Graduate Project


Who Gets Watt? Institutional Analysis of Four Community Solar Programs in the U.S. Public Deposited

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  • Solar energy systems purchased in the United States have increased tenfold since 2010. As solar photovoltaics (PV) markets expand, solar energy becomes more affordable. In the last five years, the price of solar has decreased by 40 percent. Despite solar PV becoming more affordable and rising consumer demand, between 50 percent of U.S. utility ratepayers are unable to install rooftop solar due to a number of obstacles including financial barriers and lack of rooftop ownership. One way to diminish this lack of access is through community-based solar energy programs, which have been able to overcome some of the barriers to consumer participation in the solar PV market. Community solar policies have emerged as a new form of solar financing model mandated by legislative policies in 15 states with a combined energy capacity of 1,387 installed megawatts. The intended goal of community solar is to expand solar PV access to those who were previously unable to participate in the solar PV market. Existing solar community choice programs have shown a lot of heterogeneity in terms of program design and implementation. This has created an opportunity to reflect on the institutional design of community solar programs to better understand the extent to which program design impacts residential and low-income participation. This study utilizes Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework to examine institutional arrangements of community solar programs in Minnesota, Colorado, New York, and Massachusetts. It employs a qualitative content analysis of the laws and regulations in place, along with semi-structured interviews of 16 program stakeholders to determine what aspects of program design lead to greater residential and low-income participation. The findings suggest that institutional design of community solar programs impacts who benefits from the program. The most critical components of community solar program design for residential and low-income access are: who administers the program, a balance of residential and commercial subscribers, higher incentives for residential and low-income subscribers, and a clear and predictable incentive design.
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