Solar in Your Community Challenge Resources Archive

Solar in Your Community Challenge Resources Archive

Developing a project or program for the Solar in Your Community Challenge requires careful consideration and planning. This resource page is designed to help guide and inform contestants of all levels of expertise launch their project or program successfully. These resources provide detailed overviews of issues like project development, customer acquisition, financing, permitting and interconnection, system design, and low and moderate income participation. We encourage contestants to familiarize themselves with these resources, and use them in conjunction with their Challenge coaches and other technical assistance.

Solar Curriculum

Our solar curriculum launched September 29th, 2017. We're holding interactive classes on LMI policy, project design, customer acquisition, solar finance, and more almost every Friday.

We've also compiled a collection of short videos of solar experts talking about challenges and opportunities that might be of interest to challenge teams. The videos are 1 to 7 minutes long, and cover topics including 'Using LIHEAP funds for solar', 'how to brand your project and get media attention', and 'USDA grants and resources for solar'.

On October 11th we held a Solar in Your Community Challenge Workshop at the ASES Solar Conference in Denver, Colorado. Attendees heard success stories from teams, as well as several lectures on solar financing.

The Solar in Your Community Challenge Training (SYC Training), held March 13th-14th in Washington D.C., brought together team participants, coaches, and other solar experts for a 2-day training. The Training aimed to educate, empower, and connect Solar in Your Community (SYC) Challenge teams in order to meet the following objectives:

  • Educate, train, and empower teams with the knowledge, skills and attitude needed to be successful in the challenge.
  • Provide opportunities for teams to workshop their projects in group settings with peers, solar experts, and trainers.
  • Build collaborative networks and partnerships between challenge teams within similar regions or topical affinity groups to share best practices, trouble-shoot challenges, and further develop strategies to grow the solar market.

The new Prize Challenge Administrators are conducting a series of Educational and Capacity Building Trainings based on the needs and requests of the participating teams. Below is a list of the trainings done to date.

  • Impact Investment (June 28, 2018) by Optony

Learn more and read summaries of the different training sessions below.

Educational and Capacity Building Trainings

As part of the general TA being provided to all participants of the Solar in Your Community Prize Challenge, ICMA and Cadmus will be hosting regular trainings on topics identified by participants of the challenge. These will also feature any updates from DOE and the Prize Administrator in regards to the challenge and the Final Award Application.

Impact Investments

June 28, 2018

Hosted by Cadmus, this training included a presentation by Optony on Impact Investments, updates from DOE and the Prize Administrator (ICMA) as well as the success stories of two teams, RE-volv and UpGrade Ohio. Below are the links to view the training and materials.

Solar Finance

July 31, 2018

Hosted by Cadmus, this training included a presentations on Solar Fiance by Mary Rottman and Cadmus as well as a success story from Rays the Valley. Below are the links to view the training and materials.

Final Prize Process

August 30, 2018

Hosted by Cadmus, this training included a presentations on the Final Prize Process from ICMA and DOE with time for Q&A as well as a success story from Solar Pioneers. Below are the links to the materials. Unfortunately a video recording of the webinar is unavailable.

Final Prize Application Follow Up

October 2, 2018

Resources for Community Solar Project Development

The following list of resources is designed to help Solar in Your Community Challenge project participants to understand the basics of community solar, different community solar business models, potential state and local policies that can impact a project, as well as the potential financial impacts of a project. Challenge participants should carefully consider these issues when planning and developing the goals for their project, and consider these resources a “starting point” for their planning process.

A Guide to Community Solar: Utility, Private and Non-profit Project Development – U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2012)
This guide is designed as a resource for those who want to develop community solar projects. By exploring the range of incentives and policies while providing examples of operational community solar projects, it will help communities to plan and implement successful local energy projects.

US Community Energy Website - University of Maine
This website, created by a research team at the University of Maine, catalogues over 6,000 community renewable energy across the United States, provides statistics, and allows user to search projects by financial model, funding sources, community type, and completion stage.

Community Solar Scenario Tool – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)
The Community Solar Scenario Tool (CSST) provides a "first cut" analysis of different community or shared solar program options. This model allows users to see how various inputs, such as system size, location, and project costs, impact the economics of a project from both a potential customer's perspective as well as the sponsoring utility.

