Credit: Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Earlier this summer, Clean Energy Trust hosted a webinar that featured a conversation between industry experts as they explore how the community solar industry is growing and evolving.

The panelists included Madeleine Klein, Managing Director of Policy & Market Strategy at ENGIE North America Inc, John McIntyre, Managing Director at American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, Steph Speirs, Co-Founder & CEO at Solstice, and moderator, Susie Spigelman, Director of Partnerships at Clean Energy Trust.

They discussed how various stakeholders, including investors, utilities, and residential offtakers are maximizing their environmental, financial, and community impacts using community solar.

If you are interested in learning about community solar, we invite you all to watch the full webinar at the following link and read on to discover the seven things we think you should know about community solar.


1. What is community solar?

Community solar provides energy to those who want clean, renewable energy, but can’t have solar panels of their own.

Community solar uses a centralized solar farm to produce renewable energy that flows back to the grid. Community solar subscribers sign up for a portion of that farm’s solar power.


2. Why was the community solar industry created?


The community solar industry was created to solve a problem. Most people cannot put solar on their rooftop. In fact, Solstice Co-Founder & CEO Steph Speirs’ research found that four out of five Americans are unable to participate in the rooftop solar market.

Those excluded may include renters and condo owners along with homeowners who have a tree covering their roof, their roof is facing the wrong way, or perhaps their roof is made out of the wrong materials.

So, what’s a renter to do? Consider enrolling in community solar.


3. Why enroll in community solar?

Community solar is the most affordable and accessible clean energy option for most people.

Most community solar options don’t require you to pay any upfront costs, don’t require you to put anything on your home, and guarantee you a discount on your electricity bill.


4. Why are investors interested in community solar?


Community solar has a great business model. According to John McIntyre, Managing Director at American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, community solar offers a fantastic value proposition with no money down, access to solar energy, and saves you money on your electric bill — all while doing good things for the Earth.

Due to the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, or AmFam’s, structure as a social impact fund, they have a double bottom line approach. They want financial returns like every venture fund, but they also seek to amplify positive social impact in communities. Specifically, they’re looking to benefit communities of need — low to moderate-income communities — and community solar does just that.


5. Why are retail energy suppliers interested in community solar?


Retail energy suppliers see triple bottom line value — people, planet, profit — in community solar.

“We want to offer what our customers need and value, and when solar doesn’t work on their roof. Community solar provides a good alternative,” said Madeleine Klein, Managing Director of Policy & Market Strategy at ENGIE North America Inc.


6. Why are communities interested in community solar?

Communities sign up for rooftop solar when their friends and neighbors sign up.

Steph Speirs explains that clean energy is contagious — it spreads through network effects. Along with supporting climate change mitigation, local clean energy, and saving money on electricity bills, there is a network effect that comes into play when people sign up for community solar, which encourages everyone around them to sign up too.

Communities can use community solar to help address climate change and structural inequalities in our economy. It can be an important part of the climate solution because it allows access to those who have never had access to clean energy before. Communities realize that clean energy is for them.


7. Why are small businesses interested in community solar?

When small businesses sign up for community solar, they want to save money on their electricity bills. But beyond that, with Solstice’s partnership strategy, they partner with organizations and businesses that also spread the word about community solar to their members.

Employers spread community solar to their employees as a way of being an environmental steward. Municipalities promote community solar to their citizens as a way of spreading the benefits of energy savings to everyone in their community.