A series of large solar panels forms a symmetrical line at a power plant in the San Luis Valley of central Colorado. The installation must be one of the most scenic in the United States, as it backs up to the snow capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These panels utilize a tracking system to follow the sun, collecting its energy and using photovoltaic cells to transform the sunlight into electricity.

Report | 2018

Progress and Potential for Community-Scale Solar

By Kevin BrehmThomas Koch Blank
Download the report below

A growing number of electric cooperatives and municipal utilities are capturing the economic, grid, and environmental benefits from community-scale solar (CSS) installations as institutional barriers to development are addressed for this emerging technology solution, according to a new report by Rocky Mountain Institute.

And while recent CSS market growth has exceeded both the so-called “behind-the-meter” solar like rooftop PV systems and utility-scale solar growth rates between 2015 and 2017, those barriers—encompassing cost, access, and demand—continue to drag on the CSS sector’s overall growth. The Progress and Potential for Community-Scale Solar report offers new approaches to help drive additional development and buyer adoption of this clean, reliable, locally sourced resource.

The report relays data and insights from RMI’s work supporting co-op solar procurement in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, and focuses particularly on the CSS opportunity for rural electric cooperatives. It follows RMI’s research highlighting levers to reduce CSS costs by 40 percent and enable a 30-gigawatt community-scale solar market—the equivalent of about 50 average-sized coal plants—by 2020.

RMI believes the CSS segment sits in an economic sweet spot in the market and represents an economic opportunity of as much as $30 billion. Community-scale systems are large enough to access low costs through economies of scale and small enough to efficiently interconnect into distribution systems. Via these solar arrays—between 0.5 MW and 5 MW per installation, interconnected to distribution networks, and sited directly within the neighborhoods they serve—cooperatives can leverage local connections to facilitate the development process, further reducing costs.