Community Solar Toolkit
Collection of reports and resources on community solar, broken down into several categories: fundamentals, policy tools, program design tools, finance tools, and customer engagement tools.

DSIRE: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency – North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center
DSIRE is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. DSIRE is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

South Carolina Energy Office
The Energy Office is committed to providing free resources to South Carolina teams participating in the Solar in Your Community Challenge aiming to save energy through greater efficiency, better information, and enhanced environmental quality.

The Ecology of Community Solar Gardening – National Regulatory Research Institute (2016)
This NRRI research paper provides an overview of community solar (CS) activities around the country. It reports on the rapid expansion of community solar projects under two different rubrics: 1. States that are implementing laws and rules that govern CS, currently underway in 15 states and the District of Columbia; and, 2. In other states as well those above, individual utility companies are obtaining approvals from their state regulatory authorities, or for non-state-regulated utilities from their governing boards or commissions, for CS programs.governing boards or commissions, for CS programs.

Renewable Energy Credits for Community Solar Program Design - Community Solar Value Project (2016)
This factsheet answers some common questions about Renewable Energy Credits, and how they can be applied to community solar.

Resources for Customer Acquisition and Program Design

Designing a shared solar program and recruiting offtakers is one of the most important steps of the project development process. Project developers who are new to shared solar should consider treating customer acquisition and program design in tandem, that is, work to design the program in a way that is appealing to customers, and is well aligned to their project goals. The following resources include potential model rules for community solar, potential ways to design a program that is aligned with customer demand, and ways to egage your community about the benefits of solar energy.

Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs
Revised in collaboration with The Vote Solar Initiative, the model rules are designed to assist stakeholders in developing shared renewables programs to broaden renewable energy access to more consumers. In addition, IREC updated its guiding principles for shared renewable energy programs to illustrate better these programs’ critical aspects.

Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-Income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions
In this report, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy via the Solar Market Pathways grant, SEPA aims to improve the public understanding of what community solar design models currently exist. This report breaks down program design into 12 key decisions and provides discussion as to what options are most prevalent, and their resulting consequences. In addition, the report provides insight into subscription rates, development times, and administrative costs of current programs.

Solar Community Engagement Strategies for Planners
This paper outlines the role that planners can play in developing solar projects, and defines strategies for engageing stakeholders throughout the development process. The guide also contains common misconceptions about solar and ways to educate the public about solar’s benefits.

The Solarize Guidebook - NREL
A guide for how to organize and strucuture bulk community purchasing of residencial PV systems in order to lower cost.

Solarize Your Community: An Evidence Based Guide for Accelerating the Adoption of Residential Solar
Guidebook that summarizes results and lessons learned through a set of solarize campaigns lauched accross the state of Connecticut from Fall 2013 to Spring 2016. In the three years these campaigns were running, the number of homes with solar grew from about 800 to over 12,500.

Residential Consumer Guide to Community Solar
This guide, aimed at residential consumers, offers a guideline of the potential benefits of community solar. It also provides an outline of ways that customers can engage with developers to ensure they understand to scope and terms of a shared solar arrangement, along with a key list of questions to ask before joining on of these programs.

Community Solar Program-Development Landscape: A Brief for Utility Program Designers - Community Solar Value Project (2016)
Provides an overview of how community solar programs, decisions, and trends impact utilites.

Pricing Models of Interest for Utility Driven Community Solar Programs - Community Solar Value Project (2016)
This resource details different pricing strategies, their relative benefits, and customer impact for utility-driven community solar programs.

Market Research and Market Segmentation for Community Solar Program Success - Community Solar Value Project (2016)
This brief is focused on the target marketing topic area. It guides utility program managers through the market research process, as they design, develop, and market the community solar program offer. By understanding the sub-groups or market segments within the customer base, the savvy community solar program designer can improve customer satisfaction and lower solar customer acquisition and retention costs.

Solar Training Network
The Solar Training Network is a program run by The Solar Foundation. This program serves to provide connections between job seekers, solar employers, solar trainers, and workforce boards.

