Well, last month, we got solar on our roof. It's a great little system–about 3 kW, which is a badge of honor for having done my energy-efficiency homework. It has a nice new inverter, and is easy to build out, when I decide to get an EV. It even looks sharp. But it's a little bittersweet, because if I'd had a high-value, utility-based community solar option, I'd be twice as proud.
Here's why: Our highly professional solar vendor sent a sales guy out twice. Then, once my husband and I signed the contract, the solar designer came out. There was a flurry of additional paperwork, including the building permit and interconnection application, and news that we would have to pay extra to match the AMR meter at our house. Three guys came out for the install, which was great–they were done in about five hours, despite an unexpected snow storm. Another guy came to check it out. Then there was the county inspector. Then the meter installer. Then some folderal about turning it on. Six weeks later, some paperwork got lost in the mail, but once that turns up, we will be done. Solarized. Understand that I am a satisfied customer, but also keenly aware of why I'm working on a Department of Energy SunShot project, aimed at solar soft-cost reduction.
The utilities (and the regulators that so greatly influence them) have a great opportunity here to find the sweet spot between one-off solar projects like mine and giant centralized solar projects that preclude many flexible-grid benefits. I am agnostic about utility ownership (though I kind of like the benefits of utilities working with innovative, customer-focused biz partners). I think utilities would be surprised by customer readiness for additional clean electrification and load management options (not just EVs, but also controlled water heaters, pre-cooling, and smart appliances), and customers might be surprised by the delightful feeling of participating in a community solar project that offers shares that just about anyone could afford.
I would go so far as to say that community solar itself could be an interim step, before utilities learn to incorporate high-percentages of distributed solar and other DER on the system, as their standard operating procedure. Yes, I know, I've been wildly optimistic about solar before. My vision is not quite realized in my own backyard, but I think it's coming. Maybe by the time I get that EV, I'll be able to offset its electricity needs by buying in to a community solar project instead.