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Massachusetts-based EnergySage announced the soft launch of its community solar marketplace earlier this month.
A new online marketplace for community solar is aiming to connect project developers and potential subscribers in nine states, bringing down costs and helping to accelerate community solar development.
Massachusetts-based EnergySage announced a soft launch of the portal earlier this month. The company previously developed an online marketplace to help customers request and compare quotes from rooftop solar installers.
Community solar, in which customers subscribe to shares of electricity generated at larger, off-site projects, is growing in popularity, but recruiting customers remains a challenge for developers. Meanwhile, would-be customers have had to do homework to find available projects in their area.
EnergySage is hopeful its new platform can help solve these problems.
“It actually saves you money and you can lock in your savings for up to 20 years,” said EnergySage founder and chief executive Vikram Aggarwal. “And, because of you subscribing to community solar, more solar is getting built.”
In any given market, about 75% of residents, on average, are unable to install their own solar panels because they are renters, don’t get enough sunlight, don’t have the money or credit needed, or have an unsuitable roof, said Matt Hargarten, public affairs director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a national trade group. Community solar gives these consumers a chance to realize the savings and environmental benefits of solar.
This form of energy sales is legally authorized in only 20 states, as well as Washington D.C., but is increasingly popular: The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates as much as 3.4 gigawatts of community solar capacity is likely to be added in the next five years, well more than double the current installed capacity.
And community solar is popular with consumers, with new developments generally selling out quickly, Hargarten said. Yet identifying and recruiting these customers is a major cost for developers, Aggarwal said. The EnergySage marketplace is designed to simplify that process.
The marketplace serves nine states: Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Consumers in these areas can search by zip code to find available community solar developments, compare options side-by-side, and subscribe to a project right from the EnergySage site.
All of the available developments fit the individual state’s definition of community solar; in Massachusetts, for example, the project must be within the same utility territory as the subscriber. Customers can be confident, Aggarwal said, that their business is helping fund the development of new, local power generation, rather than sending money to a pre-existing solar farm on the other side of the country.
The service is free for consumers, who are expected to save about 10% annually on their electricity bills. EnergySage makes its money by charging developers a fee to be included in the marketplace listings.
“EnergySage’s marketplace will help more people access solar power — and we’re excited to be part of it,” said Joel Gamoran, general manager of energy services at Arcadia, a clean energy technology company that has developed community solar projects listed in the marketplace.
The service makes sense, said Hargarten. There are plenty of consumers who are interested in community solar who have simply never been presented with an opportunity to join a project, he said. A marketplace or similar service could tap into a well of pent-up demand.
“I am not surprised it’s starting to happen,” Hargarten said. “There is an appetite.”
Right now, the marketplace offers what EnergySage describes as “dozens” of listings, including nine active in Massachusetts. The listings may not have options for everyone quite yet. But the company is continually adding listings and adding territories as more projects become available.
EnergySage started in 2011 as part of the federal government’s SunShot initiative, which awarded money to companies with ideas to lower the cost of solar energy. Two years later, EnergySage launched its first marketplace, this one for residential rooftop solar. The goal was to lower prices by generating competition and lowering installers’ customer acquisition costs, Aggarwal said.
Homeowners submit a few details about their home and solar goals, and receive quotes from up to six local installers. The information provided by each installer is formatted so consumers can make what Aggarwal calls an “apples-to-apples” comparison.
The service grew over the years — Aggarwal says it is now the leading online residential rooftop marketplace — and eventually the company decided to adapt the model to community solar.
Aggarwal is optimistic about the future of community solar, but he also wants state governments to pursue policies that will help encourage even further development. Massachusetts, for example, has solar incentives that are widely considered to be among the country’s most generous. However, the program came close to filling up within months of launch. The state has since doubled the program’s capacity, but, at current adoption rates, this expansion will only accommodate the demand for a few more years.
Longer-term planning could accelerate solar development, creating both environmental and financial benefits, Aggarwal said.
“If some of these bottlenecks are taken away, you could see 30% or 40% discounts for consumers,” he said. “Imagine, in that case, how big this market would be.”
Aggarwal expects imitators to come along and attempt to replicate the EnergySage model. And he doesn’t mind at all, he said, if the end result is the creation of more renewable energy.
“If we can get more people interested and more solar is installed then that is a win-win for all of us,” Aggarwal said. “We need to install solar at a much, much higher rate than what we are doing today.”