Resources for Financing Solar

Securing financing will be a critical component of most solar projects. As the majority of the costs of procuring solar PV are related to upfront installations, financial arrangements are used to allocate these costs across the life of the project. Project financing structures can be complicated, and often require outside lawyers and financiers to complete. The following resources provide an overview of many of these structures as well as tools to help challenge participants understand how their projects could be financed.

Emerging Opportunities and Challenges in Financing Solar – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)
This report provides on overview of popular methods for financing solar systems, including an overview of different tax equity structures and other methods of offsetting the cost of solar like third party ownership. The paper also provides an overview of common federal, state and local incentive programs, and a long-term look at potential sources of innovation in the financial sector.

PV Project Finance in the United States – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)
This brief is a compilation of data points and market insights that reflect the state of the project finance market for solar photovoltaic (PV) assets in the United States as of the third quarter of 2016. This information can generally be used as a simplified benchmark of the costs associated with securing financing for solar PV as well as the cost of capital. The authors look at three sources of capital—tax equity, sponsor equity, and debt—across three segments of the PV marketplace.

Renewable Energy Project Finance – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)
This website serves as a warehouse for NREL's work related to renewable energy finance. NREL conducts research, performs analysis, and produces content aimed to inform decision makers in the renewable energy field.

Solar Access to Public Capital – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)
NREL's Solar Access to Public Capital (SAPC) working group was designed to open capital market investment for solar assets via securitization and other financial innovations. Most notably, SAPC helped delvop standard lease and PPA docuements for use by the entire solar community.

Cost of Renewable Energy Spreadsheet Tool – National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The Cost of Renewable Energy Spreadsheet Tool (CREST) is an economic cash flow model designed to allow policymakers, regulators, and the renewable energy community to assess project economics, design cost-based incentives (e.g., feed-in tariffs), and evaluate the impact of various state and federal support structures.

Federal Resources for Community Solar – U.S. Department of Energy
This webpage contains a list of federal resources that can be used to help develop or off set the cost of solar PV. Spanning six Federal agenecies, the list includes products aimed at low income households, rural communities, developers, and the general public.

Community Solar Business Case tool – Elevate Energy (2017)
The Community Solar Business Case Tool provides a flexible financial model that projects the costs and benefits to the system developer and subscriber of a single community solar project. The tool has been developed using the panel purchase or panel lease price as a basis for project costs. A basic “breakeven” price for panel purchase or monthly panel lease value is given based on the price of electricity over the course of the project, allowing users to understand project economics and balance subscriber and developer costs and benefits.

Financing Community Scale Solar – Rocky Mountain Institute (2017)
In this report, Rocky Mountain Institute’s (RMI’s) Shine community-scale solar program and Sustainable Finance practice area describe how established solar-financing models can be easily adapted to the community-scale solar market, and discuss key risks and mitigants, as a framework for financiers and project developers to use in order to rapidly grow this market.

Using Power Purchase Agreements for Solar Deployment at Universities - National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2016)
This brochure provides guidance to universities and other stakeholders on the process of using PPAs and how PPAs can make economic sense for campus solar deployment. This document can support university stakeholders charged with the financial planning of campus solar projects.

Community Solar Project Ownership Structures and Financing - Community Solar Value Project (2015)
This Community Solar Value Project working paper aims to help utilities understand their choices for structuring and financing community solar programs. The options vary based on the structure of utility (investor-owned, municipal utility, or co-op), state policies, and the upcoming changes to the federal solar tax incentives.

Preliminary One Hundred Impact Investors
This is a list created by Optony which has one hundred impact investors and community benefit foundations relevant to community Solar Development.

Resources for Site Selection, Permitting & Interconnection

Picking the right site for a project can ultimately help decide its success or failure. Community solar developers should carefully screen sites to both minimize potential permitting or interconnection issues, and ensure that project site is capable of producing the requisite amount of electricity to meet the demands of the shared solar offtakers. Developers should also consider alternative siting arrangements (such as brownfield development), and begin to make sure that their project is compliant with all relevant codes and standards. The following resources can help challenge contestants gain a better understanding of these issues including their local permitting and interconnection processes.

National Solar Permitting Database – Clean Power Finance
The National Solar Permitting Database is a free, online database of information related to solar permitting requirements of cities and counties across the country. Developed by Clean Power Finance and supported by a Department of Energy grant, organizes and simplifies solar permitting processes by compiling the information in a single location.

Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (Solar ABCs)
The Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (Solar ABCs) is a collaborative effort among experts to formally gather and prioritize input from the broad spectrum of solar photovoltaic stakeholders including policy makers, manufacturers, installers, and consumers resulting in coordinated recommendations to codes and standards making bodies for existing and new solar technologies.

RE-Powering America's Land Mapping and Screening Tools – Environmental Protection Agency
Using screening criteria developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, EPA has pre-screened over 80,000 sites for their renewable energy potential. Developers can use this as a starting point for identifying sites for brownfield development.

Model Interconnection Procedures – Interstate Renewable Energy Council (2013)
First developed in 2005 and updated in 2009, the 2013 edition of IREC’s Model Interconnection Procedures synthesizes a number of best practices in the evolution of safe and reliable connecting renewable energy systems to the utility grid.

Resources for Project Design & Installation

Designing your project to meet the needs of your customers is important for reaching your project goals. Many of the details of the PV design will be solved by the solar developer you choose, however there are several pieces you should consider before hiring an installer. Requests for proposals (RFPs) should clearly state the needs of your project. In addition, it’s recommended to understand PV system basics and refer to these resources before you committing to a contract with an installer.

Requests for Proposals Basics – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2015)
This website serves to explain the procurement process for solar PV systems. A RFP is a solicitation device used by agencies looking to obtain products or services from potential poviders. This website includes a link to a webinar for more information.

Model Requests for Proposals – U.S. Department of Energy (2016)
This document contains guidance for the procurement of solar PV (solar). This template contains information on project background, scope of work, proposal requirements, evaluation criteria and recommended information to provide to respondents. Users are encouraged to modify the template to suit project needs.

Archive of Community Solar RFPs and Related Documents - Community Solar Value Project (2016)
This website contains sample RFPs used by organizations in procuring community solar.

Resource Guide for Local Solar Procurement - Community Solar Value Project (2016)
This resource outlines different procurement methods for solar PV, and describes best practices for issuing RFPs, and sample procurement documents.

Solar Photovoltaic System Design Basics – U.S. Department of Energy (2013)
Solar photovoltaic modules are where the electricity gets generated, but are only one of the many parts in a complete photovoltaic (PV) system. In order for the generated electricity to be useful in a home or business, a number of other technologies must be in place. This website explains the basics of mounting structures, inverters, and storage.

System Advisor Model – National Renewable Energy Laboratory
The System Advisor Model (SAM) is a performance and financial model designed to facilitate decision making for people involved in the renewable energy industry. Specifically, this tool is useful for project managers, engineers, policy analysts, and researchers.

Solar In Your Community Challenge Resources for LMI Participation

Inclusivity of low and moderate income residents and communities requires advanced planning. The following is a list of resources to assist Challenge participants with understanding barriers to entry as well as emerging solutions.

Shared Renewable Energy for Low- to Moderate-income Consumers: Policy Guidelines and Model Provisions
IREC’s LMI Guidelines and accompanying LMI Model Provisions are designed to work in concert with IREC’s Model Rules, and serve as IREC’s recommendations for state, local and utility programs that aim to provide more equitable access to shared renewable energy to more customers.

RMI Breaking Ground: New Models that deliver energy solutions to low-income customers
This guide explores four examples of new business models emerging to serve low-income customers. These include the Co-op Owner Model, Building Co-op Model, Worker Co-op Mdel, and Tenant Load Flex Model. This resource includes a diagram of each model that maps the goods, services, and monetary flows between stakeholders to illustrate the distribution channels, stakeholder relationships, and key activities involved.

Low-Income Solar Policy Guide
This policy guide explores various policy tools including compensation mechanisms, direct incentives, and financing that can be combined to create programs that address the unique access issues of low-income residents and communities. Case studies on single-family rooftop solar models, multifamily housing, community solar, and workforce development dive into the specifics of programs in several states.

From Power to Empowerment: Plugging Low Income Communities Into the Clean Energy Economy
This brief white paper summarizes several of the barriers to entry low-income homeowners and renters face when attempting to access renewable energy.

