SunShare and “Community Solar Gardens”
Rooftop solar sounds like a great idea. You can have solar panels installed on your roof for no money upfront and can not only power your house but also can potentially sell some of the electricity you generate back to the grid. But what if you don’t have a suitable rooftop because of trees, shading, or other physical restrictions? What if you just don’t want to put solar panels on your roof for cosmetic reasons? Even more problematic, what if you’re living in a rental and don’t own the house? Sunshare is one company that has come up with a solution to all these problems with their community solar gardens.
Founded in 2011, Denver Colorado-based SunShare was founded by Colorado College graduate David Amster-Olszewski who began solar leasing during his college years in 2008. In 2011, David had sold $2 million in solar leases out of his college apartment to create SunShare’s first “community solar garden” in Colorado Springs. A “community solar garden” as the name implies is a solar producing property that is shared by many customers who use small portions of the power generated. SunShare’s built their first 3-acre .5 megawatt “community solar garden” in 2011 and sold all of its capacity in less than three months to 300 customers. The Company made the news several weeks ago by selling out the nation’s largest privately developed “community solar garden” which they will begin to construct this fall. The 10,000+ solar panel installation is expected to power over 500 Colorado homes.
How it Works
Sunshare offers the ability for anyone who has receives an electricity bill from one of the utility companies they service to make a minimum energy purchase of 2-5 solar panels in order to participate in the program. The solar panels are sold as a 20-year subscription. You can keep adding panels until you eliminate your electric bill and stop buying coal as seen below:
If the solar electricity you have purchased exceeds your monthly electricity bill, the credits will roll over to the next month. The energy produced by the panels is metered and recorded every 15 seconds by the utility provider. At the end of every month, the utility credits the kilowatt-hours produced by the solar panels to your monthly electricity bill, reducing or eliminating it. The month after you enroll, energy credits will start appearing on your statement. If you move, you can transfer the credits to another residence in the same county or sell them.
SunShare isn’t just making progress with residential customers. In April of this year, Manitou Springs became the first city in the nation to have all of its facilities powered by a “solar garden.” The city of Manitou Springs will pay 5.6 cents per kilowatt-hour for about 25% of the 2 megawatts of power the solar garden will generate with another undisclosed government agency buying yet another 25%. This purchase has helped Manitou Springs achieve their goal of reducing carbon emissions 30 percent by 2020.
In order for its business model to be a success, SunShare will need to continue to win bids against other competing companies. 16 states from New York to Georgia are working on legislation to follow Colorado’s leadership in this space so Sunshare will need to scale quickly if they want to capture all this potential market share. SunShare has first-mover advantage having built the first privately owned community solar garden with a Colorado Springs municipal utility in 2011. Aside from SunShare being able to say “we’re the first company to do this and to do it successfully”, there do not seem too many barriers to entry for other solar companies to win more bids and begin partnering with utilities to build “community solar gardens”. Until then, SunShare can continue to grow market share as quickly as possible in Colorado and perhaps look to begin winning some bids in other States as well.
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