Solar Builder

MAY-JUN 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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12 M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 8 able to deliver the permits upfront and thereby reduce the time and risk for the developer," Kortenhorst says. "As a collec- tive, as a co-op, you can drive the price down very aggressively." These organizations are also best suited for driving awareness and buy-in. Based on market research involving 2,001 residential utility customers and 252 small business customers across the country, a SEPA initia- tive funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that while 59 percent of cus- tomers were interested in solar in general, only 20 percent were familiar with commu- nity solar. In some states, policy dictates that community solar is for the most part a non- utility offer, but in most states, utilities play a leadership role in acquiring the solar resource and offering it as a customer program. According to SEPA, some 170 utilities nationwide currently offer or are planning to offer community solar. RMI estimates that municipal partners following this blueprint will drive another 30 cents per watt installed out of the cost. Add that to the supply side and voila, a 50 percent per watt install cost reduction. Current status Lastly, the concept needs champions at the development, EPC level. Seeds are already being planted. "We've invested roughly $1.5 billion in solar in the last 18 months. If there are cost reduction opportunities that come up, we are willing and able to be there as an interested customer," says Jenya Meydbray, VP of solar technology, Cypress Creek. "Whatever gets us the lowest cost trajec- tory while maintaining reliability is the way to go. The product can be pulled through very quickly if the value proposi- tion is compelling enough and the valida- tion is there." RMI has been working on this for more than a year, but the timing looks fortuitous in the wake of the #TrumpTariffs news. At worst, just one piece of that two-step cost reduction would more than counter the artificial inflation in module prices. "This administration has put tariffs on solar panels that amount to 12 cents per watt installed in the first year, and this therefore elegantly aims to overcome that step back in cost effectiveness of commu- nity solar," Kortenhorst says. A new 3-MW solar project in New Mexico will soon be selling its output below 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, a price RMI believes is the lowest reported con- tract for distributed PV in the United States. RMI provided project analysis and supported the competitive procurement process for Otero County Electric Cooperative Inc. "This is a solar size that does not exist at competitive rates currently and could really be a breakthrough for all types of energy buyers, for grid resilience and for the opportunity to explore different ownership models at a scale that has real impact," says Kassie Rohrbach, associate director, Ready for 100 Campaign, Sierra Club. "The appli- cability of being able to find a small acreage area in any urban or rural place, the siting possibilities, open up the opportunity to bring solar to scale in places we haven't been able to before." Chris Crowell is the managing editor of Solar Builder. NEWS IN THE 1. Pricing and financing: No big surprises here — consumers want low-cost options for buying into community solar projects. For example, for programs in which customers lease a certain number of panels in a project, rais- ing upfront costs from $395 to $495 per panel resulted in a 57 percent drop in consumer interest. 2. Real-time information on output: Consumers want to be able to track the output from their share of a project in real time, preferably from a web portal or an app on their phones. Program designers should consider this feature a must-have, not an optional add-on. 3. Utility involvement: Of those interested in community solar, two-thirds prefer programs sponsored either by their utility or by a solar firm partnering with their utility. Three Community Solar Design Keys From SEPA's community solar report

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