Evaluating community solar as a measure to promote equitable clean energy access

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Journal Article

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Millions of households have adopted rooftop solar to reduce electricity bills and participate in the clean energy transition. Yet rooftop solar remains out of reach for many households, especially multifamily building occupants, renters, and low- and moderate-income (LMI) households. Community solar, where multiple households buy solar from shared systems, could make solar more accessible by reducing initial costs and removing adoption barriers for renters and multifamily building occupants. In this study published in Nature Energy, we test whether community solar has expanded solar access in the United States. Based on a sample of 11 states, we find that community solar adopters in 2023 were about 6.1 times more likely to live in multifamily buildings than rooftop solar adopters, 4.4 times more likely to rent, and earned 23% less annual income. These results suggest that community solar has extended solar adoption to communities that would have otherwise struggled to adopt rooftop solar.

These access benefits have been driven roughly evenly by differences in business models and differences in policy. The community solar business model has allowed households to adopt solar without owning a home or having exclusive access to a rooftop, two conditions that would pose substantial barriers to rooftop solar adoption. As a result, community solar can expand solar access without specific policies to support such access, especially among multifamily building occupants and renters. The research also suggests that policy has augmented those access benefits, particularly those that provide targeted support to help low-income households adopt community solar. Statistical analysis suggests that these types of policy supports explain around two-thirds of the differences in income levels between community and rooftop solar adopters, around 40% of differences in renter rates, and around 20% of differences in terms of multifamily housing.


Nature Energy

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This is a preprint version of an article published in Nature Energy. The published version can be purchased for download here

A brief overview of this study can be found here. A webinar discussion this research was recorded on June 18, 2024 and can be viewed here


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