News Release

DOE Awards CSE $712,000 To Expand Solar Power Use at Multitenant Properties

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Solar panels on low-income multifamily housing

The U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative announced today an award of $712,000 to the CSE for a project aimed at eliminating barriers to greater adoption of solar electric power systems at multiple tenant commercial properties and multifamily housing.

The award is part of SunShot’s $14-million Solar Market Pathways program to develop solar deployment plans that establish business certainty and provide multiyear strategies applicable across the nation. CSE will be working with the California Solar Energy Industries Association, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council and other solar stakeholders to identify technical, regulatory and financial barriers constraining widespread solar adoption in multitenant developments.

The project’s goal is to expand use of a special utility billing arrangement, called virtual net metering, that allows the “virtual” sharing of energy generation credits from a single solar system among multiple tenant accounts with separate meters, such as apartment buildings, commercial offices and shopping malls. This ability to share the credits while bypassing the need to connect the solar power to every meter greatly improves the value proposition of installing solar for property owners as well as providing tenants with direct utility bill savings.

Lack of virtual net metering

“Nearly all of the residential solar energy installations in California have been made on single-family housing, yet a third of the state’s residents live in multi-unit dwellings, and in addition, there are tens of thousands of multimeter commercial facilities,” said Ben Airth, a senior manager at CSE. “The regulations that permit virtual net energy metering were put into effect in California several years ago, but for a variety of reasons both solar contractors and property owners have not taken advantage of the potential for energy and cost savings.”

Airth said that CSE estimates there are more than quarter of a million properties in California that could take advantage of shared solar resources, yet less than 100 are doing so now within the service territories of the state’s three large investor-owned utilities.

Increasing stakeholder awareness

The CSE project will establish pilot programs in two distinct areas of the state to serve as test beds for research and analysis and as sites demonstrating the capabilities of solar and virtual net metering. They also will develop guidelines for how to best implement virtual net metering installations, and work with property owners, solar contractors, utilities, regulators and others to address current market barriers and promote awareness of the economic benefits of shared solar.

Through the SunShot Initiative project, CSE plans to disseminate information about the benefits of shared solar to multitenant, multimeter property owners and occupants, as well as to energy industry professionals, policy makers and relevant stakeholders. Currently, 43 states plus the District of Columbia have implemented net energy metering policies, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

February 2 2015
Center for Sustainable Energy