Several groups of citizens, businesses and nonprofit organizations launched community solar programs in Charlotte, N.C., and Salt Lake City. These grass-roots efforts are among the latest in a nationwide wave of “solarize” programs that aim to give community members easy and cut-rate access to home solar installations. Both programs exclusively offer Ameircan-made SolarWorld solar panels installed by local contractors at volume-discount pricing.
SolarWorld has a robust history of involvement in the community-solar movement. Since 2009, the company has partnered with solarize campaigns in 26 communities in four states to supply about 3 MW of American-made SolarWorld solar panels to nearly 1,000 families.
The programs launching in Charlotte and Salt Lake City mark two important evolutions of the community solar concept. In North Carolina, a group called the Cleaner is Cheaper coalition, supported by more than 20 community, faith and grass-roots groups, kicked off Solarize Charlotte today with an emphasis on bringing clean, safe power to low-income communities and working families. Following the U.S. Department of Energy’s solarize model – formerly the province of early-adopting solar states on the West Coast – Solarize Charlotte is one of a new wave of programs bringing community-based solar to emerging solar markets such as North Carolina.
Meanwhile, the University of Utah today launched the nation’s first community solar program sponsored by a university. The U Community Solar campaign offers discounted solar panels and installations to university faculty, students, staff, alumni and campus guests. Administered by the nonprofit Utah Clean Energy, it includes an innovative feature: Participants in the U Community Solar program can give associated renewable energy credits stemming from their solar panels to the university, helping the university achieve its carbon-reduction goals.
“In this exciting period of the solar industry’s development, when crowd-sourcing is emerging as a viable community financing instrument, the solarize approach has established a proven track record and model to spark further innovation,” said Mukesh Dulani, U.S. president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., based in Oregon.
SolarWorld has supplied solar panels for community solar programs since the solarize concept was conceived by residents of a Southeast Portland neighborhood in 2009. In partnership with Solar Oregon, the nonprofit Energy Trust of Oregon, city governments, solar installers and the U.S. Department of Energy, SolarWorld has provided more than 2.6 MW of solar panels to 18 communities in Oregon alone.
The solarize movement soon spread to neighboring states. In Washington, where solarize programs are administered by the nonprofit Northwest SEED and supported by utilities Seattle City Light and Snohomish County Public Utility District, the company has supplied panels to five communities in and around Seattle since 2012.