Community solar is a rapidly increasing trend in the United States, and it is more affordable and accessible now that it ever has been. The price of solar panels has decreased 70 percent since 2014, and the price of solar-produced electricity is now on par with or cheaper than conventionally produced electricity. While the US federal government currently does not have a dedicated solar strategy in place, the Biden administration has made renewable energy a legislative priority. Since community solar’s inception, it has been a state-level affair, with almost two dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, now leading the way with dedicated legislation. Below is a closer look at the state of community-solar in the US.
The US Department of Energy provides much research on solar. Currently, twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia have passed legislation paving the way for community solar. These pieces of legislation create regulations for third-party companies to enroll subscribers to their community-solar projects. Community solar projects are underway in nineteen other states that do not currently have related legislation. The community-solar projects in these states are not run by the states but typically by municipal agencies. In some cases, the top states aren’t just sunny but have seen their legislatures purposefully pave the way for the development of community solar. Over the past decade, jobs in the solar field have increased 167 percent, for a total of more than 250,000 solar workers in the country.
The US Department of Energy’s National Community Solar Partnership works toward the goal of expanding affordable community solar to all American households. The Partnership reports that four states make up nearly 75 percent of the total market, as measured by output in megawatts-alternating current (MW-AC): Florida (1,636 MW-AC), Minnesota (834 MW-AC), New York (731 MW-AC), and Massachusetts (674 MW-AC). Compared to dedicated rooftop solar-panel systems, community solar is more accessible because there is no purchase of solar panels required. Federal efforts have focused on studying and promoting the incentives needed to make community solar more accessible to people of low to moderate income (LMI), who spend twice the percentage of their income on energy costs than do non–LMI residents. These two trends—state-level expansion and a focus on accessibility—broadly characterize current efforts.
How the US Ranks Globally
In terms of solar output, the US ranks third globally, behind China and the European Union bloc and ahead of Vietnam and Japan. These are countries with strong central-government involvement in solar-energy development. The Biden administration has made renewable energy a priority in its Build Back Better (BBB) plan, which has yet to pass the Senate. The state-level approach to renewable energy, in which community solar is playing an increasingly important part, helps explain the US’s global ranking. Passing BBB would open up $555 billion in funds focused on renewable energy.