Bringing the Benefits of Solar Energy to Low-Income Consumers - Clean Energy States Alliance (2017)
This guide, outlines the obstacles that low-income households face in accessing solar power and provides a detailed overview of strategies that policymakers and government agencies can use to encourage low-income solar adoption.

Resources for Understanding Solar Policy

The following list of resources is designed to help Solar in Your Community Challenge project participants to understand existing solar policies, which can differ consiterablly from state to state. Also included are some resources aimed at government policymakers who are trying to improve solar regulation.

Community Shared Solar: Policy and Regulatory Considerations – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (2014)
This fact sheet explores the ways in which the shared solar business model interacts with existing policy and regulations, including net metering, tax credits, and securities regulation. It presents some of the barriers that shared solar projects may face, and provides options for developing supportive policies.

Community Solar Policy Decision Matrix - Coalition for Community Solar Access
A matrix designed to lead policymakers through important questions, grouped into five categories, which should be addressed when designing programs.

Community Solar Policy Map – Vote Solar (2016)
This map provides a comprehensive overview of state community solar policies, allowing participants to easily gain an understanding of state policy that may impact the development of their challenge project.

Consumer Protection for Community Solar: A Guide for States - Clean Energy States Alliance
CESA has released a new guidebook for state regulators on developing consumer protection measures for community solar. This guide discusses consumer protection issues that may arise in community solar projects for residential consumers, and the role states can play in ensuring appropriate consumer protections.

Freeing the Grid: Best Practices in State Net Metering Policies and Interconnection Procedures
Website with a summary of state inteconnection policies and model policy guidelines.

National Shared Renewables Scorecard - Interstate Renewable Energy Council (2017)
IREC’s National Shared Renewables Scorecard evaluates state shared renewables programs across the country, providing policymakers and other stakeholders with insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the various programs.

Shared Solar: Current Landscape, Market Potential, and the Impact of Federal Securities Regulation - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Report providing a high-level overview of the current U.S. shared solar landscape and the impact that a given shared solar program's structure has on requiring federal securities oversight.

Policies to Support Community Solar Initiatives: Best Practices to Enhance Net Metering - Renewable Energy Applications for Delaware
Report reviewing policies to support community solar initiatives and best practices to enhance net metering.

State Policy Guide for Midsized Solar Customers - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Midscale solar, defined as behind-the-meter solar PV between 50 kilowatts and 2 megawatts, has not experienced the same high growth rate as other market segments. This guide introduces the key solar policies necessary for policy-based decision-making, and the second provides a state-by-state inventory of midmarket solar policies.

Utility Community Solar Handbook - Smart Electric Power Alliance
This guide, aimed at government officials, community organizers, and solar energy advocates explains the utility perspective on community solar.

Other Tools and Research

Community Power Network
Website foucused on community energy projects which includes a map of community solar projects and resources for project planning.

Modernizing Minnesota's Grid: A Economic Analysis of Energy Storage Opportunities - University of Minnesota Energy Transition Lab (2017)
Analysis of the cost-effectiveness of storage in Minnesota which concludes that storage can be a cost-effective way to meet state greenhouse gas targets, and that even today solar plus storage is more cost-effective than a peaking plant if the environmental costs and ITC are factored in.

Renewable Global Status Report - Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (2017)
Yearly report that catalogues the global growth of renewable energy, with a focus on providing up-to-date data and informative infographics.

The Role of Pilots and Demonstrations in Reinventing the Utility Business Model - Rocky Mountain Institute (2017)
This report from the Rocky Mountain Institute explores the important role pilots and demonstration projects play in utility innovation, and makes recommendations for utilities, regulators, and DER providers to support more effective electricity innovation.

Solar Energy Resource Center - Department of Energy
Collection of solar resources compiled by the Department of Energy SunShot Team. Can be filtered to show only resources relevant to community solar.

Collection of training videos reltaed to solar gardens, with topics including organizing, finding a site, crowdfunding, and working with utilites.

SolSmart - Department of Energy
SolSmart is a national recognition and a no-cost technical assistance program for local governments designed to drive greater solar deployment and help make it possible for even more American homes and businesses to access affordable and renewable solar energy to meet their electricity needs.