that a national 95 percent clean electricity target with expanded local solar and storage would save ratepayers $473 billion by 2050 compared to a clean electricity grid without expanded local solar and storage.
Is community solar a good deal?
For most people, community solar is a great deal! Depending on your subscription structure, bill credit discount, energy consumption, and the amount of energy your project generates, you'll likely save anywhere from 5-15 percent annually on your electricity costs.
Is community solar legitimate?
Community solar is very legitimate. Community solar projects work by generating and distributing renewable electricity for the grid; then subscribers purchase a share of this energy – typically at a discount – to offset their electric bill. As a subscriber, you'd receive credits towards your monthly electric bill for any energy you buy from the project, reducing what you owe your utility company.
How much community solar exists today?
According to SEIA, as of the end of 2021, 4.6 GW of community solar was installed in the U.S.
Like CCSA, EnergySage wants to expand solar, make it easier for everyone to go solar, and make solar more equitable. The EnergySage Community Solar Marketplace is designed to allow you to explore, compare, and sign up for projects near you. Don't see any projects available in your area yet? The community solar industry is constantly growing, and more and more states are introducing policies to support development – so be sure to check back soon!