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Community Solar: Components of a Solution

In the first part of this series, I talked about the operational challenges with community solar.  Now, lets look at ways to overcome these challenges.

The first step is to implement a relatively easy enrolment process.  This consists of two steps:

  1. A pricing mechanism that uses a combination of information that can be provided easily by the customer (such as name, address, and if it gets that far, credit check information such as D&B or Social Security Number), and publicly available data (e.g. real estate databases, EPRI information etc.) to be used as a proxy for the customer’s energy usage – not arcane information such as utility account number and rate classes. Present a limited set of options for the customer to choose from.
  2. A robust CRM which can capture the information and maintain customer engagement.  After all, it is called “community” solar for a reason, and the physical proximity can be used to great advantage.  Moreover, by maintaining contact, and mining social media data, better options in pricing and contract terms can be offered to the customer – remember, this is a long journey.

The next step is to implement a robust billing system.  Due to lack of standards in data transmission and the fact that just about every utility’s system was not designed for this brave new world, the challenge of calculating how much credit the customer received is significant. Those savings must be shown on the bill on a monthly basis as well as on a longer term – perhaps yearly or for the contract term.  We cannot expect the customer to look at bills from two or three vendors and do the arithmetic to calculate savings, and that can lead to unhappy customers who  It necessarily involves modelling hundreds (if not thousands) of complex billing rates and tariffs, multiple pricing cycles (to calculate the credits at the project and customer level, and then allocating it according to their participation terms, and perhaps using those savings calculations in billing the subscription fees), and complex accounting requirements.  The good news is that thanks to technology and innovators, there are solutions available on the market.

Finally, to quote Jim Steffes1, the four big “D” components of the energy future today are: Digitisation, Decentralisation, Decarbonisation and Design.  And according to all the studies, these trends are accelerating, driven by technology, deregulation, a greater sense of individual commitment towards a cleaner world, and of course innovation.  Operational excellence is no longer an option – it is the basic building block.

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1 – Hansen Connect North America 2018